Sunday, May 19, 2024
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A Con in Context

A Con in Context
Photo by Brett Jordan

This guest post is from Method Media Intelligence Chief Revenue Officer Marc Goldberg.


If you ever get a chance to see Scott Galloway speak at a conference, don’t miss his session. He is brilliant and will get you thinking. 

 If you have not read a Mike Shields article, start here. While his comedic talents on Twitter make him a fun follow, he is also one of the first journalists that I found that understood and reported on the world of ad fraud. 

 In a recent opinion piece in Insider Prof. G’s other main argument proposes that digital advertising is falling off a cliff, and some brands are “cutting digital media” because they know it’s a con. Shields provided his response too. 

The arguments that you witness from both Shields and Galloway are both succinct business thoughts from folks that believe that they understand Madison Avenue. 

What people do not understand and often miss is that the game played on Madison Avenue is not the entire game. The game is also played on streets, lanes, and roads across the globe. Your local pizza shop and your local small businesses represent most of the spend for Facebook and Google. Whilst being loved by Adland is nice for Facebook and Google, they are primarily businesses that profit from the “long tail.”  

Most local buyers are not sophisticated, and likely bidding based solely on an expected business outcome, like a sale or in-store traffic. When a Facebook boycott happens or an advertiser abandons the platform, the resulting impact is that some bid density goes away and smaller players are able to capitalize. In short, businesses are still spending because these vehicles show them results.Galloway cites a few examples showing no impact to business performance once clients deleted the budget.But Facebook and Google also showed that those have no impact on hindering their growth either. 

Furthermore, the word “con” is a bit extreme. It also should be seen in context. Let’s remind ourselves that TV is bought and sold on rating points. These rating points were sampled. They did not take into account that a person was even in front of the tv (did you see the Nielsen news?). The spend was determined on sample-based directional information: this segment is more likely to buy our product and this segment is more likely to watch this show. The actual con, then, is that before digital, tracking success was a game in itself.  

Madison Avenue understands that some ad platforms don’t drive an immediate sale or have an easy metric to track. This has allowed for easy fraud. “Bad guys” have found ways to manipulate metrics and do bad things. Shields defends digital and says it is effective, citing “performance can be gamed.” Newsflash: it is not just limited to the easy metrics.  

The bigger issue that most everyone doesn’t understand, and I’ll remind you for context, is that over 40% of the internet is now bots. The New York Times highlighted a great example with sneakers and Bloomberg showed Christmas might be in jeopardy.  Galloway could be right. It is a con, so buyers should stop buying, right? In reality, it is manageable and going to become the new norm. Buyers should buy with eyes wide open. 

Do Google and Facebook have bots? Yes. Are they trying to weed this out? Yes. They really don’t want it. Facebook and Google haters never give credit to those companies’ hard work of protecting users. 

At last year’s IAB ALM it was said that we should expect more walled gardens with higher walls, as third-party identifiers go away. The definition of a walled garden is a garden enclosed by high walls for protection from animal or human intruders. So are we to assume the walls become higher so that what happens in the garden stays in the garden? 

Facebook and Google don’t necessarily have bad intentions in terms of preventing campaign measurement. The bad actions by 3rd parties with the walled gardens’ datasets throughout the years has basically made them put their guard up, and rightfully so. Cambridge-Analytica is an example for Facebook, no need to retell that story. The history of bad actions is long, from different ad networks who would steal keyword data and build profiles from Google url strings, to LinkedIn email harvesters, and price scrapers on Amazon. All of these big boys have experienced some nefarious activity directed at them. When they say nobody is allowed in, it is because they have been burned before. With data laws becoming more restrictive and intensifying financial consequences, what are they to do? 

The teams that care about users’ Chrome and Newsfeed teams don’t necessarily care about advertisers. They are protecting their important assets: the users themselves. The internal sales teams don’t care about users, they care about quotas. So they in turn are having conversations with advertisers about what advertisers want and are trying to advocate for their clients. What advertisers want is a long list. “Bad guys” want things, but they just don’t ask. They just do it.  

Chrome and Newsfeed product managers struggle with how to provide while protecting.  They eventually land on, “Listen Ms. Marketer: you want this scale and targeting? Come get it our way.” 

We can’t all see over those walls, but we need to. This is not taking a shot at these guys. I tell my kids, “If you do the homework, the tests are easy.” Galloway is a professor and should recognize that grading your own homework is a problem. Madison Avenue needs transparency and context. 

A lot of new initiatives are moving to server-side “measurement” and reporting. Why can’t we have a fenced-garden? That way, transparency can be maintained even if the fence gets higher for security or privacy reasons. A trusted third party needs to exist based on all the previous ills in the space. A wall is not the answer, even if Mexico pays for it (now that is a con-man).  

I believe what needs to happen next is Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley discuss how measurement can be done discreetly and enforce significant penalties to anyone who is violating users. 

I hope this provided more context to a complicated argument. The problem is way bigger than two companies. For buyers to move forward, accurate measurement and identifying non-human activity is needed…and it can be done.