Do Marketers See You As Special? Nope.

May 9, 2022

I read “Forget Personalisation, It’s Impossible and It Doesn’t Work.” My hunch is that the idea that a zippy modern system would “know” a user, assemble an appropriate info-filter, and display what that individual required has lost traction. I remember Pointcast and Desktop Data which suggested a user could get the information he/she/it/them needed each day. My recollection is that individual information needs in business changed. Fiddling with the filters was a hassle. As a result, the services were novel at first and then became a hassle. Maybe automation via processes tuned to figure out what the user needed would make such services more useful. If memory serves, the increasing costs of making these systems work within budget and developer constraints were not very good. The most recent example is my explanation of how a Google alert is about half right or half wrong when it flags an item I am supposed to need. See this “Cheerleading” article.

The Forget Personalisation write up calls individuation “the worst idea in the marketing industry.” The statement is not exactly a vote of confidence, is it? The article states:

There’s just one little problem with personalisation: it doesn’t make any sense.

I thought marketing types were optimists. I am wrong again.

The article includes some factoids about the accuracy of third party data. These are infobits which allows marketers and investigators to pinpoint behaviors and even identify people. Here’s what the article reports as actual factual:

Spoiler alert: it’s not. Most third-party data is, to put it politely, garbage. In an academic study from MIT and Melbourne Business School, researchers decided to test the accuracy of third-party marketing data. So, how accurate is gender targeting? It’s accurate 42.3% of the time. How accurate is age targeting? It’s accurate between 4% and 44% of the time. And those are the numbers for the leading global data brokers.

I assume that this is a news flash because informed individuals from investigative reporters at the Wall Street Journal to law enforcement administrators assume that data gathered from clicks, apps, and other high value inputs are “accurate.” Well, sometimes yes, but in my experience 50 to 75 percent accuracy is darned good. Lower scores are common. The 95 percent accuracy is doable under certain circumstances.

What’s the fix? Once again marketers have the answer. Keep in mind that many marketers majored in business administration or art history. Just sayin’. Note this solutions from the cited article:

Marketers would be much better off investing in ‘performance branding’; in other words, one-size-fits-most creative that speaks to the common category needs of all potential buyers, all the time. This is a much simpler approach that also happens to be supported by the evidence. Reach is, and has always been, the greatest predictor of marketing success.

I think this means TikTok. What do you think?

And the future? Impersonalization. And how does Marketing Week know this? Here’s the source of the insight:

Gartner predicts 80% of marketers will abandon personalisation by 2025.

Yep, Gartner. Wow. Solid indeed.

Net net: Those marketing types are on the beam. What else does not work in marketing? Smart ad matching to a user query?

Stephen E Arnold, May 9, 2022

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

Filtering by the Google: Yeah!

May 4, 2022

For anyone who wishes to understand how online advertising is placed, The Next Web presents a brief overview in, “Here’s Why Sketchy Ads Appear on Legit Websites.” The article begins with by briefly explaining how programmatic advertising works to instantly match targeted online ads with available ad spaces. See the write-up to learn more about that process. As one might imagine, this system makes a tempting ecosystem for nefarious ads. Platforms and the ad networks that serve them maintain screening policies of various rigor. We learn:

“For example, Google Ads has an extensive content policy that forbids illegal and dangerous products, inappropriate and offensive content, and a long list of deceptive techniques, such as phishing, clickbait, false advertising and doctored imagery. However, other ad networks have less stringent policies. For example, MGID, a native advertising network my colleagues and I examined for a study and found to run many lower-quality ads, has a much shorter content policy that prohibits illegal, offensive and malicious ads, and a single line about ‘misleading, inaccurate or deceitful information.'”

To detect and block unacceptable advertising, ad networks typically use a mix of human moderators and automated tools. Sadly, the “smart” software built for the task does not seem to be working. The article tells us:

“Malicious advertisers adapt to countermeasures and figure out ways to evade automated or manual auditing of their ads, or exploit gray areas in content policies. For example, in a study my colleagues and I conducted on deceptive political ads during the 2020 U.S. elections, we found many examples of fake political polls, which purported to be public opinion polls but asked for an email address to vote. Voting in the poll signed the user up for political email lists. Despite this deception, ads like these may not have violated Google’s content policies for political content, data collection or misrepresentation, or were simply missed in the review process.”

