The most disingenuous part of Facebook’s admission is that, despite employing the brightest engineers on the planet earth, we are supposed to believe they made an honest “math mistake.”
Facebook’s admission, on top of Dentsu announcing that it charged advertisers for buying ads that were never bought, make our industry’s failures more viewable during advertising’s conference week. How ironic.
Advertisers are tired of our games
We charge them for ads not actually seen by people.
We charge them for ads reported as “seen” by non-people.
We pay to import traffic, so our Web sites appear larger than they really are.
We make claims high in fat, low in truth.
We talk in “tongues.”
We arbitrage on advertisers’ lack of understanding.
We “miscalculate” numbers.
Consumers despise us
We are still running pop-up ads.
We serve auto-play video ads that pop up.
We disguise advertising as editorial.
We take data without their permission and then offer a maze to opt out.
We publish content like vending machines dispensing empty calories.
We position ads displayed on mobile devices that are designed to induce accidental clicks.
We sell ads that give their computers infections.
Our biggest problem however, is nothing new.
In 1999, I joined the Internet ad space after buying and then selling magazine print ads the previous 10 years. I quickly realized I’d joined a new media fraternity where I didn’t belong.
These new media brothers and sisters spoke fast and in a language shrouded with acronyms. They had little respect for “traditional media” and less respect for consumers. Site visitors were just numbers to be manipulated to land more ad dollars more quickly. These early Internet advertising leaders were among the first to read their BlackBerry as you spoke to them.
The biggest problem with Internet advertising is a lack of character.
All our problems are self-inflicted, triggered by decisions made by digital ad leaders who continue to choose the path to easier money over the moral high road.
This is not sustainable.
I am not alone. I know there are many others who feel just as I do, but have been cast aside as “traditional media people” who don’t understand this new media world.
It’s time to change that.
It’s time for traditional media minds to take the wheel of this digital advertising sinking ship, bringing the focus back to a great consumer content experience beyond all else.
It’s time to put traditional media minds in leadership positions, where they’d have the strength to say no to advertiser requests that would result in injuring the consumer experience.
It’s time to employ leaders who know how to sell the value of access to consumer attention -- not just the ability to transfer it.
It’s time to employ leaders who don’t panic over unsold inventory.
This pivot back to traditional media values in digital media is possible. Theplayerstribune.com is a great example of a novel yet traditional media business born in this new media world. The content is a “Big Papi”-sized home run for consumers, and better ad dollars will follow great content.
Nontraditional media minds have never understood that old-world order. Their focus has been on chasing cheap ad dollars with fake numbers.
It’s time for CEOs in the media business to step up and say to their digital directors and gigabyte gurus, “Thanks, I finally understand the Internet now. It’s time for you to move aside and let someone with a little more media experience drive.”
The only thing the Internet advertising industry has “miscalculated” is the importance of character in the business of selling advertising.
While I think it's probably overdramatizated to call digital advertising a "sinking ship," the view that it's time to bring in the adults -- traditional media managers -- is certainly interesting. I'd tend to agree, except for the fact that they'd suddenly be paid to be huge advocates for digital media and might even magnify the problems. After all, didn't we see the same problems from traditional media in the form of newspaper and magazine circulation scandals and inflated broadcast audience numbers?
Ari, you make mnay very good points and it is long past time for digital media to bring in managers who understand media and accept the mantle of responsibility, treating both consumers and advertisers with respect.
Gordon, I'm intrigued by your comment regarding print media circulation "scandals" and "inflated" TV ratings.. Can you elaborate on this, please.
Even MediaPost has pop up ads...just saying.
@Paula -- I know and it's wrong
@ Ed -- thank you -- we need to have lunch one day
@ Gordon -- you're right there are traditional media companies/people who lack character your point is well taken but at traditional media companies there is far less "look the other way" business practices in place -- I always refer to my time at Newsweek where a great rep was fired because he told other people at Newsweek to fill in a BRC card for one of his car advertisers to help inflate the numbers -- can you imagane a sales person at Facebook or any digital publisher for that matter, getting fired for clicking on an ad they sold?
Ari, Thank you very much for attempting to clean out an infected wound. I have been one of the very few publishers who respond on the Media Post columns about ad problems and relations between the ad marketers and publishers. You sum it much better than I.
On Facebook, the real truth is the numbers are much worse than you write about. I directly advertised 2 sweepstakes ad on Facebook by Fortune 100 companies. In short I got more sweep entries on my website for these sweepstakes located on FB than FB according to both of the Fortune companies. Here's the kicker. Facebook is said to have in the billions of members, sweepstakestoday.com has less than a million.
