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A Lesson Learned from the NY Times’ Ad Blunder Applied to Social Automation

NY Times Ad Blunder and Social Media Automation

As I’m sure you saw on Twitter, Facebook or your favourite news source, there was a major breakthrough yesterday about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

For those unaware, on March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 mysteriously went missing. Since, investigations and large-scale searches have been conducted for the plane and missing passengers, yielding no result. Yesterday, through the application of a, ‘… complicated principle of physics called the Doppler effect’ (Source), and sophisticated surveillance technology and techniques, the tragic fate and ending place of Flight 370 was finally deduced to have been in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

This has been a closely followed story for the last couple of weeks, and was reported by, what I would assume to be, all major news outlets, including the New York Times.


When the story ran about the plane being found, there was an unfortunate ad placement being served.

The ad was for Apple in support of their iPad Air campaign showcasing ‘… the unique ways people are using iPad around the world’, and the supporting visual and context for the ad is of SCUBA divers using the iPad – as they would – underwater.

Via Adweek

The headline reporting the Malaysia Airlines story – directly underneath this ad – read, ‘Malaysia Says Jet Went Down in Ocean’.

There was undoubtedly no mal-intention on behalf of the NY Times or Apple, but this serves as a great case for marketing automation gone wrong.

The headline and ad placement blunder is obviously insensitive to what is truly a tragic happening, is likely resulting in negative PR for both the NY Times and Apple, and I believe could have easily been avoided.


It is likely that ads for the New York Times are queued well in advance to their publication in an automated system that serves them across their ad network. This is not dissimilar to how we all frequently schedule the publication of our social media content.

Where the New York Times stumbled is that they don’t seem to have a protocol or process in place to assure there is a real person monitoring the scheduled ads in real time just before the moment of publication to consider the advertisement’s subject matter within the context of the periodical content they are to be placed amongst.


Ultimately, whether it’s the New York Times publishing online ads, or it’s you and your business publishing social media updates, we are all responsible for the content we publish and need to take responsibility to ensure its integrity, even if it’s already been scheduled.

And don’t get me wrong; I think scheduling content is a must. It’s a time-saver, it helps to organize and assure publication accuracy, it allows us to thoroughly review content prior to publication without the pressure of publishing in real-time, and more.

But as I have already stated, we always need to take responsibility for what we are publishing.

To do this, be sure to have someone – a real person – on standby to ensure your content is being published properly, and that circumstances or context hasn’t shifted that will affect the quality and integrity of what you are posting.

Sure, this requires man-hours, but it is a simple process to adopt and employ, and those man-hours will almost certainly be offset by the time saved by avoiding a potential PR or reputational disaster.


How do you avoid marketing automation disasters?

Do you have processes or policies in place to ensure the integrity of the content you are publishing?

How do you think the New York Times could have avoided this?

Do you think Apple has any responsibility for this ad placement?

It would be great to hear your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter @RGBSocial

Join The Conversation

  • Mar 26 Posted 1 year ago Darrick Li

    Nothing on the idea of brand safety? Ultimately, this will look bad on Apple as a brand as they are the advertiser. Thousands of impressions can run through the servers in a few minutes but Apple and their buying agency should be implementing technologies that can avoid this. If their creative involves divers with an iPad, they should avoid serving the ad next to content with the word "Malaysian Airlines" or "ocean" amidst all this news. Technologies like these exist today from third party measurement firms like comScore. It is even more critical when you are spending premium dollars to get such a large format ad on a premium publisher. 

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