Such failures mean even reputable sites are plagued by clickbait or worse, often skillfully masquerading as legitimate content. Users must be vigilant and look out for themselves, it seems.

Cynthia Murrell, May 4, 2022

How Apps Use Your Data: Just a Half Effort

April 28, 2022

I read an quite enthusiastic article called “Google Forces Developers to Provide Details on How Apps Use Your Data.” The main idea is virtue signaling with one of those flashing airport beacons. These can be seen through certain types of “info fog,” just not today’s info fog. The digital climate has a number of characteristics. One is obfuscation.

The write up states:

… the Data safety feature is now on the Google Play Store and aims to bolster security by providing users details on how an app is using their information. Developers are required to complete this section for their apps by July 20, and will need to provide updates if they change their data handling practices, too. 

That sounds encouraging. Google’s been at the data harvesting combine controls for more than two decades. Now app developers have to provide information about their use of an app user’s data and presumably flip on the yellow fog lights for what the folks who have access to those data via an API or a bulk transfer are doing. Amusing thought forced regulation after 240 months on the info highway.

However, what app users do with data is half of the story, maybe less. The interesting question to me is, “What does Google do with those data?”

The Data Safety initiative does not focus on the Google. Data Safety shifts the attention to app developers, presumably some of whom have crafty ideas. My interest is Google’s own data surfing; for example, ad diffusion, and my fave Snorkelization and synthetic “close enough for horseshoes” data. Real data may be to “real” for some purposes.

After a couple of decades, Google is taking steps toward a data destination. I just don’t know where that journey is taking people.

Stephen E Arnold, April 28, 2022

NCC April A Golden Oldie: YouTube Will Do Its Bestest

April 28, 2022

As tech companies receive continued pressure to contain misinformation on their platforms, MakeUseOf ponders, “Is YouTube Doing Enough to Tackle Misinformation?” The short answer—no. After all, removing content means removing ad revenue. Writer Aya Masango observes:

“Although YouTube has been working to tackle misinformation, the company realizes the importance of evolving to ensure that it stays ahead of those measures and that it continues to remain effective in that pursuit. And although that is the case, YouTube is still facing some challenges in tackling misinformation. In a YouTube blog post, the company’s Chief Product Officer, Neal Mohan, admitted that the platform is still struggling with thwarting misinformation before it goes viral, addressing cross-platform sharing of misinformation, and advancing misinformation efforts on a global scale. As noted by Mohan, ‘… As misinformation narratives emerge faster and spread more widely than ever, our approach needs to evolve to keep pace.’ This shows that YouTube is aware that it still has a long way to go in its efforts to tackle the spread of misinformation on its platform.”

Since Mohan is so interested in doing the right thing, Masango offers three suggestions for him and his company: First she advises partnering with independent fact checkers, pointing to an informative open letter from The International Fact-Checking Network. The company should also set up native teams in foreign lands, where YouTube’s misinformation management is especially weak, and bring local expertise to bear. Finally, the write-up calls for banning channels that persist in peddling misinformation. Since that would mean fewer adds sold, however, we suspect the company considers that obvious measure a last resort.

Cynthia Murrell, April 28, 2022

Online Advertising: A Yesterday Business? What?

April 12, 2022

Heresy, sour grapes, truth? It is often difficult to tell even with experts explaining disinformation without stumbling over baloney in college textbooks, news in esteemed entities’ publications, and outputs from Facebook’s chief truth stater.

I read “I Stopped Advertising Everywhere and Nothing Happened.” I thought some of the information was pretty close to dead center; for example, the title of the article. The key phrase was “nothing happened.”

Now things did happen; these events were not visible to the author of the write up. The sales professional handling the account had to report a downturn in spend. That person had to explain the downturn. Maybe the sales professional found him- her- them-self invited to find his her them future elsewhere? (I do struggle with New Speak.)

The write up points out:

Some multi-national organizations have turned off hundreds of millions of pounds of advertising, and seen, no discernible change in sales or conversion.

