Marketers, Be Prepared For Severe Pushback When You Do This


We already know marketers will suffer severe withdrawal symptoms [1] from bot-fueled digital marketing. After all, they’ve been on a 10-year high from large quantities of low price ads that magically have significantly higher “performance” too. Even though everyone realizes smoking is bad for you, and most programmatic digital ads are bad for your business outcomes, it still takes years for folks to kick the nasty habit [2]. 

What makes it even harder to kick is the fact that the dealers that sell you the stuff keep telling you there are no harmful side effects — “it’s a perfectly safe drug” or “you can take as much as you want and not die from it.” The adtech establishment tells marketers ad fraud is low, viewability is high, and their programs help you solve brand safety issues; they even publish so-called research that shows, for example, that ad fraud is low, just like the sugar industry paid for research that blamed health problems on fat (see Netflix documentary at your leisure). But of course, their incentive is to keep marketers in the dark about the truth so they can keep selling you their services and making profits off of you. 

Those marketers who made the decision to “get clean” will still face a significant uphill battle and an onslaught of criticism and ridicule, in addition to the physical withdrawal symptoms. Here’s how to prepare yourself for that. Adtech vendors and agencies will use specific words to trick you into continuing to buy from them, and cast doubt on your decision to stop. The following are three that you will hear often.

Scale – “you’ll lose scale if you stop programmatic”

Great. That “scale” was from tens of millions of fake sites and millions of fake mobile apps using fake traffic to generate fake ad impressions to sell to marketers. So doing away with that will dramatically decrease the scale of wasted ad dollars. Isn’t that great? It will also mean you can save the added costs of viewability detection, fraud detection, brand safety detection, etc. that you paid for to help detect your way out of trouble. Do you see the hamster wheel the vendors had you running around in? You had to pay for extra things that would have been completely unnecessary if you didn’t buy all that “suspect inventory” in the first place.

Cost efficiency – “you’ll lose cost efficiency if you stop programmatic”

Don’t mix up the words “price” and “cost.” Cost efficiency is a misnomer (incorrect word) for low CPM prices. What ad tech vendors have been selling to marketers are low CPM ads from long tail sites, purchased through programmatic ad exchanges. Those low CPMs were only possible from fake sites and fake apps, that don’t have the costs of making real content for real human audiences like real publishers do. Fake sites plagiarize all their content, or have no content at all. Fake apps are just clones of apps designed solely for running as many ads as possible (think mindless, casual mobile games). Once those apps are on your phone, they can load ads 24/7 because you never turn off your phone and it always has an internet connection. 

Here’s the key point. In years past, marketers bought ads from real publishers for $30 CPMs; today marketers buy ads via programmatic exchanges for $3 CPMs. CPM (cost per thousand) is a unit price — the price you pay for every thousand impressions. It is different from your total cost. For example, even though you are buying ads for one-tenth the CPM price, you are buying ten-times more quantity. So your total cost is the same; you didn’t save any money even though the unit prices (CPMs) were one-tenth what they were previously. But when you are buying $3 inventory from exchanges, you are buying mostly fake ads from fake sites with fake visitors (see the red in the donut chart on the right side of the slide below). You didn’t save any money and you increased your risk of losing money to ad fraud. When you stop buying the low CPM ads, your average CPM will appear to shoot upward. But if you buy far less quantity (higher quality) your total costs, expenses, may still be lower. You just saved money by not wasting it on bad ads, no matter how low the unit prices.

Performance – “you’ll lose performance if you stop programmatic”

Oh you mean fake clicks by bots? Good riddance. Humans don’t click on many ads (when was the last time you deliberately clicked a digital ad?). Bots are programmed to click at a rate of between 1 – 10%, not too high to be suspicious and not too low. The reason bots generate this “ambient click through rate” is to create the appearance of “performance” in the form of more clicks and higher click through rates. Marketers, and their media agencies, love reporting on these metrics because it gives the appearance of activity and engagement. When you compare the faked bot clicks to real human clicks, bot clicks will always win, because they are always higher. This tricks marketers into allocating more budget to programmatic channels, thinking they got more “performance” from those digital marketing programs. 

Right, you got a lot more clicks, but you didn’t get a lot more sales. That’s because bots click but they don’t buy. Bots are programmed to make money not to spend money. So those marketers who are still using clicks and click through rates as a measure of success are the easy marks that drug dealers and agencies alike love to take advantage of — or take to the cleaners, if you will. Don’t be that marketer. Look at the chart below. Bot fraud hides easily in totals and averages; for example the average click through rate of 9.4% makes it seem like the campaign is performing really well. But once you get line item details — like domain level click rates (right side in red) — you can clearly see that the high average is driven by click fraud — 100% click through rates on many domains. These clicks are not going to drive more business for you, the marketer, so it’s better to get less fictional “performance” and more real sales, right?

Be aware that in addition to the above three examples of things your dealers (media agency and ad tech vendors) will tell you to keep you hooked, there will be dozens of other things the tell you to make you doubt your resolve to kick the nasty habit of large quantities, low prices, and high performance. Just repeat to yourself “it was large scale fake impressions, low prices from fake sites, and high fictional performance from bot clicks.” If you persevere, you will be able to kick the dangerous habit, and improve the health of your digital marketing.

MORE FROM FORBESThe Pandemic Helped Some Marketers Kick This Digital Marketing Habit
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