The 10 industry trends killing your online advertising effectiveness

27 April, 2016

Online advertising is broken.

Not just because accidentally clicking on a banner ad is the internet’s equivalent of stepping on some freshly discarded chewing gum.

Not just because the 15 second YouTube pre-roll ad you’re forced to endure is often enough to make you forgo the opportunity to stick around and watch something you actually wanted to consume.

And not just because global ad-blocking rates increased by 41% in 2015 (with a recent report from Page Fair and Adobe forecasting $41.4 billion will be lost in online ad revenue due to ad blockers in 2016).

These issues are made to look almost trivial compared to the silent killer attacking your online advertising effectiveness.

And the creature with blood on its hands is one you might not expect…


That’s right – killer robots are destroying your online advertising.

This article is not a science fiction parody, nor an AI doomsday prophecy.

Robots are genuinely responsible for stealing as much as one-third of all online advertising traffic.

I’m going to explain the 10 crucial industry trends which created this monster, and afford you and your team 10 marketing lessons to help you slay the evil digital advertising Terminator.

Short On Time? Your Skim-Read Summary:

Too busy to read the whole thing? We get it: logistics, synergies, KPI’s – all that stuff. Here’s the skim read version. You really should read the whole article though…

You can click on the dot point that takes your fancy and head straight to the relevant section.

#1. Fragmented audiences leading to cheaper rates

#2. Limited reporting and tracking complacency

#3. Reliance on engagement metrics to measure effectiveness

#4. The agency squeeze and decreasing fees

#5. Declining transparency between client, agency, and publisher

#6. The replication of offline advertising into online formats

#7. Demand for ad-free content and the push to subscription business models

#8. Annoying, interruptive online ads

#9. The increasing usage of ad-blockers

#10. Publishers, ad agencies and industry associations aren’t helping

The condensed explanation of digital advertising ‘Bot Fraud’

There’s a good chance you have never heard of the ‘bot fraud’ epidemic crippling the online ad industry.

If not, you need to have yourself briefed.

We published an article to bring you up to speed.

The title is both accurate, and startling:

“Why Your Ecommerce Advertising Budget Has Probably Been Robbed”

Before I explain the 10 industry trends you need to understand to overcome your online advertising problem – you need to know who these killer robots are, and what they are doing to your ad budget.

I’ll try and make this quick, and easy to understand.

How bot fraud happens – in eight dot points:

  • You want to pay a publisher to advertise in front of their audience (most times, you pay a media agency to handle this stuff anyways).
  • Said publisher is desperate for more ad dollars (their profits are harder to come by as ad rates get cheaper, free content is more readily available, and audiences are fragmenting).
  • It’s most likely paid for based on the number of views or ‘impressions’ generated by the publisher. They take your ad money and try to get as many people as possible to see your ad.
  • Here’s where the opportunistic robot owner steps in to prey on the publisher’s weakness. The robot owner offers the publisher an increase of x number of pageviews at a rate far cheaper than you are prepared to pay for your advertising.
  • That means more ad revenue for the publisher, and more impressions on your ad! Everyone is happy, right? No! This is where the killer robots attack!
  • The robot owner third party man unleashes some complicated ‘malware’ to attack a regular web browser’s computer. The robot can then use this browser’s details to access the web and load a whole bunch of webpages masquerading as a real human.
  • The bot can generate hundreds and thousands of ad ‘impressions’ each time it opens the publisher’s webpage – to inflate the publisher’s view counts, and artificially boost your advertising performance statistics.
  • The third part robot man gets paid, the publisher gets paid, you hit your impression targets – but you have no idea that 30% of your advertising spend was dedicated to displaying your ad to a robot.

That’s how bot fraud works.

This explainer video from fraud detection software provider Forensiq, (via the Wall St Journal) shows you exactly how bot fraud works in visuals. I think I just wasted eight dot points with my foolhardy attempt…

If you want to learn more about the problem with online advertising – there’s a lot more to know.

What you need to know to understand the online advertising problem

There’s no singular reason why the online advertising industry has reached this frightful stage of disrepair, just as there’s no magical tool to fix it.

A number of changes in the macro marketing industry have brought us to this point. You need to understand the factors fueling this blaze to know how to put out the flames.