I underlined this passage:

be aware that in the direct to consumer market, instant conversions are hard.

Do the vendors of online advertising opportunities explain that online advertising may not work as the advertisers’ believe? Nope. The reason in my opinion is that online advertising like full page print ads in a Wall Street Journal type of publication is an artifact from the ruins of Madison Avenue. The chatter about data and hard numbers disguises a simple shift: TikTok-type influencers, athletes wearing stuff after the game, and nudges from YouTube-type outputs are carrying the water. Online advertising has to look as if it is objective and influencer approved to work. Your mileage may vary, particularly if you are the 20 something charged with buying online advertising run by old managers who are living in a world described in a brain filled with accounting tricks and MBA baloney.

Here’s a test: Name the SUV model advertised on YouTube when you searched for “suv.” Give up?

Stephen E Arnold, April12, 2022

An Ad Agency Decides: No Photoshopping of Bodies or Faces for Influencers

April 11, 2022

Presumably Ogilvy will exempt retouched food photos (what? hamburgers from a fast food outlet look different from the soggy burger in a box). Will Ogilvy outlaw retouched vehicle photographs (what? the Toyota RAV’s paint on your ride looks different from the RAV’s in print and online advertisements). Will models from a zippy London or Manhattan agency look different from the humanoid doing laundry at 11 15 on a Tuesday in Earl’s Court laundrette (what? a model with out make up, some retouching, and slick lighting?). Yes, Ogilvy has standards. See this CBS News item, which is allegedly accurate. Overbilling is not Photoshopping. Overbilling is a different beastie.

I think I know the answer to my doubts about the scope of this ad edit as reported in “Ogilvy Will No Longer Work with Influencers Who Edit Their Bodies or Faces for Ads.” The write up reports:

Ogilvy UK will no longer work with influencers who distort or retouch their bodies or faces for brand campaigns in a bid to combat social media’s “systemic” mental health harms.

I love the link to mental health harms. Here’s a quote which I find amusing:

The ban applies to all parts of the Ogilvy UK group, which counts the likes of Dove among its clients. Dove’s global vice president external communications and sustainability, Firdaous El Honsali, came out in support of the policy. “We are delighted to see our partner Ogilvy tackling this topic. Dove only works with influencers that do not distort their appearance on social media – and together with Ogilvy and our community of influencers, we have created several campaigns that celebrate no digital distortion,” El Honsali says.

Several observations:

  1. Ogilvy is trying to adjust to the new world of selling because influencers don’t think about Ogilvy. If you want an influencer, my hunch is that you take what the young giants offer.
  2. Like newspapers, ad agencies are trapped in models from the hay days of broadsheets sold on street corners. By the way, how are those with old business models doing in the zip zip TikTok world?
  3. Talking about rules is easy. Enforcing them is difficult. I bet the PowerPoint used in the meeting to create these rules for influencers was a work of marketing art.

Yep, online advertising, consolidation of agency power, and the likes of Amazon-, Facebook (Zuckbook), and YouTube illustrate one thing: The rules are set or left fuzzy by the digital platforms, not the intermediaries.

And the harm thing? Yep, save the children one influencer at a time.

Stephen E Arnold, April 11, 2022

TikTok: Search and Advertising

March 29, 2022

If life were not tricky enough for Amazon, Facebook, and Google, excitement is racing down the information highway. I read “TikTok Search Ads Tool Is Being Tested Out.” I learned:

This week, the famous short video application began beta testing for TikTok search ads in search results, allowing marketers to reach the audience utilizing the keywords they use.

Yep, a test, complete with sponsored listings at the top of the search result page.

Will this have an impact on most adults over the age of 65? The answer in my opinion, “Is not right away, but down the road, oh, baby, yes.”

Let’s think about the Big Boys:

  1. Amazon gets many clicks from its product search. The Google once dominated this function, but the Bezos bulldozer has been grinding away.
  2. Facebook or as I like to call it “zuckbook.” The combined social empire of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp has quite a bit of product information. Don’t you follow Soph Mosca’s fashion snaps on Instagram? Will TikTok search offer a better experience with search, ads, and those nifty videos? Yep.
  3. And Google. Now the GOOG faces competition for product search ads from the China linked TikTok. How will the company respond? Publish a book on managing a diverse work force or put out a news release about quantum supremacy.

