Online Advertising: The Wild West Digital Saloon Has Some Questionable Characters Dealing Cards

May 9, 2022

I love the illustrations of life in the Wild West. Rough guys are riding next to clueless buffalos and pumping hot lead into the creatures. There are sketches of shoot outs in the streets in front of the curious. I find native Americans leaping off a rocky knob to stab a fur-bedecked beaver trapper fascinating. But I have a special place in my heart for the gamblers and card sharp in the Silver Spur Saloon.

After reading Bored Panda’s “30 Times People Spotted Shady Ads On Facebook Marketplace And Shared Them In This Online Group,” the digital ad dive is hoppin’ 24×7. Yippy Ki-Yay! Among the examples an octopus with offensive hand gestures on each tentacle and something called a cursed rocktopus with rock heads for hands.

Odd but small fish compared to the information in “”Ad Tech Firms Faulted on Gannett’s Error” and the title on the jump “Ad-Tech Firms Under Fire.” Yep, two headlines, just slightly different. What’s the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal doing with this Gannett and under fire thing?

The “real news” is that the octopus-type outfit Gannett output incorrect (whatever that means) data. And — gasp! — advertising tech outfits “failed to connect the dots and alert their clients…”.

I liked this statement because it is so darned suggestive and appears to raise an issue that some ad mavens don’t want to discuss:

Some publishing and ad executives said the situation at Gannett raised concerns about whether the industry is missing other substantial discrepancies or intentional, fraudulent behavior.

Yep, the real bad F word: Fraud.

Mellifluous, isn’t it?

The write up contains what strike me as PR emissions about knowing about the fraudulent behavior and not taking action.

But let’s step back from the specifics of one estimable outfit like Gannett.

Here’s a list of online advertising topics I find enjoyable to contemplate:

  • How does smart software match ads; for example, I watch a video about a Russian oligarch’s yacht and I get an ad for Grammarly on YouTube? Are those ad dollars going to result in my buying Grammarly? Nope. Does YouTube care? Nope. Does Grammarly care? Nope, their marketing person wants to hit the numbers. How? Not a question anyone pushes forward is my hunch.
  • How does’s ad system display in line ads to me for a product I bought in the previous week to 10 days? Will that advertiser get me to buy another winter coat even though it is spring in rural Kentucky? Nope. Does the advertiser’s money deliver? Not from what I see.
  • Why do queries on ad-supported search engines return ad results unrelated to my query? Are those ads going to cause me to license a smart cyber security system? Nope. In fact, I just wrote a report explaining that many cyber security vendors are like local gyms. These folks sell official proof of good intentions. Will 90 percent of gym members lift a dumbbell more than once or twice? Sure, sure those folks do.

I was asked eight or nine years ago to give a talk in Manhattan about potential online ad fraud. The person doing the inviting wanted me to focus on Google, DoubleClick, and the information I discovered reading the DoubleClick patents and open source information about the company.

I declined. I sure didn’t want anyone in the Mad Ave game getting angry. Even more important I had zero desire to talk about a topic which would generate undue excitement.

Like old fashioned advertising, junkets to Hawaii, gifts, and wild and crazy fees without guarantees have long been associated with Mad Ave. Digital advert5ising is just like the good, old days just accelerated to Internet time and the ethical approach of certain outstanding companies which I shall not name.

Fraud? That ain’t the half of it.

Stephen E Arnold, May 9, 2022


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