It’s A Scam

A couple of decades ago, as I began spending more and more of my professional time in the world of digital, I worked for a guy who wasn’t a believer in all of the hype. He thought that the prognostications of the coming demise of mass media (we worked in TV) and the rapid disruption of business models was BS. Actually, one of his favorite things to do was to pop his head into my office and say “You know this Internet thing is a scam, right?”

I used to laugh it off but 20 years later I’m thinking he might have been right. He certainly was when Web 1.0 blew up, washing away billions of investment. No serious person involved in digital business makes those same mistakes but there is a whole lot of grifting going on nevertheless. Let me explain.

First, there is the whole bots thing in programmatic advertising. If you dig paying real money to put ads in front of fake people, be my guest. The fact that the continuing race to the bottom with respect to pricing results in many legitimate publishers’ sites looking like an Arabian bazaar or a NASCAR vehicle should tell you there’s a problem. The fees taken at every step of the way by vendors who add little to nothing to the process and won’t disclose how their systems function nor the actual ways they’re blocking fake traffic is another scam. Obviously, putting profits before people (servicing your pocketbook before servicing your reader!) is a scam of sorts, too. You’re promising great content but you’re forcing your readers into suffering through a horrible; experience to get to it. Any wonder that Google is adding an ad-blocker to Chrome or that a third of US web users employ some sort of an ad blocker?

Then there are the “influencers.” As one executive who works in influencer marketing stated: 

It’s basically the biggest scam started by the countless influencer marketing platforms that popped up over the past two or three years, who find it a lot easier to recruit and work with super small influencers who will do anything for a $100 gift card. Everyone talks about how these “micro-influencers” have such high engagement, but who cares about a 20 percent engagement rate on a post when only 10 people liked it?

It goes beyond the little guys. The FTC had to once again send out more than 90 letters reminding influencers and marketers that influencers should clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationship to brands when promoting or endorsing products through social media. In failing to do so, these folks, many of whom are big-name celebrities, are scamming their fans by failing to tell them that they’re paid to say nice things about a product they may or may not even use.

I’m not meaning to fault the tools here. I’m just pointing out that one effect the democratization of media has had has been to facilitate many more scams. Easy access means for easy for everyone, including those with less than sterling intent. Back in the day, they would never have got past the Standards people every network had or the accountants than every media outlet had. Today, anyone with an ad and a credit card can get involved. It’s like anything else though. At some point, you have to figure out if you’re about lining your pockets at the expense of your customer in a dishonorable way or if you want to solve the customer’s problems in a way that rewards you for having done so. Your call!

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