May 26, 2016

Ad Crooks Going To Jail? What To Look For.

According to several reports, the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) report about agency "transparency" (read, misconduct) is due in the next few weeks.

Some background: Over three years ago, in a piece called "Time To Clean Out The Stables" I advocated for an investigation of fraud and corruption in online media buying.

About a year ago, this issue finally surfaced as a hot topic. The ANA decided to hire two organizations (including one that employs former FBI agents) to investigate media buying practices. Since then things have gotten a little testy between the 4As (American Assoc. of Advertising Agencies) and the ANA. The degree of distrust between the organizations may play an important part in determining just how much of the report is the real deal and how much is PR fluff.

Remember, agencies are not hired and overseen by god. They are hired and overseen by the same people who are now having them investigated. There may turn out to be an element of self-interest in the ANA rounding off the sharp edges of their investigation.

The big questions are these: If there is corruption, how widespread is it and how far will the ANA report go in exposing it? One thing to look for is how specific the report is.
1. If the report talks about unsavory practices but does not name agency names, you know we're in for some mealy-mouth horseshit.

2. If the report talks about "grey areas" and "transparency" but does not give specific examples of double-dealing by specific agencies, it's a whitewash.

3. If the report tries to "contextualize" the sleaze (like the pathetic trade press does) by saying online ad fraud is nothing more than a continuation of traditional questionable habits, you know it's a bullshit burrito.
The ANA has a lot to gain and a lot to lose.

Advertisers have been played for fools by crafty agency sharks. But advertisers -- and CMOs in particular -- are not blameless. They have been irresponsibly negligent and laughably naive about the insidious nature of how online advertising has evolved. Their idiotic fervor for anything digital has been a contributing factor to the debased culture of web media.

This report may turn out to be a turning point for the agency business and for digital advertising.

I am assiduously averse to making predictions (I specialize in making fun of fools who make predictions, not being one) but in this case I'm going to play the fool. I'm going to predict a nightmare for the ad industry.

It will all come down to how willing the ANA is to get everything out on the table.

Will their report be a slap on the wrist or a kick in the low-hanging fruit?

I can't wait to see it.

May 23, 2016

The Blind Leading The Stupid

The con game that is online advertising took another hit last week as a report surfaced about the cluelessness of big online advertisers.

According to a report by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA)...
"The vast majority of the biggest national advertisers either are only vaguely familiar with or are completely ignorant about the role so-called “sourced traffic” is playing in their digital media buys,
"Sourced traffic" is a misleading, polite term for third-party crap an online publisher buys to pretend he's delivering what an advertiser has paid for.

Here's how the swindle works. You want to reach left-handed dry cleaners who like cheese. So you make an online ad buy because it's so amazingly good at "precision targeting." Your media buyer, or more likely, a software program, buys ad space for you on a website (or more likely a network of 10,000 websites) where left-handed dry cleaners who like cheese are supposedly thick on the ground.

The only problem is you paid for 100,000 impressions and the site can only deliver 50,000. So what do they do? They go out to people who "broker traffic" to send them the remaining 50,000 impressions. And there ain't a cheese-eating left-handed dry cleaner in the lot. In fact, in many cases, there aren't too many human beings in the lot.

According to an article in MediaPost...
"The ANA... has been issuing warnings and updates on the practice, which involves publishers acquiring audiences from other third parties and representing it as their own to fulfill commitments to advertisers, because it frequently is a source of fraudulent or non-human traffic generated by bots and other insidious and unsavory practices."
Huh? Insidious and unsavory practices? On line? Get outta here...

According the ANA
“...sourced traffic results in an alarmingly high level of digital ad fraud in the form of non-human traffic..."
A report by the ANA last year claimed that more than half the traffic from publishers who used "sourced traffic" was fraudulent.

The amusing part of all this is how the marketing geniuses in the world's largest corporations don't have a clue how deeply and vigorously they're being penetrated.

According to MediaPost...
The study found that nearly two-thirds of major advertisers were “only slightly familiar with -- or completely unaware of -- the concept of sourced traffic...”
As I've said so many times, the abysmal ignorance among online advertisers is truly thrilling to behold.
  • They don't know what they're buying
  • They don't know who they're buying it from

  • They don't know what they're getting

  • They don't know how much they're paying 
But they think they do. They're all convinced that they have "systems in place" to outsmart the bad guys and it's everyone else who's getting screwed. This is a con artist's description of a perfect sucker.

According to a report by Kalkis Research entitled, The End Of The Online Advertising Bubble
"An experiment by the traffic quality verification startup Oxford BioChronometrics has shown that under certain circumstances, bot traffic generated by ads on Google, LinkedIn and Facebook may be as high as 90%. Bots can be highly evolved, emulating a human-like behavior, and virtually impossible to detect, rendering ad campaigns useless...
"The (advertising) industry has a huge incentive to downplay and hide the extent of ad fraud, as it’s very lucrative." 
And now for the final laugh. What's the solution to this outrageous bullshit? According to the article in MediaPost, the head of the ANA says... is the job of media agencies to “educate clients."
 Yeah, that's it. Let's put Dracula in charge of the blood bank.

May 19, 2016

Kinda Like Holistic Innovative Thinking

Earlier this week, the great Rich Siegel (soon to be chairman of WPP) unearthed a video on his blog that I can't stop watching.

I present it here for your consideration.

It is a series of interviews with planners and/or strategists trying to explain something -- I'm not really sure what. It is either the difference between planning and strategy or the similarities or... I don't know, something.

Whatever it is, it is a thorough embarrassment to our industry.

It would be ridiculous and farcical if it wasn't so sad. Our business has reached such a level of self-conscious pretension and confusion that otherwise intelligent people can't even explain in plain English what the fuck it is they do or why.

The other thing that makes it so sad is that it is not unfamiliar. It is depressingly typical of how so many in the ad business torture logic and language and twist themselves into knots pompously describing their precious contribution to civilization.

Watch in awe as planners make the obvious incomprehensible.

The only question is this: Is it real or a lost Monty Python episode?