Sitting Next To Objectionable Content

We work remotely at my company.  I personally bounce between my apartment, my gym, and coffee shops in the neighborhood when I am not meeting with clients.  

When it comes to coffee shops, Starbucks is the go-to because the Internet connection there is far superior to other coffee places.'  The problem is that the Starbucks locales in New York City have become homeless shelters.  Their managers can’t stop drug-addicted vagrants from taking refuge at tables right next to paying customers.

I respectfully complained to the store manager at my local Starbucks numerous times. Finally he said, in candor, “There is nothing we can do, man.”  The manager explained that even if the police come to remove these vagrants, they just return the next day.  If it’s not a homeless person sitting near you, it’s people with disgusting personal habits or people who treat Starbucks like their personal phone booths.

Despite these surroundings, for the price of a cup of coffee you have a place to work with a great Internet connection.  You just have to accept sitting near objectionable content.



AT&T and Verizon (among others) recently halted their advertising on YouTube because their ads ran alongside objectionable content.  

Despite this well-publicized boycott, however, premium advertisers will continue to sit next to objectionable Internet content for the foreseeable future.

That’s because advertisers are addicted to reach and clicks (and related performance metrics — but don’t kid yourselves, clicks still get counted).  Advertisers need to drive traffic back to their own sites so they can increase the pool of users they can retarget on the exchanges.  

The exchanges are filled with dirt-cheap impressions on vagrant content sites. Cheap ad impressions will always make back-end performance numbers appear stronger.  If your job is dependent on buying cheap reach, you’re going to accept the stench of vagrant content.  

This recent orchestrated revolt against Google reeks as well.  First, AT&T and Verizon announced their revolt on the same day?  Second, both compete with Google for ad dollars.  Three, didn’t Verizon just buy Tumblr, a blog network of objectionable content?  This boycott is pure digital ad politics.  Taping the term “objectionable content” on the back of their biggest competitor was a “Trumparian” move.

This hype will pass. Advertisers will continue to hold their nose and look the other way.  Buyers will continue to smoke programmatic pipes. and pure premium publishers who practice journalism and publish quality, well-edited content, will shrug their shoulders as they are backed further into a corner instead of leading the field.

This thing won’t be cleaned up, because advertisers don’t really want it to be.  Cheap reach and clicks are as addicting as a cheap place to work with great Internet connection.  You talk about getting an office at WeWorks until you see how much free coffee actually costs.

So if advertisers aren’t going to spray the Windex needed to clean up this mess, who will?

Premium publishers can — but the “how“ may surprise you.

YouTube aside, the abundance of objectionable content sites live on the open exchanges.  The value of running ads on these sites is created when brands see they can target quality consumers killing time on shitty sites.  Quality consumers come from quality data, which comes from quality publishers.

A consumer who visits a highly regarded content site is generally a highly valued target audience.  When premium publishers run open-exchange ads on their own sites, they allow their quality data to walk out their own front door.  If, for example, a user visits and then later that month lands on, an advertiser can now target and reach that highly valued target audience at a much cheaper rate on a lower quality site.  

If premium publishers stopped running open-exchange ads on their own sites, they would suffocate the value of open exchanges.  In turn, premium advertisers would be forced to find higher-quality target audiences on sites that invest in producing higher-quality, non-objectionable content. The open exchanges would either wither away or get stronger by having to set real standards for sites to participate.  Problem solved.

Advertiser boycotts aren’t going to solve this problem.  Neither will ad technology, which benefits by running ads on objectionable content.  Premium publishers alone can solve this problem, by not allowing their quality data to be used against them.

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