You simply aren’t feeling bad enough about yourself yet. Luckily, I can assist.
Perhaps you saw the news from Google that 56% of all paid ad impressions are not impressions at all, because they are never seen by human eyes. That sounds dreadful, but it’s actually much worse, because to qualify for having been viewed, an ad must merely have half its pixels on screen for one second. This is what you call your “low bar.”
If such a standard were applied to other areas of enterprise, the scan button on your radio would make every station Number 1 in its market, the Virgin Galactic liftoff would be a triumph and Herman Cain would be president of the United States.
Also, there would be no need for Viagra.
So in consideration of how users employ tunnel vision to focus on content, and how many employ ad blockers, and how no carbon-based organism has clicked on a banner in all of recorded history, we can probably assume that actual viewability of digital ads paid for by brands is a lot closer to 0% than it is to 44%.
Retching yet? Feeling a little clammy? Relax. I’m just getting started.
As a professional observer of the passing scene, I thought perhaps I might visit a site awash in the paid impressions that technically qualify under Google’s definition, but nonetheless leave no impression. My journey began (duh) on Yahoo’s home page, which is an ideal mixture of editorially curated clickbait and Venus-flytrap native. Again, I am paid to be curious, so I naturally alighted on a story about Egypt’s security zone in the Gaza Strip.
No, wait. Come to think of it, maybe it was another story. Maybe it was “13 Stars Who are Taller Than You Think.” Yeah. That one.
It was meant to be a slide show, but what I landed on was more like Times Square -- a blinking, flashing, midway of signage, plus auto-play videos, rendering the slide advance process barely functional amid the constant but hesitant loading of the surrounding ads. In fact, the slides took so long to advance I deviated to another important article. That one was headlined “Celebrities Who are Actually Black” (implying some sort of scandalous deception, as if Vin Diesel and Rashida Jones are falsely famous.) So of course I clicked to learn their dirty secrets, but once again was thrust into a slots casino of peripheral distraction. That page froze altogether.
Now: here’s why you should hate yourself. In each case, I was so fixated on the un-advancing slides, I never cast my eyes on the ad messages themselves. But they cast their eyes on me. Once they flashed, they’d succeeded -- like sea turtles laying their eggs on the beach and retreating back to the surf -- in depositing their cookies onto my browser. They weren’t advertising; they were spyware.
Thanks, Yahoo. Thanks, Suggest.com. Thanks, Capital One.
You have conspired to serve people banners that don’t meaningfully render and interfere with the content, just so you get your annoyed targets’ data -- reducing the advertisement to a Trojan horse. Such conduct is boorish and sleazy, like taking your date to the movies, where you talk loudly and fart the whole time, while your friends ransack her apartment.
Yep, folks, that’s your industry in the digital age: obnoxious, unscrupulous and sneaky. When your kids ask you what you do for a living, here’s what you should do: Lie.
Shouldn’t be too hard. Lots of you do it at work, all day long.
I started my career selling at Newsweek magazine surrounded by men and women who sold with class and dignity just like the product we represented. Your column is right on target as to what we are doing now and it will just get worse until consumers decide they have had enough. Thanks for your honest and awesome writing -- even if what you shared just kicked me and many else right in the stomach.
This comment is sponsored by Pepto-Bismol -- click here to --oh never mind.
Bob, this article page hosted by Mediapost has muted auto play video. Just confirming with you that you do also condemn Mediapost for conduct that is boorish and sleazy? Just making sure that you are still an editor at MediaPost.
Agreed. Also: Ouch.
This was my frustration during four years as ECD with a mobile agency. The solution to every brief was a banner campaign - sometimes rich media, often not. Yet the only banners I've ever tapped were the ones my fat fingers accidentally grazed due to their insidious placement adjacent to nav buttons.
You did say "muted" didn't you? And the ad is placed there to...whaddya call it...advertise, not merely to suck data from you. And the advertiser gets exactly what it's paying for.
As to your your implication of hypocrisy, if MediaPost were up to something boorish and sleazy, I promise you I'd be the shrillest voice. Now then, was there something you care to say about the actual business practices I am criticizing?
