June 23, 2016

Sometimes, Even Bloggers Need To Shut Up

I'm headed off on a completely undeserved vacation. Unless something irresistibly stupid happens in adworld I won't be posting for a while.

But before I go, it just wouldn't be right not to do a little gratuitous self-promotion. So here we go:

My speaking calendar is booked up through September, but if you need someone to light a fire under the lazy-ass bastards at your next conference or sales meeting, I have availability in October and November. Read all about it here.

The Ad Contrarian blog is now 9 years old. Our podcast this weekEpisode 4 of The Ad Contrarian Show is all about nine years in the life of a blog. It's entitled Who Made You The Boss? You can find it here.

Also, if you haven't subscribed to my free weekly newsletter you can do so here.

Have fun, be sure to feed the dogs, and don't let anything important happen while I'm gone.

My newsletter this past week was very popular, so I thought I'd reproduce it here.

The Scourge Of Ad Tech

Here in the 21st century, every problem seems to have the same solution - technology.

What a simple, lovely world it would be if this were true.

Sadly, the real world is a lot more complicated and messy. But in marketingland we have convinced ourselves that technology offers more leverage than ideas. It's a silly and childish belief, but it prevails nonetheless.

As Sir Martin Sorrell so lovingly put it...
“The definition of creativity needs to change. We’re not in the advertising business anymore.”
(I don't know what business he thinks he's in, but if I read the ANA report correctly, they seem to think he's in the racketeering business. But let's leave that for another day.)

When given the opportunity, we always default to technology. Because technology generates numbers and numbers are the new ideas.

Being a Luddite dinosaur, I am not convinced that technology has done us "not-in-the-advertising-business-anymore" folks any favors. In fact, I'm pretty certain that ad tech has done us a hefty amount of harm and is in desperate need of a good beat down.

For those not conversant in the arcane language of marketing, the simplest definition I can come up with for "ad tech" is the selling, buying and distribution of (mostly) online advertising by software. It seems harmless enough in theory, but below the surface it has been a disaster.

It has damaged the ad industry, it has damaged consumers, it has damaged the web, it has damaged advertisers, and it has damaged publishers. Who has benefited? Google, Facebook, and certain slippery creeps not-in-the-advertising-business-anymore.

As in most cases, it is not the technology itself, but the misapplication of technology that has done the most damage.

Here is just a brief recap of some of the harm that ad tech has wrought:

- It has turned the public against us.
No sane person has ever gone looking for advertising. But until now the public has accepted advertising as fair exchange for free entertainment. Not any more. Over 400,000,000 people worldwide are now reportedly using ad blockers to escape from digital advertising.

- It has turned web advertising into crap. As Doc Searls has pointed out, advertising has two genotypes: the good stuff (brand and product advertising) and the horrible stuff (direct response, aka junk mail.) The web has evolved into a junk mail medium. Building a brand, the most important goal of marketing, has been sacrificed to the most measurable goal, generating a click.

- It has harmed advertisers. Without getting too deep into the esoteric nature of ad tech, here are a few ways advertisers are being screwed by ad tech:

    •    Advertisers have no idea if they are communicating with humans or bots.
    •    When utilizing programmatic (software driven) buying technology, over 50% of advertisers' dollars are not going to media, they are going to ad tech middlemen.
    •    As a result, over 70% of advertisers say they are dissatisfied with the current state of online advertising.  
- It has harmed publishers. Ad dollars are being pushed down to low quality sites and up to Google and Facebook.
    •    Down: Clueless media buyers and automated programs buy all kinds of worthless, fraud-laden crap enabled by ad tech to make their buys appear more efficient   to clients. 
    •    Up: When nothing's reliable, where do you take your money? To the big boys where you think your dollars are safe. Not everybody agrees they're safe there.

    •    The result is that most quality publishers are struggling to make a buck.
- It has harmed consumers. Here are a few of the ways ad tech is harming consumers:
    •    Tracking is seriously undermining the idea of privacy, one of the fundamental concepts of a democracy. 

    •    Tracking software can carry java scripts that deliver all kinds of malware to our computers and threaten the security of anything stored online with our info in it. You think your info is secure on line? Hackers just found 138 holes in Pentagon web security. Good luck with your Amazon account.

    •    Ad tech has created a nightmarish user experience in which constant interruption and  annoyance are the norm.
Those who were around at the dawn of "interactive" advertising probably remember the term "disintermediation." It was meant to describe how the web was going to make things simpler by allowing a seller and buyer to interact directly without the need for middlemen.

Ad tech has had exactly the opposite effect. It has suffused the buying and selling of ad space with complexity to an unimaginable degree. It has permeated the online ad ecosystem with misintermediation. It has placed literally hundreds of middlemen between buyers and sellers and made the whole process impossible to decipher. It has complicated the shit out of online advertising. It needs radical simplification.

Below is a chart from Luma Partners that illustrates some of the incomprehesible complexity of ad tech.

There is some good news. People who seem to know about this stuff are telling me that advertisers and publishers are starting to get fed up. There is movement toward a simpler, less noxious model of online advertising.

Of course there are some very fat fat cats who like it just the way it is, so it ain't gonna be easy to change.

There is no reason online advertising can't be more effective, more acceptable, more transparent, and more lucrative. But there's one big ugly thing standing in the way -- the stupid, wasteful, and totally unnecessary misuse of technology.

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