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?

May 17, 2016

Does Content Build Brands?

Last week, Sir John Hegarty of BBH made some very cogent statements about the relative value of content marketing and advertising.

This week I was a guest on a marketing podcast that ripped into Hegarty for his comments. I didn't have the time to defend his point of view properly. So here goes.

First and most obviously is this: The highest goal of marketing is to build brands. Advertising has built thousands of major consumer-facing brands in hundreds of categories. Until you can show me even a few major brands that have been built by "content" I cannot accept content as anything but a footnote.

Let's be more specific: Overwhelmingly the world's major brands -- Apple, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Nike, Pepsi, Microsoft, Walmart, Samsung, Toyota, BMW and, literally, hundreds of others -- have been built by advertising. I cannot think of one major non-web-native brand that has been built by content (or social media, for that matter.)

Second is this: If you look at the brands that are most successful at content marketing, they are overwhelmingly brands that have spent billions of dollars on traditional advertising. In other words, success in content marketing (and social media) is overwhelmingly the effect of brand power, not the cause of it.

Do you think Coca-Cola would have 100 million Facebook followers if it was Bob-a-Cola? It took billions of dollars of traditional advertising to make Coke a social media success.

Have there been a few brands that have come out of nowhere and been successful with these tactics? Sure, but these are very rare exceptions. Check the lists of the brands most successful at content marketing and social media and you will find they are overwhelmingly brands with enormous advertising budgets.

Finally, content is a symptom of the advertising and marketing industry's obsession with incrementalism. With very few exceptions, the content created by most marketers reaches a miniscule proportion of the population. And the rare examples of content that break out and reach a large percent of the population tend to be those that closely resemble traditional advertising.

There are many people of integrity in the content/social world who understand these factors and are modest in their claims and moderate in their speech.

But, sadly, there are still far too many swaggering digital showboats who are dismissive of the power of traditional advertising and are too eager to take credit for content and social "successes" that have far more correlation to the popularity of a brand that was built by advertising than to anything they have contributed.