When you step back and look at this mess from a distance, it’s easier to make a strategic analysis and plan your brand’s approach.

I want to break this calamity down into 10 key industry trends that have combined to form a perfect storm attacking online advertising effectiveness.

When you understand each of these 10 factors, you can start to piece together a plan to weather the cyclone effecting your brand.

I’ve pulled out a simple lesson you need to take out of each of these 10 developments, to make sure you have some practical advice to balance out the sorrow and make sure you’re more Rose than Jack, in this Titanic tale of marketing woe.


#1. Fragmented audiences leading to cheaper rates

The internet obliterated the publishing industry’s barrier to entry. Before the world wide web, brands had to pay one of a handful of audience gatekeepers in print, television or radio.

Now, anyone with an internet connection has the opportunity to publish their own content and build their own audience. Audiences are split between millions of publishers. As a result, advertising has never been so complex.

Instead of five TV networks, two newspapers, a couple of magazines and a handful of radio stations to pick from, brands have a near-infinite amount of ways to reach potential customers.

As a result, advertising is cheaper. Unfortunately, this lower cost has triggered complacency.

Brands no longer dedicate time and resources to advertising creative. We’re not spending huge amounts on each campaign, so we don’t place the same importance on maximising the effectiveness of our spend.

Instead, we find ourselves in a ruthless numbers game. Impressions and views are all that matters, and brands are happy to hand over advertising cash to a third party in exchange for a set number of eyeballs.

The online advertising lesson: create better content

1_Fracturing_Audiences.jpgFracturing audiences and non-existent barriers to entry present a huge opportunity.

Yes, this development allows us to zero in on our target niche for a smidgen of the cost we had to pay mass media barons. But the job’s not done there…

Instead of serving these potential customers with the obligatory “buy our stuff’ ad, why not provide helpful content to entertain, inform or educate your niche?

Use this helpful content lure to drive people back to your own content platform on your own website. Grab an email address and stay in touch. Develop the relationship and keep sending your new subscriber more genuinely valuable information.

You have the chance to turn your website into the go-to online destination your niche trusts. With that trust comes loyalty – and repeat sales.

Use this opportunity to find your target audience AND KEEP THEM. Build your own audience so you don’t have to keep paying advertising rent to another media company.

If you do use online advertising – use it to drive interested people to your content – not your products. This way, you’re not annoying unsuspecting web users into buying your stuff. You’re giving potential customers some free value before you even talk about a sale.


#2. Limited reporting and tracking complacency

Internet advertising was supposed to be the all-conquering answer to the industry’s perennial measurement problems. For so long, offline advertising has been plagued by vagueries. The tracking abilities of all-things-internet seemed like the silver bullet.

Sadly, we’ve been overwhelmed by data, and left alone without analysis, this data can be more of a hindrance than a help. The traceability of online advertising metrics stopped marketers from evaluating the big picture.

Our fixation on impressions, click-throughs and page views means we can’t see the jungle for the vines. As long as we ‘hit our numbers’, everyone is happy.

This epidemic multiplied exponentially right under our complacent noses. We didn’t spot the bot infestation because we weren’t measuring genuine conversion goals.

An “impression” is recorded whenever one machine – an advertising network – answers a trigger request from another machine – a web browser.

Let’s spell this one out; humans aren’t required in this process. Impressions aren’t views; they don’t require eyeballs.

So when your online advertising reporting shows your campaign had 100,000 impressions, that just means your ad network served a browser 100,000 times. You have no idea how many people were involved.

The online advertising lesson: demand targeted reporting on fraudulent traffic

2_Tracking.jpgIt’s really simple.

Don’t trust engagement metrics as a measure of effectiveness.

In the short term, make sure your ad agency, and the publisher placing your ads, are using malware detection software.

Demand reporting on fraudulent traffic, and find a way to structure pricing based on human views alone. Stop paying to advertise to robots.

Get serious about measuring the effectiveness of your advertising spend, or be prepared to waste some money.

Establish trackable conversion goals for each campaign (The next lesson will help you out here).

Make sure each ad has a specific, measurable action you want your target audience to take.