I for one have seen numbers and I would say that something is seriously incorrect in Facebook's "Math". The worse? It is the honest publisher who are trying to make a honest living for years.
Thanks for bringing back honesty back into the discussion.
I agree with the bulk of your comments, Mr. Rosenberg, though I don't want to sound like it is because I was first born in traditional media but quickly in digital starting back in '95 with that foundation already in place.
I think it's not so much about traditional media personnel needing to be involved with digital in order to fix what's wrong with digital as it is to bring very real media philosophy and discpline to a segment of the advertising industry that has largely flown by the seat of its pants carried on the winds of a rapidly changing technological environment. Most of the rules and wisdom of traditional media were born of real study, work, and experience. Those rules and wisdoms were not borne of ignorance and absence, like stories about rain being the tears of god or thunder the sound of gods bowling. Rules and wisdom born before 1995 is not obsolute because they were born before 1995.
Digital's problems may be a lot more fundamental than a lack of familiarity with the fundamentals of media. It may be because digital just isn't good at advertising "qua" advertising. But that's a much longer discussion for another time.
I often get emails from people who can't speak publicly on this topic because of where they work etc but I did get permission to share this email anonymously:
"Agree 100% on all points. This has been my gripe forever. Our industry thinks it's better than it is because it uses technology and is "accountable" but it uses that technology to cheat more than it uses it to be productive and add value.
Even the 'clean' guys cheat - they have to! If the low end of the funnel is cheating, the upper end has to cheat or be undone by the lower end. It's like the steroids problem in baseball. If you're not doing it, some normal Triple A player is suddenly banging out 30 HRs a season....and you're stuck at 25. So you find a way to keep up.
This has been my gripe about the agencies holding the big, cleaner, publishing houses more accountable than they are holding the POS exchanges they go to when they're looking for ten cent CPMs. That's what's killing the biz, that's what created the IVT and viewability problems, and that's what is causing Ad Blocking to take off.
You nailed it. You also left at least one thing off your list - we sell other people's inventory as our own. In lots of different ways. Ad Blockers sell what they block as a network. Ad Injectors sell what they inject into as their own. And big, clean, publishers sell 'Audience Extension' on crap sites as their own to make a margin on arbitrage.
Messy, ugly stuff."
@ Jim Meskauskas
First stop calling me Mr. Rosenberg -- makes me sound old and I called on you back in the '1990's when I sold for Newsweek and you may not remember me but I for sure remember you because YOU are a total media pro. Your comment is a great one and builds on and corrects my sentiments -- you're right -- but I don't think digital leaders will conform to these princilples and practices so it may take a traditional media people to bring them to the front of the decision line.
Thanks for weighing in Jim.
I think he means sinking as in sinking in value to the advertiser and the end content consumer.
From May 2009 to April 2011, the WSJE had a deal with a Dutch company called Executive Learning Partnership by which ELP purchased thousands of copies of the Journal for a price as low as €0.01. If such deal is not uncommon, the scale was: 41% of the WSJE's total audited circulation was inflated via this little scheme. The deal also involved a positive coverage of ELP. On 11 October, the WSJE's publisher, Andrew Langhoff, resigned.
Similar scandals come & go (with little reprieve) in Pakistan, even more so with the introduction of metrics that only serve the publisher. Notable examples include claims in readers per magazine (think public spaces - hotels, bars, hospitals) and over the shoulder reads (friends, family, stalkers).
It's the job of the Audit Bureau of Circulations to keep tabs on publishers' and their circulation numbers & claims. The scandal that unfolded was certainly unethical, but only necessarily illegal because of the (very loose) terms & definitions the Audit Bureau of Circulations had placed on items like paid circulation.
Read more: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/press_box/2004/08/ghost_readers.html
We are better than this. Thanks for calling it out.
I agree with a great deal of this but I think it is dangerously close to prolonging a polemic world of old vs new, traditional vs digital. Having worked in both (longer in 'trad' than 'dig') I feel relatively fluent in each. A vast number of digital professionals, who should have known better, have without doubt overstated the importance of digital and made huge, unfounded and inflated overclaims. At the same time a significant proportion of traditional media ex-colleagues of mine still delight in out-of-date and ill-informed barbs at the 'new boys.' There are smart, objective and curious people engaged on both sides (one day I hope to not have to draw the distinction!). Unfortunately thay are often drowned out by the mud-slingers. I get a feeling, and this article will certainly help, that they (we) are starting to be heard. I don't think its a case of "hey get out of the front seat digital, it's our turn to drive again", I think its about having the right people on the bus, or the ship, or whatever the analogy is. For me it's not a battle between trad and dig because I think it is fair to say that the 'truth lies as yet undiscovered in between the two'. I am starting to see even some younger digital natives in agencies and media owners say it, I'd like to hear a number of my age peers who remain firmly entrenched in analogue start to express similar curiosity. Between us all, I have (I have to have!) some faith we'll crack it.
