Deceptive and Confusing Practices Exposed: AdTech Buying and Selling

There’s an elephant in the online-advertising living room. Suddenly the Emperor has no clothes. It smells and quacks like a duck. [Insert your overused metaphor here].

AdTech Industry: There's an emperor in the room with the stinking fish and elephant and if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it's a duck.

Recent news is shedding light on confusing and dirty practices in the buying and selling of online-video and other legacy forms of digital advertising. The whole thing reeks like the stench of  illegal and unethical retail slotting-fee practices between stores and manufacturers in the 20th century. Proof?

  • Digiday chronicles a “Confession of an Ad Tech Executive,” with an anonymous source saying, “It’s crappy inventory for audience buying. You have a finite amount of quality inventory, and there aren’t too many ways to access it… Cookie bombing… keeps shit inventory in business. You can buy dog-shit impressions for 25 cents…” Huh?
  • MediaPost reacts with the headline, “Why Can’t The Ad-Tech Industry Speak English.” Indeed you’re not alone if your head tilted reading that first bullet. But the MediaPost article further details an “ugly picture,” that includes poor ad inventory, commodity tech/services, and clueless agencies, vendors and marketers. And there are “ethical dilemmas, like excessive gift-giving and boondogles — even summer houses, vacations, and Super Bowl trips.”
  • Online-video ad practices are being called out specifically. Why else would TubeMogul, an ad platform for buying and selling online-video ads, issue a campaign called It’s designed to expose instances where vendors run auto-play, pre-roll video ads inside banner ad units or small, syndicated players. Says a TubMogul release, “With more exposure of this deceptive practice, brand marketers will be better informed to get the value they deserve.”

So What Does the AdTech Industry Need to Regain Trust and Attract Budgets?

1. Real metrics: This isn’t new, and has plagued digital advertising for more than a decade. Specific to video, an agreement between TubeMogul and Nielsen (reports AdWeek) allows advertisers and agency trading desks to cross-reference audience metrics — like gross rating points (GRPs) for target audience age and gender demographics — with engagement (impressions and clicks) to get a better sense of a campaign’s performance. Meanwhile comScore has its Video Metrix program that claims to provide, “transparent, end-to-end video measurement.” Ultimately we need trusted, vetted ways to correlate ad serving to purchase intent or sales… and a neutral third parties to measure impact. For example, at Merck I hired an independent, digitally savvy consultant (who didn’t work for the media buyer or agency) to assess our online-ad campaign’s impact on intent lift and sales… and translate it in simple language for me, our market research & analytics teams, and senior management.

2. Engrish: I agree with MediaPost’s Max Kalehoff’s “speak English” article. Here’s another actual quote from that Digiday “confession.” WTF?

People operate out of fear. They end up spending way too much time worrying about the 5 percent edge cases like data leakage for publishers or brand safety for advertisers. 

4. Consolidation & Simplification: I vomit in my throat every time I hear about a new advertising network that differentiates through “premium inventory.” Let’s sort this fragmented space out, and get ourselves just a couple ad-buying platforms with different strengths. Unless you’re a hardcore media buyer or publisher, your eyes glaze over on the “how” the campaign is being executed and measured. Marketers just want to know the damned ads are “moving units.” They don’t give a shit about DSPs, SSPs, and RTBs. I don’t know or care what they even are.

5. Scrutiny on Relationships Between Media Buyers and Platforms/Publishers: Let’s be sure ad spending allocations are done with no other agenda than to drive targeted ad reach that moves brands. The incestuous relationships between media buyers and sellers needs illumination. Brand marketers need to trust that agencies, media buyers and providers are operating not to sell themselves but to sell the brand.

Sort it out, folks. Simplify it. Be honest. Heck, even the most competent marketer is feeling like General Beringer in the 1983 film “War Games“:

“Goddammit, I’d piss on a spark plug if I thought it’d do any good!”

9 Replies to “Deceptive and Confusing Practices Exposed: AdTech Buying and Selling”

  1. So what did the “independent, digitally savvy consultant (who didn’t work for the media buyer or agency)” think of your online-ad campaign’s impact on intent lift and sales? And where does one find such a consultant? Because I know a guy that fits that description who needs a job about right now.

    1. Yes I suppose I could do that. But this guy had glasses he’d wear on the tip of his nose to provide a “learned” impression. I need to get some of those.

Comments are closed.