The write up explains that the ads, the search angle, and the experience is in beta. Will TikTok sell ads? Okay, let me think. Wow. Tough question. My answer, “Does President Gi take an interest in the Internet?”

The write up includes a link to a Twitter post which shows the beta format. You can view it at this link.

I want to point out that TikTok is a useful source of open source intelligence, captures information of interest to those who want to pinpoint susceptible individuals, and generates high value data about users interested in a specific type of content and the creators of that content.

Now TikTok will be on the agenda of meetings at three of the world’s most loved companies. Yep, Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Who loves these outfits the most? Advertisers!

Stephen E Arnold, March 29, 2022

Online Advertising: A Trigger Warning May Be Needed

March 18, 2022

I read “How Can We Know If Paid Search Advertising Works?” The write up is about Google but it is not about Google in my opinion. A number of outfits selling messages may be following a well worn path: Statistical mumbo jumbo and fear of missing out on a big sale.

Advertising executives once relied on the mostly entertaining methods captured in “Mad Men.” In the digital era, the suits have been exchanged for khakis, shorts, and hoodies. But the objective is the same: Find an advertiser, invoke fear of missing out on a sale, and hauling off the cash. Will a sale happen? Yeah, but one never really knows if it was advertising, marketing, or the wife’s brother in law helping out an very odd younger brother who played video games during the Thanksgiving dinner.

The approach in the article is a mix of common sense and selective statistical analysis. The selective part is okay because the online advertisers engage in selective statistical behavior 24×7.

Here’s a statement from the article I found interesting:

It was almost like people were using the paid links, not to learn about products, but to navigate to the site. In other words, it appeared like selection bias with respect to paid click advertising and arrival at the site was probably baked into their data.

The observation that search sucks or that people use ads because they are lazy are equally valid. The point is that online advertisers a fearful of missing a sale. These lucky professionals will, therefore, buy online ads and believe that sales are a direct result. But there may be some doubt enhanced by the incantations of the Web marketing faction of the organization who say, “Ads are great, but we have to do more search engine optimization.”

A two-fer. The Web site and our products/services are advertised and people buy or “know” about our brand or us. By promoting the Web site we get the bonus sales from the regular, non paid search findability. This argument makes many people happy, particularly the online ad sales team and probably the SEO consulting experts. The real payoff is that the top dog’s anxiety level decreases. He/she/them is/are happier campers.

Identifying causal effects does not happen with wishes.

I am no expert in online advertising. I think the write up suggests that the data used to prove the value of online advertising is shaped. Wow, what a surprise? Why would the leaders in selling online advertising craft a message which may not be anchored in much more than “wishes”.

Money? Yep, money.

Stephen E Arnold, March 18, 2022

Gannett: Allegedly Manipulating Online Advertising for Gain

March 16, 2022

What? Online advertising subject to manipulation? I thought this was impossible. The players have the highest ethical standards. The online services make the leaders of a half dozen major religions look like moral slackers.

Doman Spoofing on Gannett Sites” suggests that one of the brightest lights in the galaxy of highly regarded “real news” outfits may have been putting its thumb on the grocer’s scale. The write up asserts:

Domain spoofing — where ad inventory is misrepresented as being from a different site — is often talked about as a solved problem by adtech insiders. Despite this, USA Today and hundreds of local newspapers owned by Gannett were sending spoofed bid requests to multiple ad exchanges for over 9 months.

The write up marshals evidence which will be impenetrable to those who are not familiar with Web coding and advertising mechanisms. Nevertheless, the main point is that Gannett is in the center of something that looks to the author (braedon.dev_) suspicious.

The write up adds:

This is unlikely to be the only case of this kind of authorized spoofing in the wild. Exchanges, DSPs, and anti-fraud vendors need to take a good look at why it seemingly went undetected for so long, and where else it might be happening.

My goodness, is domain spoofing and digital bait and switch widespread? Of course not. Ad sales are infused with the integrity of the MBA and coders who do what seems like fun.

Stephen E Arnold, March 16. 2022

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