Can't Bribe Your Way To Quality

Univision's Fusion Media Group is testing an initiative in which advertisers with the most engaging ads -- based on number of clicks and mouse-overs -- are rewarded with bonus impressions. This is supposed to encourage marketers to produce better ads, as if all along they have been designing crap that they didn't care were non-performing, or didn't optimize clunkers out of existence.

Advertising is not necessarily a popularity contest. Some of the most famous and remembered ads in history, although popular with consumers, failed miserably to move product -- yes, those  television ads in an era where "measurement" and "attribution" were yet-to-evolve concepts.

Still, it will be interesting to see if the rewarded ads in this system are the ones that are most-viewed -- or are the ones that actually move product.

As the bottom feeders in the digital ad space have shown, it is easy to deceive consumers into clicking on an ad (or "native content"), but another matter altogether to move product once consumers realize they've been baited and switched. 



Are clicks really a fair measure of "engagement"?  How about when I turn on the bots that shoot my ads to the top of the list?

If there are rewards on the line, you can be sure someone will try to game the system. It's The American Way.

But I find the whole concept of rewarding "engaging" ads with bonus impressions to be unsettling. It says to agencies, "You can do better. But apparently you need a bribe to do it."

If Fusion's various sites are running those famously objectionable easy-loan and lose-weight ads, it is because they are desperate for income  -- and if those ads fill up the coffers, so be it. Nothing will incentivize those ads to improve. They are about tonnage, not quality.

What about the ads that are part of a programmatic buy? By nature, they cannot be specially designed to specific sites, so tend to take a sort of everyman approach. If they underperform, it takes about a tenth of a second to replace them with other iterations that are getting better response across the buy. What if one ad wins the bonus inventory because it did really well on the Fusion sites, but bombed elsewhere and is optimized away? Still a winner?

To me, the whole concept of incentives is an admission that there is something more fundamentally wrong in the equation.  Ad-tech companies that "reward" consumers for watching ads have failed miserably. That doesn't build loyalty; it promotes opportunism.

If your agency or ad-tech firm isn't producing ads that move product, don't try to incent them to improve. Fire them.

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