16 August, 2017

Why is anyone doing programmatic advertising?



From a publishers point of view - it is a necessary evil - you get terrible ads - usually you are flooded with either the same ones you have a properly paid for campaign running (prompting shouts from the sales floor) or just odd ones diminishing the brand (think Poundland on The Times) - or terrible plus - fraudulent ads ("this person discovered a clever trick, dentists/dermatologists/zoologists hate them!) or absolute worst case - competitors appearing all over the place - and then you reap only a tiny amount of revenue for the pleasure (in the pence) in exchange for somebody's entire life being devoted to blocking all that horror (while being shouted at by Editorial and Sales).

This situation occurs either because the publisher's sales team is unable to properly monetise the ad impressions or the content is not worth advertising around (or the prices are too high).  From a brand point of view it would be better to just switch the ads off, or go for a sponsorship model, to do anything else is just to announce to the world "This programmatic model is what our content is now worth - basically nothing". House ads, properly used, can bring a great deal more value (upselling subscriptions, Wine club memberships etc.) but is so often undervalued or simply not factored in to the bottom line - it's someone else's target - let's just ignore the big picture.

From the (legitimate) advertisers point of view, although it is very cheap - you always find yourself plopped into this vague "woolly world" of ill-defined segments to target, with no idea where or when your ads are going to appear and asked to make a guess about how much this is worth to you, bidding against other fumbling fools, lost in the murk, calling out for help - and there will never be any, because that is just where the publishers want you.  Why has my boss just had an email saying our ads are running on (insert ludicrously inappropriate site here)...?  No idea, no control, no validation - you may as well throw your expensively crafted ads up the chimney (after you have torn them up).

I've worked on both sides of this puzzle (publisher and advertiser) for well over a decade and here are four undeniable truths -

1 - Apart from on those few sites where there is a subscription model that requires age/job/location/salary (etc.) before one can register (and require subsequent logon) - ALL publishers just make their segments up by guesswork - when you try your very best to do it correctly (and I have) the resultant numbers are usually just too low to work in practice.  All the "segments" you see that have a meaningful amount of impressions are fudged (or basically run of site)...Hey - Can we up the number of impressions on the football segment, the client wants an upsell?  Sure - Urm - only option - add in all of "Sport" and "News" oh and "Celebs", almost there..this is exactly what is taking place every day. Fact.

2 - The advertisers (whether or not they are being fraudulent) don't give a monkeys what the segments say as long as they get the clicks/conversions. Fact.  They don't care about the fraudulently defined audience as long as it works.

3 - Despite all this chatter around cross device attribution - A lot of the time (not all the time, but a lot of the time) more than one person picks up and uses those devices (maybe Mum grabs the ipad/laptop in the morning to massage their facebook friends, then the kids hog it for cbeebies/slime making tutorials on Youtube between 3-6pm, maybe Dad sneaks a little bit of a cheeky Reddit time later on in the evening) - that cross device profile?  It's nonsense.  Mummy, can I play on your iphone? Daddy, can I use your Pixel?  This happens - and it happens frequently.  Fact.

4 - Those numbers you are going to be expected to justify, including the ones that start with pound and dollar signs?  In every single case they will never, *EVER* match up...

The whole idea of this area of online advertising/marketing was to carefully match up audiences with relevant content and relevant ads and make a better world for everyone (yes, both Editorial and the consumer were both in there somewhere originally - and not just with the ever present Google re-targeting).

Unfortunately, the reality of the current programmatic situation is "I want clicks" plus "I want to sell impressions" = Not the right audience - everyone is being selfish to the point of distraction - "what is this shit on my beautiful site?" + "We need to hit target" + "I don't care where my ads run as long as they work"  - these attitudes leave pretty much everyone unhappy.

In the face of the decline of print media, heads of digital sales are consoled by targets being partially met - but, as you can clearly see  - this is to the detriment of all.

No debate - It's broken - programmatic is slowly and quietly grinding more holes into the already leaking hull of the traditional online advertising model.  The only winners are the programmatic companies and the fraudulent, who (surfing the chaos) are laughing (all the way to the bank)...

Update - this just came in today from the FT - Evidence of programmatic fraud

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