March 25, 2013

The Cheats vs The Morons


I have to admit that I get a great deal of deliciously perverse pleasure from reading reports that online ad hustlers are picking the pockets of marketing morons and their clueless but oh-so-fashionable agencies.

Apparently there's a lot of hanky-panky going on in the "murky" world of online ad exchanges. An article in Adweek last week had this to say...
"Indeed, while the Web has never been short of tricksters...a new breed of cheat is fast becoming a plague in the exchange world: the ghost publisher...very little of these sites' audiences are real people. Yet big name advertisers are spending millions trying to reach engaged users on these properties."
How wonderfully delicious is that? Here are some examples they give:

There is a site called Toothbrushing.net. Sounds fascinating doesn't it? It's part of a group that also includes BabyPowder.net. No, I'm not kidding.

According to Adweek, these sites "typically offer 20 million to 25 million impressions via ad exchanges." Yeah, sounds about right to me. Who wouldn't want to read about tooth brushing or baby powder? But that doesn't stop dimwit advertisers like Mercedes and JetBlue from winding up on these sites.

Adweek quotes one online buyer.
"These sites have hundreds of millions of bogus impressions, and those illegitimate sites are regularly in the top 10 by volume for major SSP's,"
Another example they give is a company called Alphabird:
"Alphabird's properties are consistently among the top suppliers of inventory within exchanges and SSPs...according to multiple sources, a large number of Alphabird's sites are rife with traffic produced by bots... In fact, among the Alphabird sites frequented by bots rather than people, 75 percent of the audience is overlaps. In other words, a huge proportion of the audience for sportsnewsstories.com also visits fashionfantastica.com."
Yup. I know the first thing I do after reading football news is click around to get some fashion updates. Major advertisers on Alphabird sites include Budget, BMW, Virgin, JetBlue, and Pillsbury.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit here that I don't know a damn thing about ad exchanges, bogus or otherwise. I'm just taking Adweek's word for all this. As for the sites in question, they claim that they are not the source of all the phony traffic and, in fact, they are the victims here. Color me officially skeptical.

Either way, it is very satisfying to meditate on the knowledge that someone is screwing the gullible chuckleheads who, driven by agency nitwits, dive willy-nilly into the hideous joke that is online advertising.

Adweek sums it up well:
"...you might come away wondering why any major brand even bothers with online advertising.
Not only are banners dull and clickthrough rates low, but all the technology flooding the industry promising perfect targeting perfection can't even deliver real human audiences much of the time."
Hmmm, I seem to recall reading exactly that sentiment somewhere around here for the last five years.

13 comments:

Christopher S. said...

It's a brilliant scam enabled by the foolish "metrics" that people have been told to use. Sell "impressions." Use bot net to create "impressions." Profit.


I wish I'd fucking thought of it.

Tim Latham | Schools Marketing said...

Another great post - thankyou. Will those of us taking a contrarian view ever achieved our deserved fame & fortune or will those only go to those plying the received wisdom of current digital advertising. I fear that us contrarians might only achieve recognition long after we are gone, like some of the great composers!

geoff said...

There's too much pressure on all the people involved to report "good numbers."


The ad buyers, the manufacturer's marketing team -- they just want to look good. They don't care about actual success of the campaign or product.

Tom Innis said...

I remember the good 'ol days when the success (or failure) of marketing departments was tied directly to increases sales and profit numbers, not to numbers of impressions or engaged audiences. It's almost as if the agencies and marketing heads are in cahoots, covering each other's ass while avoiding accountability and weaving a tangled web of bullshit (Wow, I must be one of those old people Ad Contrarian was talking about the other day).

Mike McGrail said...

Shallow metrics are ruling the game at the moment. If we need to look at engagement, it should be gauged on engagement with actual humans!

Tim Orr said...

And just this morning, I was reading about Cassandra, who was gifted with prophecy by Apollo, but because she resisted his amorous advances, was cursed to never be believed. "There's no bigger sucker than a gullible marketer convinced he's missing a trend."

Unknown said...

you gotta read that book social media is bullshit
frankly all this stuff is really getting depressing

chich said...

Does that mean the big in 'big data' is made up of bots?

paulbenjou said...

Remember matchbook cover ads? How we laughed. At least they hung around for 20 impressions (plus pass-along lights) when used. 98% of web ads just drop into a deep, incalculable abyss.

Pamela Talley said...

Wow, JetBlue seems to have a terrible media team planning their buys. However, it makes me wonder if my agency is purchasing that bogus ad space for any of our clients...


Thanks, as usual, for offering such a sound reality check to a young'un inside the offending party. Nice to have some perspective!

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