Back in the day, advertising had a terrible reputation.
There was the “insults my intelligence” accusation, which was true or false depending on which half of the bell curve your IQ resided. There was the “lies and deception” charge, fueled by a few high-profile scandals (marbles in the bottom of Campbell’s Soup bowls, to make the soup in the ads look chunkier), but mainly overstated. Before the 1980s, the FTC actually regulated, and thereafter competitors kept you honest in federal court. The only chronically deceitful advertising was and is for political candidates and issues, where truth takes a holiday every other year, 30 seconds at a time.
Some people thought advertising used sophisticated psychological techniques and subliminal messaging to brainwash you. Hahahaha. Brands have all the Svengali power of a fortune cookie; historically they struggle even to keep existing customers in the fold.
Sure, advertising has always been thematically dishonest, I suppose. It depicts a world of smiling people, made grinningly content by consumer goods -- which in the long run is the opposite of true. And behind the scenes, ad agencies did often get screwed by corrupt employees and vendors even as they were themselves screwing clients.
Ah, for the good old days. Compared to now, they were 99 44/100ths pure.
Proposal for a new AMC series: Bad Men.
Last week I wrote about Dose.ca, a business that steals content from others without linkbacks or attribution and sells ads against the views. A few weeks back, nobody was remotely surprised when research revealed that half of online buys are never seen by human eyes, thanks to sharp dealing and outright fraud: white on white ads being charged as views, bot-driven fake clicks and so on.
I myself have been a journalistic witness, in an experiment with a banking brand, to ad “views” contracted through Giant Media being delivered by “incentivizing” -- i.e., paying -- gamers to click on them. Without so disclosing, of course.
Shall we mention clickbait? The headlines disguised as feature stories taking you down a rabbit hole of advertising pitches, or launching so many ad units on the page at once that your screen freezes. Not to mention “mainstream” native advertising, which is brand marketing disguised as editorial matter in order to trick readers into clicking through. Organized deception, in other words.
And now we learn about Turn, a company that figured out a way to serve targeted ads to mobile users who had disabled cookies precisely so they would not be targeted with advertising. When Stanford University lawyer/computer scientist/blogger Jonathan Mayer and ProPublica simultaneously broke the story last week, Turn replied as follows:
“Clearing cookies is not a reliable way for a user to express their desire not to receive tailored advertising.” Boldface theirs.
This is like posting a No Trespassing sign on your fence only to discover intruders parachuting into your yard. “Placing signs on fences is not a reliable way to keep flying men off of your premises.”
The particular parachute in Turn’s case is a means of retrieving cookie code associated with a phone’s UIDH identifier, whatever the hell that is. Turn gets that UIDH data from Verizon…surprise, surprise. But the provenance of the information and the technique are not the point. Furthermore, no matter what Turn’s Chief Privacy Officer Max Ochoa asserted in his initial reaction to the bad publicity, the argument that there are more “reliable” ways to opt out of ads, um, insults one’s intelligence. If someone closes the front door on you and asks to be left alone, when you go around and knock on the back door, you are what we call an “asshole.”
This eventually dawned on Turn, which within two days had suspended its so-called “Zombie Cookie” activity (as of next month.) First the Turn worms, and now vice versa.
As I was saying….oh, for simpler times, when "digital" was an agency producer dipping his finger into the mound of cocaine he’d scored as a kickback from the editing house. A few wayward Mad Men we could live with. What has become of the advertising industry today makes me want to puke.