Let's Fix Digital Corruption Now!

John Wanamaker famously said 50% of advertising is wasted, but at least in his day, prospects had the chance to see it. Today with bots infesting our home (pages) and viewability an issue, approximately 50% of the impressions never have the chance to get seen, at least by humans.

Wenda Millard was telling me the other day that the current state of affairs resembles the mid 2000s when porn not so secretly fueled our growth.  Like then, the industry has to pull itself together and get off this bad drug, even if it means taking half a step backwards with a temporary revenue hit before we can go forward again. 

The facts are astounding, with organized crime syndicates making literally billions of dollars. But what may be worse is that for every dollar that reaches the bad guys, the digital eco-system collects $6. So, there is not a compelling short term reason for most of us to want to deal with it. So, we sweep it under the rug, but that bump is growing bigger every day, and soon it will outgrow the entire house. 

The only way to fight this is to make it all transparent, so the good guys are rewarded, not punished by the system.  A Rabbi who escaped Germany during WW2 once said that he wasn’t bothered nearly as much by the Nazi’s as by “the silence of good people.”  We have an entire eco-system today that is largely complicit in looking the other way while corruption, and low quality standards attack the integrity of the whole industry.  

The good people need to step up, and stop looking the other way, or rationalizing the problem away with weak statements like “no problem, we already account for poor traffic/viewability in the numbers.”  

The distinction between bad actors, and those who are unintentional participants is an important one. 

The IAB has a major initiative called Traffic Of Good Intent (TOGI), which was carefully named to emphasize the point that most publishers do not intentionally source bad traffic (even if they benefit from it). 

It’s a good start, but the problem needs to be addressed by all aspects of the eco-system, particularly the clients who are the true victims of these shenanigans.  It’s a hugely complex problem where anything less than a holistic approach results in a game of Whac-A-Mole where the problem is simply moved from one area of the eco system to another. “Bad” sites one day can become “good” sites the next day, depending on traffic sources, so black/white lists don’t work, and can falsely accuse the innocent (there’s that bad/good intent issue again). 

Even when the shenanigans are exterminated, we still aren’t out of the woods. After retargeting, most of the other programmatic buying approaches produce relatively inconsistent results.  Perhaps the successor to cookie-based tracking, whatever that is, will create a more effective targeting approach. 

Then there is the issue of pure economics for content producers.  Today’s low CPMs for programmatic and long-tail publishers are simply insufficient to pay for quality content.  Many of these sites are kept alive by nothing more than traffic arbitrage, with cheaply purchased bot traffic being the staple that keeps the whole faulty system running.   

The time is now to stop the downward spiral and turn it around. Better content, better targeting, better traffic = better results for clients, and growth for the whole industry. 

Its everyone’s problem-–don’t be silent all you good people. 

1 comment about "Let's Fix Digital Corruption Now!".
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  1. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff, October 2, 2013 at 12:12 p.m.

    Jon, amen to all of this. Everyone in the digital ecosystem should be pushing for a far smaller and higher quality "long tail" -- and for publishers who can afford to produce quality content. This is *critically* important as brand marketers inexorably increase their spending in digital: when the goal is awareness, brand marketers cannot simply include the price of bot traffic fraud into the model as DR marketers can. The scarcest commodity in the entire ecosystem is human attention. We ignore this at our own peril.

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