When in doubt – blame the bots…?
February 10, 2017

Well…how bad can the news get for “targeted” digital advertising? I don’t think it can get much worse than having to inform a brand that, through no fault or choice of its own, they are now connected, irreparably, to extremist views and even the funding of terrorism.

Ouch – how will Google make that telephone call to their advertising clients?

We have all seen previous examples illustrating the pearls of digital advertising when it goes wrong. I mean, who doesn’t remember…:

  1. The ad for dog food on NFL star (and convicted dog-fighter) Michael Vick’s statistics page on ESPN.
  2. The Uber recruitment ad under a picture of an Uber driver who tried to break into his passenger’s house after dropping her off at the airport.
  3. A banner ad for Pork Sliders on the Jerusalem Post website.
  4. Nike’s “Just do it” slogan cropping up next to a Google search for “suicide”.

And it’s not just me. Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at P&G, recently hit out at the growth of programmatic advertising and ad agencies, accusing them of not acting in the best interests of the brands they represent, saying that firms “have a media supply chain which is murky at best and fraudulent at worst. We need to clean it up.”

Hicham Felter from ISBA, the body that represent British advertisers, went even further: “the suspicion is that the surge in programmatic trading is being fuelled by the profit media agencies can make rather than because it delivers better results for their clients.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s take this back to square one. The primary role of advertising is to raise positive awareness of a brand, product or service’s existence by promoting and selling its ideas. But we also know that the end product must finally be delivered to a real person – in fact, the right person, who is in the right place and at the right time for these adverts to have any real chance of being successful. I’m no computer scientist, but that seems quite a lot of judgment calls to ask of a bot….

Look, I get it. Most sophisticated digital advertising tools help media planners and marketers move media spending using intricate and complex algorithm-based attribution models that help them precisely delineate a campaign’s reach, target and specific customer groups. But really? Are you not just better advertising to real people, using a medium they have grown up with and at a moment when they are ready and available?

Even if we disregard bot-based terrorism (because I recognise humans make many mistakes each working day too), click through rates – which have plummeted to ever lower depths, reportedly less than 0.059% – leave ads with a single digit percentage chance of ever being viewed by an actual person. If we then remove all the fraudulent visits, are digital advertisers left with anyone of any quality to promote to? Or, to paraphrase the classic philosophical question; if an ad appears online and there’s no-one there to click on it, does it make any impact?

At least on a plane we know that the people are real. We know they are an active consumer and we know they have disposable income, or they would be walking…

Maybe its time for untargeted digital advertising to take a hike too?

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