For double points, develop a way to maintain contact with your potential customers without having to spend a bunch more advertising dollars in a couple of months’ time (drive people to subscribe for regular email updates).


#3. Reliance on engagement metrics to measure effectiveness

Advertising can serve a number of purposes, but spending our marketing budget needs to help meet business objectives in some way.

The beauty of online advertising had been its transparent pricing. Pay-per-click does what it says on the box. PPC seemed to offer us the chance to maximise the effectiveness of our spend (unlike offline channels, where you can’t be sure of the reach or engagement you’re paying for).

You need to pose yourself an important question.

Is a click really something we want to focus on?

Isn’t it what happens beyond the click that really matters? Google’s recent announcement that 56% of its digital ad impressions are never actually seen was a scary one.

Couple this figure with the ability of bots to hi-jack human IP addresses, masquerade as real users, and fraudulently load ads – and the effectiveness of our ad spend starts to look a little shaky.

(After releasing these statistics, Google also announced an update to their DoubleClick Verification, which includes viewability monitoring, ad blocking, a content ratings system and spam filtering capabilities.This is a direct attempt to improve their ad viewability problem.)

Our engagement metric fetishism was exploited perfectly by the Blank Video Project. Minneapolis agency, Solve generated 100,000 views for a four-minute-long blank YouTube clip with just $1400 advertising spend.

We discussed the madness of this result in detail in August’s Monthly Ecommerce Marketing Bundle.

Apart from the unexplainable collection of humans prepared to watch 4 minutes worth of blank screen (separate tabs, small bladder or sudden hunger/thirst must have been to blame), it seems a large percentage of these views might just have come from creatures without eyes. Robots are included in YouTube view figures. We just cannot count on these results in isolation.

We also can’t accept an environment where a ‘cost-per-human’ metric is an acceptable one. Ironically, many brands ‘just want more eyeballs’ on their advertising, but the standard ‘cost-per-impression’ metric used within the online advertising industry doesn’t tell the whole story.

Brand marketers are happy to report this impression number back to their superior when reporting success. The robots are winning, and nobody seems to care.

The online advertising lesson: establish trackable conversion goals

3_Engagement_Metrics.jpgInstead of reporting success based on engagement metrics, we need to tie our ad spend to genuine business objectives – or real consumer actions at the very least.

Attracting more eyeballs doesn’t matter. We need to be better than that.

Attracting more target customers and converting them into repeat customers is what we ought to be aiming for.

If you are going to use online advertising, develop a trackable conversion goal for your campaign to measure success.

If you’re promoting a blog post or video series, measure subscriber conversions.

If you’re advertising a product, measure the activity behind your click.

Target a specific conversion goal to track the referral traffic from your ad to your product page.

If you’re looking for brand awareness and ‘engagement’, introduce an incentive to bring users back to your website. Set a target for the average time spent on your platform after the click as your conversion goal.


#4. The agency squeeze and decreasing fees

With new ad-serving technology and the explosion in demand for programmatic advertising, agency middlemen are receiving a much smaller slice of the pie.

According to Ad Age:

“One marketer who oversees his agency relationship said fees have come down to below 4% from 15% over the years. They were once much higher because media duties were bundled in with creative and production duties, and those businesses are more labor-intensive.”

This trend is forcing ad agencies to cling on for dear life. For those not prepared to pivot or innovate with the changing business environment, corner-cutting options start to look juicy.

One easy answer to the ad agency revenue problem – kickbacks from ‘audience building’ companies offering guaranteed ad views for a bargain price. There may be no explicit understanding of bot ad fraud, but agencies don’t want to ask questions, they just want to get paid.

In the same Ad Age article, a recent presentation from ex-Mediacom CEO Jon Mandel’s to the ANA was cited. Mandel accused media agencies of failing their duty to their clients.

“Have you ever wondered why fees to agencies have gone down and yet the declared profits to these agencies are up? Advertising spending broadly has long stayed within a narrow band of 1% to 1.25% of gross domestic product globally. So if agencies are growing at a higher-than-GDP basis, the money is coming from somewhere.”

Bloomberg Business interviewed a particularly frank site owner named Boris about his site Two fraud detection agencies were engaged to analyse Boris’s traffic.

