Why Does Anyone Buy Digital Ads?

Billions of dollars are spent marketing via programmatic advertising. Many billions more are spent paying for app installs – money that changes hands when an ad convinces a consumer to install an app on their smartphone. Ask yourself this: in what other business do you as a customer have a pretty decent chance of being defrauded? Off the top of my head, I can think of used cars and the investment world as places where customers should tread exceptionally carefully. Each of them has a certain subculture of ripping people off and there is a small percentage of bad actors who cause the bulk of the problems.

Try to wrap your head around these numbers. Somewhere between 3% and 37% of ad impressions were found to be from robots and not actually delivered to human eyes. That doesn’t seem bad until you do the math and see that over $6 Billion is spent on fraudulent ad impressions.

Do I have your attention yet? How about this from eMarketer:

eMarketer estimates that $7.1 billion will be spent on mobile app install ads in 2018, up from $6.5 billion last year…Several companies have conducted research that indicates how expensive install fraud is for marketers. Mobile marketing analytics firm Adjust estimated that between July and September 2018, 13.7% of app installs were rejected as fraudulent. According to Tune, app-install fraud cost marketers nearly $2 billion in 2017. DataVisor stated that for some ad networks, half of their app installs are fraudulent.

Is the industry trying to solve this? Of course it is, but it’s almost a Sisyphean task. One problem is solved and another method to defraud marketers and publishers pops up, and it’s been going on this way for as long as I can remember. Even among the legitimate ad service providers, there is an industry-wide reluctance to share the “black box” of how these systems actually do what they do. Do you think it’s only the little guys? It’s not. Facebook has been sued for overreporting how much time users spent watching videos. The suit says that Facebook knows that the majority of video ads on its platform are viewed for very short periods of time—users scroll right past. They claim that if advertisers were more widely aware of this fact, and in particular, if they knew that their advertisements were among those that were not drawing viewers’ attention, they would be less likely to continue buying video advertising from Facebook.

I tell clients that they need to be extremely careful if they go beyond search engine ads into other forms of programmatic. While I am well aware of how effective digital marketing can be, I constantly wonder if the bad actors are making that effectiveness almost impossible to achieve. I don’t know why anyone would enter the sewer that the digital ad world has become, at least not without full protective gear. Am I being too critical here?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

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