Ari, I get it, people cheat in online advertising. But I will disagree with you when it gets down to the publisher's level. I don't know how to cheat nor have I even thought attempting it. I do know plenty of publishers who get the shaft from the ad sellers. If you know something going on why not share you thoughts with publishers like me.
Digital advertising has become, all too often, direct marketing online--and not the good direct marketing either. It's no wonder consumers are blocking it.
Yeah ... are you sure you're a digital person and not just a traditional marketer in sheep's clothing?
What you described - flawed circulation, unreliable audience numbers, etc - are issues that have plagued marketing for decades. Before digital came along.
Traditional marketers were just better at hiding these issues because consumers were victims of a captive market.
Digital came around and started making traditional marketers pay attention to foreign concepts like Return on Investment (ROI) and cost per acquisition (CPA), something that all other businesses in the world have to pay attention to.
Welcome to the 20th century traditional guy!
Too bad we're now in the 21st century and you're still looking for the 60s 'Madmen' solution to everything: bill your client for a 3-Martini lunch then add 20% to a kagillion dollar ad spend for a 30 second movie that no one wants to watch any more.
As an elder still in the business I endorse heartily the basic tenet of this article though I think the tenor a bit too rhetorical. We, the "industry" made a mistake in putting digital on an island outside planet Media in the 90s and we allowed it to grow feral and uninitiated in evergreen principles and adapted rigor. We allowed everything non-digital to be called "traditional" with all the Luddite-baggage associated with the term. Now we need to tame the child, restore our own time-tested and valid principles of exposure-opportunities, GRPs, reach and frequency, frequency distributions and other audience delivery metrics as these are the basis of all other measures such as engagement, recall, awareness etc. Moreover, they are the ONLY way we can view scope and scale of the various elements of media/communications programs. And we must have them, on a consistent and validated metric to deliver a holistic view into what we are doing the media space on behalf of clients. We have diminished our own practices and as we all move erratically into this "digitally-centric", "data-informed" new media "ecosystem", it is OUR job as media practioners to restore what is perdurable and true, adapt that which needs modernizing and eliminate that (landline surveys, anyone?) which is no longer relevant. Would you like your GRPs in paper or plastic?
Liam, what "flawed circulation" and "unreliable" audience numbers are you talking about. The basic difference between digital and traditional media is the fact that third parties either supply the audience surveys or verify the circulation. In the case of print media the Audit Bureau Of Circulation was set up expressly to prevent fraud and it has worked well for over 90 years. In the case of TV, Nielsen's national ratings ---while not perfect----have been watched very closely by advertisers, agencies, the FCC and Congress as well as the networks themselves for any sign of a real problem and so far nothing of substance has been found. Sure, Nielsen has been a bit slow to incorporate digital "viewing" and out-of-home ratings---where some issues do exist--- however the amount of viewing that takes place in these venues is small and advertisers are not charged for such audiences anyway.
As for digital, you have a real mess that far transcends anything that one might dream up for TV, radio or print media. In addition to rampant fraud and inflated audience reporting by sellers like FB, you have a glaring ad viewability problem, and a surge in the use of ad blockers due to consumers objecting to the disruptive way that ads are presented and, consequently, a growing reach ceiling that is driving branding advertisers, who were interested back to TV. If you want to bury your head in the sand and think that the digital situation is just like what has happened with TV, radio and print media, go right ahead. Unfortunately for digital ad sellers, the cat is out of the bag and nobody who bothers to check is going to be fooled again. Either fix it or lose it.
@ Dorothy Higgins -- will you please subnit a guest column I LOVE your writing and your points are well taken and certainly imrpove upon mine
@ Liam Young -- thanks for proving my point about the immaturity digital people like yourself and for allowing @Eddie P to school you.
Very complimentary. I noodle with writing up the reasons we benefit from relearning and inculcating in all media practitioners the basics. We must restore our lost institutional knowledge about the foundations of media planning, buying and reporting.
WOW...powerful. Thank you!!
Great post. One of the best I've read here (and that's a high compliment).
You might want to visit Separating Advertising's Wheat and Chaff (http://j.mp/adwhtch), which contains this brief description of What Happened: "Madison Avenue fell asleep, direct response marketing ate its brain, and it woke up as an alien replica of itself." It also suggests a number of solutions in addition to putting tradional media minds and values back in charge.