One found that 94 percent of his 30,000 sampled visitors were bots; the other put the bot traffic at 74 percent.

His attitude in response reflects the vulnerability of publishers (and agencies) facilitating the ad fraud problem:

“Boris didn’t dispute the findings or appear at all concerned. “If I can buy some traffic and it gets accepted, why not?” he says. And if advertisers don’t like it, he adds, “they should go buy somewhere else. They want to pay only a little and get a lot of traffic and results. If they want all human traffic, they should go direct to the publisher and pay more.”

Boris sounds a little callous, but he’s right. If brands were desperate for 100% of their ad dollars to be spent on people, this problem wouldn’t exist. People like Boris would not be able to keep charging for dodgy traffic.

The apathy of brands and ad agencies give sites like the licence to make money.

The online advertising lesson: your agency might not be worth the cost

4_Agency_Fees.jpgThink seriously about cutting out the middle man.

Without a desperate agency in the middle, you reduce the risk of dodgy deals affecting your spend.

By working closely, and directly, with publishers – you can develop a more trusting relationship.

So many brand marketers are removed from their online advertising spend. Budget is simply allocated out to third party agencies to manage.

The move to programmatic advertising has turned the business into one of scale and cost effectiveness.

Agencies aren’t always involved in strategy or analysis – just facilitation. Personal relationships between publishers, agencies and marketers are at a minimum.


#5. Declining transparency between client, agency, and publisher

So many brand marketers are removed from their online advertising spend. Budget is simply allocated out to third party agencies to manage.

The move to programmatic advertising has turned the business into one of scale and cost effectiveness. Agencies aren’t involved in strategy or analysis – just facilitation. Personal relationships between publishers, agencies and marketers are at a minimum.

If the price is right, and target engagement metrics are hit, everyone’s happy.

Digiday’s Jack Marshall managed to find a former publishing executive willing to talk about this issue (albeit anonymously) who said he knowingly bought fraudulent traffic and sold it to online advertisers. When asked, ‘do you think publishers know when they’re buying fake traffic?’ during the interview, the response was deafening:

“Publishers know. They might say “we had no idea” and blame it on their traffic acquisition vendor, but that’s bullshit, and they know it. If you’re buying visits for less than a penny, there’s no way you don’t understand what’s going on. Any publisher that’s smart enough understand an arbitrage opportunity is smart enough to understand that if it was a legitimate strategy that the opportunity would eventually disappear as more buyers crowded in.”

If publishers and agencies know, we can safely assume that most brand marketers aren’t even aware this is a possibility. No effectiveness questions are asked. Bot fraud is simply not on the radar.

Bill Duggan, Group Executive Vice President at the ANA, explains the drivers that have led to the third party divide:

“I really do believe that we’re in an era of the least transparency between media agency and client than any of us have ever encountered, for reasons like programmatic and trading desks… Things have just become murky.”

The online advertising lesson: get more involved in managing your campaigns

5_Declining_Transparency.jpgDemand more from your advertising.

If it’s too hard to be hands-on with your online ad budget, maybe the money could be better spent elsewhere.

Don’t rely on a third party. You need to get involved and work hard to increase your dollar’s effectiveness.

Be prepared to pay a little more for a better quality outcome. Be clear about your concerns and your publishing partner will be more vigilant in monitoring, eradicating and preventing future fraud.

When your publisher (and/or your agency) understands you care about your spend – that you’re not just happy to pay and accept whatever comes – you’ll start to generate better returns.


#6. The replication of offline advertising into online formats

Each major offline medium has its own unique format.

Print favours visual imagery and striking text. Radio demands audio ads. Television fostered the development of miniature visual stories. The internet is different. It’s kinda like an amalgamation of everything.

Online advertising is so cheap in comparison to traditional offline formats. We used to labour for months over the creative for a print campaign or a TVC, now we’re happy to farm out the work to a third party to whip up in a couple of hours.

We’ve been too ready to replicate old offline formats and squish them online.

Facebook and Google are trying to find ways to make online ads non-hateable, but with global ad-blocking usage increasing by 41% year-on-year, they haven’t worked it out just yet.