Hi Bob. I've been a big fan of yours for decades now and feel you are alarmingly on-target here with "Tip For Career Day: Stay Home." But like Benny, I too was disappointed to link to Media Post only to see the annoying inRead guy tear open your article to pitch me. Not only does he need a shave, he needs some etiquette lessons on polite social interaction. Now I get "it" that this is advertising and that's the business we are in. But there's a time and place for everything; unfortunately now, looks like there's an ad in place everywhere.
Bob, while I don't demur from anything you wrote, I'd LOVE to see the following analysis. Taking Google's 56% of banner impressions to be unseen by human eyes as correct we have a solid benchmark for the volume of robotic / fraudulent traffic that doesn't pass the 50%/1 second rule. So, what is the distribution of dwell times for banners that pass the 100% of pixels and 1-second rule? What is the mean time, the modal time band etc. I'm also willing to be that we'll see quite a right-tail on the distribution as banners sit there on browser pages that are not in focus to the user.
I hate to admit that I click on the same Yahoo sponsored content share the experience you've described. Waiting. Waiting. And then finally not caring about which celebrities had cosmetic surgery. All the time, clicking clicking clicking to advance the damn slide. I never get past two before I'm reminded that I've been tricked again. Creating frustration rather than engagement; who could possibly think these ads work?
Lets say I read an article about a Tesla in the New York Times. In the print days, I would get served a car ad. But maybe I am just interested in Teslas, or technology, or investing. But if I also visit Edmunds.com and CarFax and ebay autos, and tesla.com, I start to look like a potential Tesla buyer. If I am Tesla, I want to bid MUCH more to retarget a user who went to all of those sites, than merely one of them. So my strategy might be to run ads across those sites *even if they aren't seen* so that I can check off my boxes, and ultimately bid, say $20 CPM instead of $2 CPM, for the ad unit that *will* be seen. That doesn't mean I know any thing about the user aside from an anonymous profile.
You have a point of course, but at the end of the day, if ads didn't work at all, there would be no market for them.
PS. Comments are much better/readable now!
We just need to approach things differently in digital. People forget that ads can be of real value. If I'm going to be purchasing a car, buying a home, having a child, etc. in the next six months, there is no way I can know all of my possible purchase options. I wish users could set up one user profile across mobile, desktop, web TV, etc. that would allow advertisers to target them with products they actually will be needing. No algorithm is going to be more accurate than me setting up a profile with that information, and then updating it to fit my current needs. Is anybody listening... Google? It just doesn't seem that difficult to me. Everybody wins: users are targeted with ads they want to see, advertisers can buy profiles to match their product lines and not waste ad impressions.
Users are targeted, sure, but with ads they want to see? Where's the evidence anybody wants to see anything? I bought a motorcycle helmet through google search. Now that I have a brand new helmet, I'm regularly bombed by ads for motorcycle helmets, the last thing I could possibly need, as, dear advertisers, I ALREADY HAVE ONE. So all that targeted ad money is wasted on me.
Online advertising seems to be highly susceptible to being tuned out. I can't remember a single ad which I've paid any attention to (other than out of professional curiosity) or used in making a purchasing decision. Also, many of the sites I visit include videos that play automatically, kicked off by commercials. Our company policy doesn't allow employees to play videos on their computers, so we are expected to kill any web page that includes them. Therefore, the bulk of my computer time is off limits to many ads. Finally, clever attempts to make ads hard to ignore, such as by employing animated characters that wander across the monitor screen, are likely annoying to all but idle people who have plenty of time to kill.
It's not pleasant news to hear the two seconds I wasted looking for the "click here to close ad" box counts as a paid impression. To me, it was just a brush with what I think of as "Badvertising", and the only "impression" I got out of it was a bad impression of the advertiser.
Digital is looking a lot like the California Gold Rush. The guys who sold shovels and gold pans probably knew the majority of their customers would never find any gold and were simply wasting their money. They might have even planted a few stories to make it look like there was abundant gold in them thar hills. There ain't all that much, unless you're clever enough to be in the shovel business.