Wonderful post. As an agency we are espousing very similar sentiment. We utilize machine-learning measurement solutions to show how self-reported media measurement and default digital metrics are rediculously overinflated and unrelated to business outcomes. Once you strip out non-viewable imps and non-human actions, as well as exposure correlated not causal to conversions (e.g. last second "jump-in" of display or affiliates, or "navigational" paid brand search) the truer incremental effects of digital look very very different. As is said: add up all the ROI of my marketing silos and my business should be three times the size it is!
We really need a HUGE reset button in the industry..
@ Ed Papazian newspaper and magazine circulation scandals were rampant about 10 years ago at companies like Tribune, Newsday and others. Google "newspaper circulation scandal." Happens to a lesser extent in TV, but occasionally. Univision exec was fired a few years ago for inflating numbers, and there have been accusations about Fox's (News Corp.'s) involvement in creating TV measurement technology. As a researcher, I understand the whole idea behind the diary and now the People Meter, but the extrapolation of data and interpretation as "exact" sounds a whole lot like the inexact science of audience measurement we're seeing with the Internet.
Gordon, the "scandals" you describe----and I'm not questionning their existence----pale into insignificance compared to what we are seeing in digital. This is especially true for national media buys, though I could also cite a few "mini scandals" involving "unwired TV networks" some time ago that, while deplorable, didn't amount to a hill of beans total spending-wise. My point is about scale. In digital media the fraud levels are built into the whole system, not isolated cases involving a relative handfull of ad dollars. Sure, advertisers and agencies who are very careful in their digital buys and monitor every stage of the buying and audience/ad delivery process with a fine tooth comb, expending much time and effort to do so, may be avoiding some of the pitfalls. But is this any way to run a business? Isn't it about time that the digital ad selling community recognized that it has the ultimate responsibility to deliver the goods---all of the goods---that it sells to advertisers and stop wailing about advertisers creating "better ads".
@Gordon, I respect you so please don't take this any other way -- but Ed is 100% right -- you are pointing to examples of poor character in traditional media and while those cases are true -- in Internet advertising world it's rampid. Besides two wrongs never added up to right :)
We all know what's going on with online display advertising and it won't change until clients start pulling their ad dollars away.
The answer is simple yet powerful. Provide a GSI™ ( Guaranteed Sales Increase) for every product advertised in any media. The Advertiser does not pay until they have made their guaranteed sales increase. Then poof! All Ad problems go away, including fraud. It's been tested, certified and proven to work. So that is not even a debate. The only question left is when will the sellers of advertising start providing the answer.
@ Mark Eberra -- your solution has such a gaping hole in it. Publishers have zero influence on the ad creative, the product packaging, the distirbution strategy, the fullfillment, the customer service the list goes on and on and yet you want them to guarantee the ads work to sell products. Even worse, your solution gives a perverse incentive for advertisers to NOT invest in any of these things because the worse their ads perform, the more levarge they have to get sites to lower prices so this back end "works to meet an ambigious gurantee" -- no way my man, no way.
Fantastic post Ari. Just one minor point RE: The Players Tribune. While it is a novel concept and the content is solid, some of what they publish is ghostwritten by professional writers rather than the professional athlete it's attributed to. To my knowledge, the athlete does have final say on the content, but it's a bit of a grey area their readers may not be aware of. It certainly doesn't place them alongside many of the bigger issues of fraud you raised, but still puts into question the "authenticity" and "transparency" of those in the media.
Did not know that Howard. That's disapointing -- do they make it clear on the site or for any given article that it is ghost written? Thanks for bringing this point up it does align well with the idea that we mislead consumers.
You really knocked this out of the park Ari. And I have to add that this article is also a testament for the need to have commenting enabled in quality journalism - something fewer and fewer publishers allow. I enjoyed the comments almost as much as I enjoyed your article. :)
There are tools to make auditing ads more transparent. If your an advertiser spending money, you owe it to your shareholders to check on your partners. See Pathmatics, WhatRunsWhere, ... and demand reports from your agencies and providers. And be creative, not annoying!
@ Ari Rosenberg Thank for you for your input. I will be glad to address both of your points. First, your skepticism. The GSI™ (Guaranteed Sales Increase) requires out of the box thinking so I understand how you might feel it’s impossible to achieve. I can imagine the same response when the idea of putting a man on the moon was first introduced. I am sure people like yourself said things like, "no way my man, no way." However, the math and the technology was invented to make it possible, and within 10 years we put a man on the moon. Like the moon mission, we have pioneered and invented the polymathic algorithm, and the technology to provide a GSI™ (Guaranteed Sales Increase) for every product advertised in any media. Perhaps most important, it has already been done. For over 10 years we have developed and perfected the GSI™ and successfully used it in all media including Print, Online, and Broadcast Television.