  • Display or banner ads are print ads we’ve slapped onto the web. No wonder you’re more likely to climb Everest than click on a banner ad.
  • Online video ads are often an exact replica of TVC’s, uploaded to YouTube as an afterthought, with no clear call-to-action or conversion mechanism.
  • Pay per click search and social media ads are often microscopic versions of catalogue ads. Marketers squeeze as much persuasive sales copy as possible into a bunch of pixels the size of a postage stamp.

Many online advertisers took their audience for granted. The lack of storytelling, innovation or customer-friendliness in online advertising is the elephant in the room.

Contently’s Joe Lazauskas and Dillon Baker sum up the mindset of the median ad buyer:

“Twenty-five years ago, ad agencies only had to deal with a few formats to gain user attention: the TV spot, the print ad, the billboard. Then the Internet presented a couple more wrinkles, like display ads, pop-ups, and YouTube pre-rolls. But on a fundamental level, not a lot changed. You made an ad, and you blasted it out there.

Take away the bots, and the effectiveness problem will still not be fixed.

The online advertising lesson: make ads your audience will genuinely appreciate

6_Replicating_Offline.jpgInternet users have grown up with a different user experience to consumers of TV, radio, magazines and newspapers. Content is free online. When the world wide web began, there were no ads infringing on our browsing.

Traditional mediums were bankrolled with ad dollars from the start. We never knew any other way, so we accepted the presence of ads to get the stuff we like.

The internet is different. People want – nay expect – the opportunity to consume the content they want online without the interruption of advertising.

We need to find customer friendly ways to engage with our audience. We need to make our advertising more useful. We need to tell better stories or audiences will find ways to disengage.

Turn your ad into a media production. Make it popcorn-worthy. Anything less and you might be better served to invest your hard-earned budget elsewhere.


#7. Demand for ad-free content and the push to subscription business models

The interruptive, annoying nature of many display ads infuriates consumers.

The internet was this great new free thing for everyone to enjoy. An expectation of the online experience was developed. When advertising was introduced, brands violated that expectation.

This existing consumer mindset (combined with the lack of effort from advertisers to respect, or help users) is leading to the widespread adoption of ad-free content subscription programs.

People are prepared to regularly pay their favourite media companies money to avoid your advertising.

Netflix, Hulu, and now YouTube Red, are subscription based internet platforms people are willing to shell out around $10 per month to ensure an ad-free experience.

As a result, traditional publishers are desperate for revenue. The old advertising-funded business model is creaking under the weight of ad blockers, subscription paid content and fed-up internet users.

Some publishers aren’t taking bot money intentionally. But you can be sure those publishers are not checking on the validity of third party partners either.

If the money comes in, and there’s no explicit indication of illegal activity, happy days.

The online advertising lesson: consider creating your own content to build your audience

7_Ad_Blocking.jpgThe implication is simple.

You have two options:

You need to make your online advertising so entertaining that your target audience genuinely wants to see it.

Or, you can focus on providing the type of helpful, valuable content people are willing to pay for.

Why can’t your brand develop a series worthy of placement on Netflix?

What’s stopping your brand from shooting an award-winning documentary?

Couldn’t you package up three months worth of amazing stories into a quarterly print magazine?

There’s no reason why your brand can’t have your industry’s niche version of the New York Times.

You can launch your own ad-free subscription based content series.

You don’t need to pay for online advertising. And you don’t need to charge your subscribers. Just keep sending them content they love, and they’ll trust you more than any of your competitors. When it comes time to buy, choosing another provider would feel like adultery.

If the online advertising industry implodes on itself, you can just stand back and watch the fireworks.


#8. Annoying, interruptive online ads

We’ve turned online advertising into a hawker market. Every brand’s ad is a stallholder lurking beside each publications grand bazaar.

Consumers are heading past us on an entirely different mission, but we constantly shout, jostle discount and interrupt as many people as possible in the hope we can persuade a select few to come on in and buy our stuff.

There seems to be an unwritten internet rule that PPC, display or video ads have to be sales focussed. Even so-called ‘brand awareness’ campaigns are all about us – not about our audience.

Why can’t we make our advertising about our customers?

If we used the opportunity to communicate with our target audience to help, educate, inform or entertain, without jamming our brands down their throat, our ads might be a little more effective.

At the moment our advertising tries to seal the deal immediately.

