Internet Advertisers Beware the 'Invisible Ad' Deception

Last Updated Apr 10, 2009 8:45 AM EDT

If you advertise on the Web, pay attention to what Ben Edelman is warning.

Edelman, a Harvard Business School professor, has hipped advertisers to a number of schemes run by disreputable advertising firms and brokers.

Here's one: The invisible ad.

As he explains to the Economic Times in a story about digital advertising scams:

"Here's a common example of a real advertising scam. Advertisers buy display advertisements or banner ads on websites and it's very important for viewers to see the ad. Many times the advertiser pays each time the ad is seen (pay per impression). But what if the ad was shown in an invisible window, where the ad is not seen by the viewer? I have come across websites with more than 100 invisible windows downloading invisible ads and charging advertisers as if the user had seen the ad. Think about what that means. The site might actually show three visible ads but charge for showing 103 ads. As a result the site gets paid several times more than they deserve. Think about a scenario where an advertiser pays per impression, and the site actually shows a million impressions. If the advertisers think that their ads were seen by a million people, they're sadly mistaken."
Edelman recently spoke with HBS Working Knowledge about reducing risk with online advertising.

Do you advertise on the Web? How do you know your advertising partner is reporting back the correct numbers?

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.