BMW’s Response to Ads for Its Brands on Pirate Sites

As they drive on–CUT TO:

A PRETTY YOUNG WOMAN standing in the doorway of one of the Tudor houses. She is very pregnant. She knows instinctively who they are, and she dominates them in a genuinely proud female way. What I mean is, it’s her scene, and they’re suddenly embarrassed to be bothering her.

WOODWARD

To see Mr. Sloan.

MRS. SLOAN

He’s out.

(There is a pause. She studies them–)

You’re those two from the Post, aren’t you.

(they nod)

I’ll tell him.

BERNSTEIN

(as she’s about to step back inside)

This must be a difficult time for the both of you.

MRS. SLOAN

This is an honest house.

From “All The President’s Men,” By William Goldman
____________________________________________

Several artists and rights holders wrote to BMW after reading the Trichordist “Wall of Shame” post about BMW’s ads being served on a pirate site that was illegally distributing the “Drive” soundtrack. (See “Wall of Shame: BMW Willing to ‘Drive’ Without License.”) I also wrote to BMW and outlined the key points to them, being:

1. Someone in their house is in on it. It may not be a BMW employee, but it is someone in the chain.

2. Artists are told by companies like Google to “follow the money” through the labyrinth of advertising exchanges, advertising networks and real time bidding in between the brand and the pirate site. I pointed out to BMW that we don’t need to know anything more than where the money starts–which is with the brand–and where it stops–which is with the pirate. What happens in between is of no consequence to anyone but the brand (BMW in this case) that is no doubt being routinely lied to, and possibly to law enforcement.

3. Brands like BMW are in a unique position to both (a) stop the money and (b) demand a rebate from their ad agency or ad network. But then we are always told that none of these ad networks (or ad exchanges) profit from piracy because their contracts say they don’t. Ah, well, in that case they must be innocent, right? The demanding-the-rebate step is important because if they don’t do that, then the brand’s stockholders are being ripped off. (Remember the stockholders? They’re the ones who own the place.)

4. What I suspect that artists really want is for the brands to step up to their responsibilities, especially the public companies, denounce these practices and stop funding the pirates. This isn’t about following the money, it’s about stopping the money. Following the money is a distraction, stopping the money is effective.

BMW was very responsive to my inquiry regarding the “Drive” campaign. The company has informed me that due to readers of the Trichordist bringing the specific incident to their attention, they have not only stopped the ads from being served on the particular site in question but the incident triggered a complete audit of BMW’s digital buying practices. This includes a review of their current agreements with all of their partner ad networks, as well as a review of their current verification provider (Double Verify in this case). BMW are taking this seriously and seem to take a dim view of being used to undermine intellectual property rights. Hopefully they will conduct their review with a critical eye for the obfuscation that we all believe is rampant.

So why is BMW’s response an important event?

Assuming they actually do what they say they will do–and I am willing to take them at their word until I have a reason to think otherwise–a very important brand in an nominally unrelated industry has recognized that they are being manipulated by a legion of thieves. They didn’t try to blame the other guy, BMW took responsibility for their brand.

The government will do what it’s going to do to prosecute the criminals and the money launderers that infest online advertising. That must be done, it is important work, but it will take time because although the wheels of justice do turn, they turn slowly.

This incident illustrates a few things we need to happen.

First of all, we need an immediate reaction from brands that are getting ripped off to make it stop. Not just window dressing but actually stop. I can’t say enough good things about BMW’s responsible reaction. I hope others follow suit proactively.

The second thing we need to make clear is that if you work at an ad network, particularly a successful ad network, it is highly likely that you are associating yourself with bad guys. I seriously doubt that any ad network or ad exchange is clean. It is an occupation that is at best suspect and at worst a haven for money laundering. It is also very likely that your paycheck includes profit from human misery from copyright infringement to mail order brides.

Finally, until such time as brands like BMW require third party certification and monitoring of sites where their ads appear in real or near real time, all ad networks and exchanges are suspect.

Why? Because the ad inventory from illegal sites is just too vast for it not to affect everyone in the business.

So at least today, BMW has said it chooses to stand with the artists and not with the scumbags. And that’s good for the artists.

Thanks to the artists and rights holders who wrote to BMW and to the Trichordist. And special thanks to BMW for their quick reaction. It’s a team effort, let’s keep it up.

Ultimately, the brands have to decide if they live in an honest house.

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