The online advertising lesson: use adds to help, educate and inform – not to sell

8_Annoying_Ads.jpgWhat if we used online advertising not for conversion, but for attraction?

What if our aim was to help, not to lead or sell?

With no intention of selling, we could use ads to amplify the reach and effectiveness of our brand’s own helpful content.

If there’s a program of valuable content to subscribe to behind the click, we could sign up a whole stack of potential customers and nurture them into a purchase over time – when they are good and ready.


#9. The increasing usage of ad-blockers

The brand marketer’s knight in shining armour could come from a most unlikely source – Apple.

The tech giant’s announcement of an optional ad-blocker for the iOS9 version of Safari on tablets and mobiles could be the slap around the chops the online ad industry needs.

55% of all mobile browsing happens on an Apple device.

Mobile advertising just overtook desktop advertising. eMarketer predicts mobile ads to reach 51.9% of online spend by the end of 2015.

The rapid rise in ad-blocking software downloads has been enough to force Apple’s hand.

Advertisers, publishers, and brands are refusing to fix the online advertising problem and Apple’s customers are annoyed.

If you hadn’t heard about the rapid increase in ad-blocking software downloads – you will when a whole bunch of your audience can’t see your ads anymore.

This news, more than the simmering ad-fraud controversy, has triggered a serious response within the online advertising industry.

Apple is a legitimate player. This move will have an impact on the mainstream. A huge chunk of the online audience is set to be shielded from interruptive advertising. If the effectiveness of online advertising wasn’t compromised already, it almost certainly will be now.

David Kint, CEO of media trade organisation Digital Content Next, said in a recent interview with Contently:

“It’s real, and it’s happening because the consumer has been ignored for too long. Current ad-blocking revenue projections dwarf the entirety of digital advertising revenues across our entire membership.”

This consumer behaviour trend must be a cattle prod to the rear of brand marketers everywhere.

We need to respect the wants of our customers and stop trapping the content they want in an online billboard jail cell.

Online advertising as we know it will be forced to change if it is to survive.

Farhad Manooj, writing for the New York Times, sees the glass half full version of the ad-blocking trend:

“In the long run, there could be a hidden benefit… Ad blockers could end up saving the ad industry from its worst excesses. If blocking becomes widespread, the ad industry will be pushed to produce ads that are simpler, less invasive and far more transparent about the way they’re handling our data — or risk getting blocked forever.”

Farhad is right There’s no turning back now. Change or be changed.

The online advertising lesson: make more customer friendly advertising or don’t make any at all

9_Increased_Blocking.jpgPeople hate online ads.

Apple – the guys with over 50% of all mobile internet browsing traffic – want you to stop.

We need to find a better way to advertise and regain the people’s trust, or we just might lose the privilege altogether.

Cynical marketers who bury their head in the sand on this shift might be left on a deserted island – the same one housing the laggards who refused to give up on the classified ads in the local paper.

Google’s Senior Vice President of Ads & Commerce, Sridhar Ramaswamy, made the path to salvation clear in an interview reported by Re/code from Advertising Week New York 2015.

“We need to recognise, as an industry, that this is something we need to deal with. We need to work together to come up with a definition of what an acceptable ad is and what an acceptable ad program can be.”

If you want to continue using online advertising in the future, you’ll have to make sure your message is something your audience actively welcomes.

Take stock. Get serious. Do better marketing.


#10. Publishers, advertising agencies and industry associations aren’t helping

We already explained why publishers and ad agencies are reluctant to get their hands dirty on this one. More money in the bank leads to less drive for a solution.

Khalil Ibrahimi’s call-to-arms article for Media Week, explains that the industry and the media aren’t doing enough to solve this problem. It’s still up to brands to fix this mess themselves.

Indeed, it is my opinion that the ad blocking debate is acting as a sideshow, perhaps purposely thrust into the limelight to detract attention away from fraud.

So, why such negligence? Sadly, the current ad tech ecosystem is inherently flawed.

Few incentives exist for anyone who doesn’t directly occupy the buy and sell sides, to fight for change.

When ad exchanges get paid for every ad served, there is little impetus for a costly clean-up. You can’t dispute that the industry is trying to disarm the fraudsters, but there is little talk about how much work is being done, or how severe the problem actually is.

