Exposing the Digital Ad Unicorn

Unicorn-Fortune-MagForbes reveals why the “perfectly targeted ads” promised by the Web are a myth.

A decade ago, digital search and display ads promised an inexpensive and fast way to reach the kind of mass market-size audiences that only TV could deliver up till then.

“People thought it was going to change everything,” said veteran marketing Ron Amram, Sprint’s marketing director at that time, in an article in Bloomberg Business.

A few years later, programmatic ads promised to deliver that kind of massive scale, with pinpoint targeting thanks to user tracking technology, the article continues. Seems it just hasn’t worked out that way.

The problem, according to the article, is that a small percentage of the ads served are actually viewed. In Amram’s experience in his new role at Heineken in 2013, “Only 20 percent of the campaign’s ‘ad impressions’—ads that appear on a computer or smartphone screen—were even seen by actual people.”

“It was like we were throwing money at the mob,” he explains, noting the absolute disbelief around the room when the results of that campaign were presented.

Other more recent campaigns, like a video spot Chrylser ran on a food and travel website, saw even more dismal results, with a mere two percent of the ads registering as being viewed by actual humans.

Ad fraud is so prevalent because fake traffic has become a commodity, notes the article. “There’s malware for generating it and brokers who sell it. Some companies pay for it intentionally, some accidentally, and some prefer not to ask where their traffic comes from.”

“I can think of nothing that has done more harm to the Internet than ad tech,” asserted advertising veteran Bob Hoffman. “It interferes with everything we try to do on the Web. It has cheapened and debased advertising and spawned criminal empires.”

It’s a mess out there. And for advertisers looking for real human eyeballs, the solution is pretty simple.

“If advertisers want all human traffic, they should go direct to the publisher and pay more,” says Boris Boris, head of Boris Media Group that is largely known to be purveyors of “cheap – and, often, fake – traffic,” according to Forbes.

Indeed. It’s time to go direct and stop chasing unicorns.

(The full article is well worth the read if you want a good understanding of just how widespread the problem is.)