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 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.