Unfortunately, industry associations haven’t exactly been the soap-box-speakers we need either.

The IAB recently released a “State of Viewability” report, setting 70% viewability as the standard that should be expected for online ads in 2015.

Here’s IAB President Randall Rothenburg calling out the industry in a statement reported by Adage, related to the report;

“It’s time to set the record straight about what is technically and commercially feasible, in order to get ourselves on an effective road to 100 percent viewability and greater accountability for digital media.”

30% bots is not a solution. ‘Cost-per-human’ should not be a real metric.

Are we really okay with this? Are we happy to settle for only 7 out of 10 of the views we pay for to be actual human beings?

Thankfully, the American Association of Advertising Agencies has refused to endorse the guidelines, but it’s not particularly clear what either of these industry bodies propose to get us back to 100% viewership.

The online advertising lesson: you need to take responsibility and work this out for yourself

10_Reluctance_Of_Publishers.jpgWe can’t depend on the advertising or publishing industry to self-regulate.

Criminals don’t often lock themselves up.

Of course agencies aren’t blowing the whistle on this issue – fixing the problem means lost revenue in the short term.

Publishers are in the same situation. Every online media company will contend they aren’t aware of ad fraud. It’s a see no evil, speak no evil scenario.

More audience means more profitable inventory – the responsibility of making sure that audience is human lies elsewhere. If demand is high, and brands are happy to pay for the product, what’s the problem? If we accept 70% viewership, publishers are getting 30% of their cash for nothing.

We can’t rely on anyone else to clean up this horrible mess. Things have snowballed out of control. The situation is worse than we all anticipated.

The message is clear;

Online ads suck. People hate them.

If you want to continue to advertise, you can’t keep annoying people.

Find a customer-friendly way to do this stuff or we’ll lock you out.

How do we fix online advertising?

The whole thing is broken.

Fixing ad-fraud and overcoming ad-blockers is not the answer.

We can’t bandage up this arterial wound.

We shouldn’t be content to settle for the old status quo.

Take the music industry for example. Eradicating piracy hasn’t wrested control back to record companies that sell CDs. There’s a bigger consumer behaviour change at play. The industry was clinging on for dear life against the irresistible force of change.

Writing for Media Week, Khalil Ibrahimi underscores this point:

Although the ad blocking debate has a place – it shouldn’t have the limelight. Through irrelevancy, the ‘stalker effect’ (poorly executed retargeting) and lousy creative messaging, the industry has lost touch with its audience, and ad blocking is our wake up call. While the problem has been a long time coming, the media is failing to ask hard questions about a much greater threat.

The people of the internet have spoken.

They are willing to pay good money to stop our online advertising.

Banishing the bots won’t fix this mess.

More valuable marketing just might.

Brands have fostered the problem – we need to find the solution

This is our job to fix. Brands need to demand more for our money.

We cannot accept a situation where 30% of our spend is completely wasted.

It’s also kinda our fault that we’re in this big old sloppy mess.

The whole point of advertising is to help your business profit.

Oh, how we all forgot.

If we hadn’t, we’d be demanding better. We’d be questioning the effectiveness of our advertising spend and forcing advertising agencies and publishers to find a better way to reach their audience.

We’re not even demanding reporting on malware detection or bot frequency from our online advertising agencies and publishing partners.

Instead, we’ve been so fixated on views, clicks and impressions that we couldn’t see the blatant daylight robbery from our own budget bank vault.

There’s no industry-wide solidarity calling for a reduction in rates to reflect the percentage of our current spend that goes to waste.

Worse still, we aren’t being honest with ourselves. We haven’t taken that deep breath, stepped back and questioned ourselves:

“Is this really the best we’ve got?”

If you’re spending on online advertising, there’s a good chance you could do better.

So exactly how do you fix this online advertising mess?

Instead of settling for our current levels of mediocrity, we need to evaluate the success of our advertising in relation to our business goals.

You can’t try to wipe out piracy to save the CD business.

Find out what your customer wants to fix the music business.

The solution is clear.

We need to find either a sustainable way to advertise or a different way to attract and retain an audience.

By James Dillon
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