Daily Due Diligence Determines Destiny

unnamed-18The trend toward increasing automation in digital advertising campaigns remains a popular one. Last week, however, proves that there is still no substitute for the human touch – Bing’s recently revealed Smart Annotations for search creative caused quite the stir for advertisers promoting regulated industries. Thankfully, with proactive communication we avoided exposing our advertisers to a potentially litigious situation.

Like Google, Bing continues to look for ways to increase the relevance of paid advertiser copy in search results for providing additional information to searchers. This information takes several forms, one of the most common being a tie in to Twitter:





The highlighted lines above represent the Smart Annotations. Unfortunately, annotations cannot be controlled by advertisers. Bing determines them automatically and uses them to provide extra detail within the ad copy. These annotations differ from the more familiar site extensions in two critical ways:

  1. Annotations are not clickable
  2. Advertisers cannot opt out of annotations as they can with site extensions.

You can see where this is headed – the net result is that advertisers lose control over what their ad creative may or may not contain. This is a problem for many regulated verticals, most notably the pharmaceutical industry.

Last week, during our regular due diligence in monitoring our client’s campaigns we discovered that Bing automatically engaged site annotations across the majority of the pharmaceutical landscape. Not only does this introduce new creative variations that were never blessed by legal and regulatory counsel, the resulting annotations introduced a branded message within an unbranded advertising environment. This violates strict FDA advertising regulations and opens the possibility of legal action against advertisers.

The screenshot below captures an example of what was happening:


The above search was performed on an unbranded keyword and generated an unbranded ad with a vanity URL (standard practice in the world of pharma search). Unfortunately, Bing’s site annotation pulled in a branded message, highlighted in yellow, displaying it in an unbranded environment where no safety information resides.

It must be noted that Bing quickly responded to the situation for Underscore and engaged to work towards a solution for our clients. The critical takeaway of the story instead centers on the need for continued human involvement and oversight in digital advertising. Advertisers must continue ensuring that their agencies and marketing managers actively check on campaigns and execute their due diligence. Service still matters!

Oliver Nelson is currently the Associate Media Director, eDR across several healthcare, pharmaceutical and OTC categories with a focus on digital display, social media,  search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO). Oliver Nelson is also a captain for the United States Army Reserve in the military intelligence corps. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom with the 411th Engineer Brigade based in New Windsor, NY serving as the brigade intelligence officer.