The ads for M&S champagne appeared on the pre-teen gaming site GirlGames1.com and were noticed by the mother of a five-year-old girl using the site.
The ads appeared after the mother used the M&S website to look for champagne, which triggered the retailer’s retargeting ad service.
Harvey Sarjant, managing partner at online advertising network Addvantage Media, says this is an example of how ad misplacement can have serious repercussions for brands and the online advertising industry.
He adds that “a serious emphasis needs to be placed on human monitoring of ad placement to stop this type of misplacement and reduce the chance of damage through brand association with an inappropriate website”.
M&S has removed the ads and delisted alcohol from its retargeting services. It says it takes its advertising responsibilities very seriously and would not deliberately advertise alcohol to children.
Guy Phillipson, CEO of the Internet Advertising Bureau, advises against retargeting among categories such as alcohol and gambling because it is browser-based and could be presented to any user in the same home.
Nigel Gwilliam, head of digital at the IPA, adds that this kind of misplacement is becoming increasingly rare but there is still more to do in terms of sector specific issues.