Guardian CEO: Why Is It So Hard To Keep Gun Ads Off Our Site?

Guardian NRA story“If I didn’t work for the Guardian, I would block ads,” said Guardian US CEO Eamonn Store.

He’s fed up with the poor-quality ads that slip through on the Guardian and other trusted sites.

As an avid reader of the Guardian, he sees ads for loan sharks and other unsavory ventures slip through frequently, leading to a game of whack-a-mole for the ad ops team. These advertisers often change their names frequently to escape blockage by scrupulous publishers.

But what most infuriated him was seeing ads from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which have popped up multiple times on the Guardian site through different campaign names and channels.

Such ads would never be accepted at the Guardian if they came through a direct sales channel.

The NRA ads often show free duffel bags, included as part of its membership, rather than gun imagery. That’s a way to get past the rules of different platforms and onto sites like the Guardian that don’t accept such advertising.

“We take advertising from most political parties, but the NRA is not something we believe our core readership wants on the site,” Store said. “It’s difficult to get rid of. They disguise the name of the business and put duffel bags in the ads.”

The deception goes even further, said Jen Soch, EVP of commercial delivery for the Guardian US.

“Repeat offenders often rebrand themselves under new company names, accompanied by new URLs, which enable them to slip past our blocks,” Soch said.

The NRA did not respond to AdExchanger’s requests for comment on how its ads showed up on the Guardian’s site.

Store doesn’t profess to be an advertising guru. But as an outsider to the ad tech world, he has little patience for such slip-ups.

You might even call him a proxy for a Guardian reader or any news consumer who can’t understand why trusted sites show ads for suspicious loans or diet pills, two common low-quality ads.

“What bothers me is that as a normal media expert, I can’t understand how we can’t be guaranteed control of the third-party ads on our site,” Store said.

If ad tech can do precise targeting, why can’t it remove ads with precision?

Visual recognition systems or algorithms that identify small changes in company names might help identify banned advertisers before they appear on a site, Store offered.

“The idea that in a programmatic world, we just have to get used to the fact that we never know what quite is going to appear in our most valuable places until it actually appears, doesn’t seem logical or acceptable,” Store said.

Digital advertising has gotten a free pass the way that other mediums haven’t. Store comes from TV advertising, where every ad requires approval.

“You couldn’t run a magazine company like that either,” Store said. “If you’re Anna Wintour [of Vogue] and an ad like that got into the magazine, someone would get fired.”

The digital ad industry is going down a dangerous path if it ignores how ad quality affects the user experience – with ad blocking as a prime example.

The Guardian, which has a unique ownership model that doesn’t put profits first, may put programmatic on the chopping block because of this issue, Store said.

“If programmatic is not something we can control in a way that will respect our audience,” he said, “we have to think about how to manage that world.”


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  1. This issue may be best seen as a type of fraud. It’s advertisers misrepresenting themselves to game the system to subvert blocking.

    Just as the buy-side needs to root out and eliminate sources of fraudulent inventory, the sell-side needs to do the same for these advertisers.

  2. Sarah, the reason for, we as publishers can’t properly block ads, is because we are the weaker part of the ecosystem. There is just too much inventory available, and buyers still want to buy it cheap, while there is of course some quality metrics, still they are not implemented at scale, and when a new one come up, like viewability it’s the bad guys who nail it first.

    But the obvious answer is that there is currently not enough interest in that. It will cost a lot of money in terms of development and revenue loss, that all the middleman’s out there will loose. Today’s middleman are tech companies, but making money from the good and bad ads. We must unite, convince our bosses to loose some money ourselves and generate scarcity on high quality inventory like yours.

    Good luck and thanks for sharing the same care and problems we see here in Brazil !

  3. Many SSPs offer almost no transparency for publishers, and you may even have to get in touch with their support team to blocklist certain verticals/companies every time one appears. It is skewed in favour of the advertisers, because they are the ones with the money and the power. There is too much inventory out there, so the publishers play second fiddle.