I am in Mexico for a few days and this morning, while reading a few articles on the New York Times website, was struck by some interesting ad behavior on their site:
1) Several of the pages had normal english language ads. One example was a big sidebar for UPS which was just like any ad you would expect on a normal day.
2) Then I noticed some spanish language ads. This surprised me as I had not seen that before on the NYT. Perhaps I haven't paid attention in the past, but maybe the NYT recently started serving ads through international ad networks (or a network manager like Rubicon Project that can hand off inventory to international ad networks - although I doubt they are doing anything in Latin America yet).
Some of these ads were decent (e.g., one for an english as a second language school), but most of the ads being served were not particularly good and showed bad targeting. This is an example:
It's an ad for an MMOG-type game from a German company with some questionable spanish localization. Not really an ad you would consider a good fit for the site I was on.
3) Then I noticed a bunch of pages with blank ad slots. I take this to mean that there were no ads for this inventory, but perhaps there were some connection erros given my decent but not great internet connection.
4) Finally, some pages started defaulting to Google AdSense. This resulted in some great advertising:
While the ad is contextually targeted (sort of...) I doubt that it's the one the NYT would have liked next to this story.
Anyway, the whole point is that it's clear that online advertising in international/non-english scenarios is still very much an unsolved problem.
First, there are probably very few ads that can fill available inventory, mainly because online advertising spend in spanish and/or in places like Latin America is still small.
Second, the infrastructure to support a good experience still isnt there. Instead of the ads I listed above, the right ads in this case would have been in English for products/services available in Mexico. This wouldn't be that hard to do - I was logged into the NYT, and they therefore know I am a regular reader with a US address (as far as they know, I may not even speak Spanish) and they clearly know I am in Mexico because of my IP address. Instead I was served a normal UPS ad (probably the best second choice), no ads, some sub-optimal spanish language ads, and finally some extremely sub-optimal English language Russian bride ads.
Whatever the economic situation around the world today, and the fluctuations in advertising spend over the near term, it's clear there is a lot of opportunity over the mid/long term for this to improve greatly. In 5-7 years this experience will be much, much better.