Now to address your second point. In order to achieve its objective, the GSI™ does not require a publisher, or network/station to influence the creativity of the Ad, or the operation of an Advertiser’s business, such as the product packaging, distribution, customer service, etc. So, your “perverse incentive” example is invalid and leads to a false conclusion because it makes the assumption that the GSI™ does not work exactly as described. Remember, the GSI™ is not a promise, it is a mathematical and scientific reality. This is why our own soon to launch, One Billion Live Network will provide a GSI™ Guaranteed Sales Increase to all our advertisers. After all, our own broadcast network would never accept clicks, impressions, views or some other made up metric over money/cash. So why would we expect anything less for our advertising customers?
Great debate. Which media sells more of your clients stuff in the most cost effective way. That's the only question you need to answer. Old v new? Irrelevant. Here's my thoughts.
Alan, agree with you 100%! Enjoyed your linknedin article. Here is my take on it. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/transparency-clearing-ad-world-clicks-tricks-false-mark-eberra?trk=prof-post
great article. Though i was thinking of the Jerry Mcquire movie when he writes his epissal for sports agencies. I think tradition media 'slept walked' into the new era. Traditional media invented many of these 'overclaim' practices. Ratecard figure vastly exagerate the true worth of space, circulations are bolstered by 'bulk distributions'. If the Daily Mirror is free at Glasgow airport then why will i but it at the WH Smith concession. I think content is king but the web has led the drive to 'bite-size' which endangers any long form. I think the traditional strength of 'loyal readers' and each mag or newspaper having a loyal constituency offers hope. Buy a newspaper everyday people
There seem to be at least two forces at work in the current digital marketing explosion - one is the inherent excitement of a new technology and the almost driven desire to create something new within it, something not necessarily functional, cost-saving or practicable but anything new just for the sake of the technology. This is so often done with marginal understanding of the meaning and outcome of the numbers the digital marketing sellers are so fond of extolling. For them, it's all about gathering and manipulating the numbers - real or exaggerated - into clever reports with colorful pie charts and graphs that have undiscernable impact on an advertiser's bottom line. I have repeatedly sat through such presentations at the end of which the digital presenter cannot answer how this information will translate into more sales, more traffic, higher market share. It's a world of unverifiable clicks, sees, impressions, likelies - gee, wait! It turns out all that technology is not only really no improvement on traditional media measurement, it's even more corrupted and much more corruptible via bots, paid likes, et al.
The second force in play is the idea of monetizing digital marketing for the advertiser. The only true monetizing going on is a handful at the top who monopolize access and charge middle men at agencies and media outlets who peddle 'unique' manipulation and reporting mechanisms to clients at huge expense. To justify that cost they in turn have suborned a sub-industry of digital trolls who can inflate numbers, clicks, likes, tweets, et al at the client's expense. It's a cheat, systematic, unethical and in some cases out right fraud. There is no direct correlation on this scale to anything done by traditional media.
@Diane Scarpelli your description of the current state of presentations, especially in the digital world, is spot on. That’s why our presentations to potential advertisers for our soon to launch broadcast network always start out with a simple question. Do you want to invest your money or spend it? If you want to spend it then find a network that will provide you with clicks, views, ratings or something else you can’t deposit in the bank. If you want to invest it, then let’s us give you a return on investment in the form of cold hard cash. Real money, it’s the only metric that counts!
@Mark Eberra -- I think I speak for all of us when I say please stop -- these boards are not a platform for your obvious self promotion -- please respect this request.
Great post Ari. Great contributions esp. Ed & Dorothy.
But now I can't plug my "off this planet" GUD ™ (Guaranteed Universal Dominance) system. Sad face, sad face.
John, why not? It seems to me a forum that fostered a climate for diverse opinions, intelligent discourse and healthy debate, would welcome the contribution of new ideas. Especially If you had truly pioneered such a concept and application that solved perhaps the greatest and pressing need in your field, that was the current topic of discussion. And if your contribution was attacked (without merit or facts) surely you could offer the math and science on which it was based in defense without anyone in the discussion being threatened, upset, or offended.
If not, my advice to you John, is to stay above the fray and keep moving on with your important work. After all, even Albert Einstein was intially ignored after he invented E=MC 2. Remember the words of the great man himself, "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."