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Industry Group Calls Out Kia for Not Disclosing Behavioral Ads

Marketer Failed to Include AdChoices Icon in Online Ads; Media Agency, Ad Networks Also Cited in Decision

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The advertising self-regulatory body charged with policing behaviorally targeted ads today issued its first decision against a major advertiser, Kia, for a campaign that failed to comply with the industry's guidelines.

The Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program's decision also named Kia's media agency, Initiative ; ad server, Microsoft Atlas; and ad networks, Specific Media and Rocket Fuel; indicating that every party involved in creating an ad campaign must comply with industry rules.

Kia's online ads did not contain an AdChoices icon -- the small blue triangle developed by the Digital Advertising Alliance, an ad industry group. The icon is linked to information on how a consumer's browsing history is being used to target ads and offers users the option to opt out of such tracking. As part of the industry's commitment to self-regulation, advertisers are supposed to ensure that all their ads using third-party data for targeting display the icon.

"Our objective was not to single out any one player in the ecosystem but to bring the whole ecosystem into compliance," said Genie Barton, director of the Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program, which is part of the Advertising Self Regulatory Council and Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Ms. Barton declined to say how Kia landed on the program's radar, noting that she doesn't want future complainants to fret about their names being made public. But the decision did shed light on how the program works.

First, Ms. Barton's staff visited Kia's website, noticing that tracking pixels that collect third-party data were embedded. On other sites across the web, they noticed display ads with Kia vehicles cropping up. None had the AdChoices icon. The ease of reproducing the same result across devices and browsers made it apparent that tracking was likely being used. The monitors then looked at the code to determine which companies were retargeting the ads.

The decision carries no punitive weight, but is nonetheless significant for sending a message that following a client's instructions isn't an excuse to set aside industry rules.

While all the partners affirmed their commitment to the self-regulatory rules, Rocket Fuel and Specific Media indicated they had been following explicit instructions to not use the AdChoices icon for the campaign. Microsoft was ultimately absolved, since it only provided the ad-serving technology but didn't deal with data.

In response to the investigation, Kia stated it sent instructions to its partners to ensure that going forward all its ads were compliant. The marketer also said it was in the midst of licensing the AdChoices icon so that Kia can serve it without relying on ad networks' technology, according to the decision.

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