I’ll say right at the top I’m not a New England Patriots fan. Being a loyal fan of the Michigan Wolverines, however, puts me into a state of cognitive dissonance over the Tom Brady “deflategate” issue. I’m writing his bad behavior off to being immersed in a bad environment – he didn’t learn this stuff in Ann Arbor. By the way – I’m amazed how some folks think he was suspended for conspiring to deflate the footballs. As I understand it the issue is his lack of cooperation with the investigation and not his guilt or innocence with respect to the rules violations.
You might wonder why I’m bringing this up on a business blog. I suspect there are many folks in the digital marketing business who are shaking their heads at what went on with the footballs. Maybe there is a sense that cheating your way to a win diminishes both the win and the game itself. Most of these folks would say they’d never do something like that and yet I’m willing to bet many do on a regular basis.
All of us in the digital media business are aware of fraud. There are publishers who buy traffic which they know is not human traffic and which they turn around and sell on the ad exchanges in a form of arbitrage. They might make a couple of hundredths of a cent on an impression but do it a million times a day and suddenly real money is involved. It’s easy to spot anywhere in the media chain – the publisher sees it, the exchanges see it, I suspect the ad agencies see it and perhaps even the clients see it. How? Analytics. When lots of your users are running a 10-year-old version of flash and a 5-year-old version of a browser (doesn’t happen in the real world, kids), someone is cheating. If you’re buying really cheap traffic from someplace, you can assume it’s not human. Yet no one is putting their hand in the air saying “I’m not going to take the money because I know it’s wrong.” Like the Patriots, they just want to win.
The rage now is “viewability.” The problem is that the folks who are making money off of ad fraud – and the marketers who knowingly support it – will come up with a way to defeat the tactics to measure real ad views. You don’t think any real marketer would do that? Who is putting their ads on the ad injectors – the thieves who steal traffic from websites and layer their own ads on top?
There is an old expression in sports: “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough.” When the most penalized team in the NFL wins the Super Bowl (the Seahawks a year ago), what does that say about pushing the limits, which is what the Patriots were doing? More importantly to your business, you need to think about how far you’re willing to go and to what degree you are willing to push the limits to win. Personally I like to be able to look at myself in the mirror without shame. You?