A recent report from Adalytics, an ad quality company, has uncovered that Forbes misled advertisers by selling media space on a hidden, low-quality subdomain, www3.forbes.com, instead of its main website, forbes.com. This practice has raised concerns about the legitimacy of advertising placements and the potential impact on brands.

Misleading Advertising Practices

Forbes allegedly suggested to advertisers that they were purchasing media on Forbes.com when, in reality, they were buying media on a hidden 'made for advertising' (MFA) subdomain. The www3.forbes.com subdomain ceased operations altogether after inquiries were made regarding its legitimacy.

Dubious Practices of www3.forbes.com

According to the report, www3.forbes.com displayed advertisements since at least May 2017. It repurposed Forbes articles into longer formats and exposed readers to an unusually high number of advertisements, with over 200 advertisements per page view, compared to 3 to 10 on the main Forbes website.

Lack of Transparency

Unlike Forbes's flagship site, the www3 subdomain did not include subscription paywalls and prevented search engine crawlers from indexing its articles, making them inaccessible through organic search. Approximately 70% of readers accessed the site through display advertisements from other websites.

Brands Affected

Several prominent brands, including Microsoft, Disney, JPMorgan Chase, Johnson & Johnson, Mercedes Benz, Oracle, Fidelity, Marriott, Ford, United Airlines, and others, purchased advertising space on www3.forbes.com, assuming it was legitimate ad space on forbes.com.

Ineffectiveness of Advertising

Despite advertisers paying for premium ad space on Forbes's main site, their ads displayed on the www3 subdomain were unlikely to reach their intended target audiences. Visitors to the www3 subdomain tended to be older compared to the main Forbes domain, making them less desirable audiences for many brands.

Lack of Detection by Verification Vendors

The report noted that no trustworthy ad verification vendors detected Forbes's misleading practice or alerted media buyers to the misrepresented subdomain inventory, highlighting a gap in oversight and accountability.

In Conclusion

Forbes's alleged misdirection of advertisers raises serious concerns about transparency and ethics in digital advertising practices. The report underscores the need for increased vigilance and accountability in the digital advertising ecosystem to protect brands and ensure fair practices.