$_3How many humans are in each segment of your category buyers? And how many humans are in each audience at each publisher?

You need to know the answers to both questions for your campaigns to be successful.

Not cookies. Not MAIDs. Not devices. Not size of the “graph.” Always think and act in terms of humans FTW.

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Unilever Drains the Digital Swamp?


Want to know what a “platform” does? Well, this doesn’t doesn’t help.

Unilever’s Keith Weed will speak at the IAB today. He’ll talk about his frustration with the lack of the “3 Vs” (viewability, verification, value) in social media platforms. But he’s really looking to have his Marc Pritchard moment by threatening to pull Unilever’s spending from social media platforms, with the following manifesto:

Unilever’s transparency commitments

  • Unilever will not invest in platforms that do not protect children or which create division in society.
  • Unilever is committed to tackling gender stereotypes in advertising through #Unstereotype and championing this across the industry through #SeeHer and the #Unstereotype Alliance.
  • Unilever will only partner with organizations which are committed to creating better digital infrastructure, such as aligning around one measurement system and improving the consumer experience.

Bravo for Unilever. Money is oxygen to Facebook and Google. Removing it, in the form of advertiser money, gets the message across. Advertisers and society are frustrated with the “we’re just a platform” B.S. that they hide behind.

The only quibble I have with the Unilever transparency commitments is the corporate-speak. Why not just say*:

  • We won’t spend our money at publishers who publish garbage.
  • Our ads will treat all people with respect.
  • We’ll only buy media that we can measure.

As you listen to and read comments on Mr. Weed’s talk, watch the use of the word “platform.” When you hear that word, it means that the owner of the platform is a middleman who can charge a toll and takes no responsibility for what happens on the platform. In other words, a platform is where a fool and his money are parted by the owner of the platform.

Takeaway: Stop buying non-transparent garbage inventory. Stop feeding “platform” middlemen with your media dollars. Demand accountability from everybody in advertising. And win.

* I’ll just call these the Pilipczuk transparency principles™.

Bonus content Continue reading

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Self-Deception in Thought

“The wish is parent to the thought, and that is why nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each person wishes, that they also believe to be true.”  Demosthenes

So Dr. Robert Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, starts his speech “Liberal Arts, Free Expression, and the Demosthenes-Feynman Trap.” Feynman, in character, said it more simply in 1974:

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.”

We all have our jobs to do and have ways to do them successfully. Those systems are built upon a series of beliefs. Most of the time, we don’t have to worry about the underlying assumptions upon which are beliefs are built. We just do our jobs.

As Demosthenes and Feynman warn, the hardest thing to avoid is our own self-deception in thought. The commonly accepted ways of doing things might not be right. Those assurances from “experts” might not be based on rigorously-proven and tested underlying assumptions. The only way to know is to ask.

Takeaway: Every once in a while, seek out the skeptic or the Advocatus Diaboli, and ask “why?” And really listen.

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Name Those Ads

It’s been two days since the Super Bowl. Quick, and without thinking too hard, write down:

  1. The ads you saw on the Super Bowl on Sunday
  2. The digital ads you saw this morning as you read the news with coffee

Notice anything?

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Hallelujah! Millennials Are Dead. Here Comes Generation Z

IMG_7399Just when I was about to open a vein over the incessant furor about how Millennials are different, unique and in need of such nonsense as influencer marketing, they’re dead.

Here comes Gen Z (sheesh–will somebody brand the next round of generational crap better?) to mesmerize the marketing magpies. After reading this issue of Ad Age, I can safely predict that the next round of nonsense sold to us under the guise of reaching this “special” group will be even more idiotic than the ad tech and mar tech invented to scam advertisers help us reach Millennials. Heaven help us. Scratch that. Ritson help us!

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Be The Solution

tenorWe get the advertising we deserve. As marketers, we’ve put our skepticism on hold. And we’ve been taken. Programmatic buying, content marketing, influencer marketing, and native advertising are just a few of the fallacies the advertising ecosystem has foisted on marketers in the last few years.

We’re just magpies, looking for next shiny thing. And magpies, in case you didn’t know, can’t do science. An infographic or a vendor white paper is about as scientific as most of us get. And because we’re easy to fool, it’s easy for those fooling us to use our own tendencies against us.

Bob Hoffman quotes Richard Feynman extensively in The Problem Isn’t Technology. It’s Us. I encourage you to read Feynman’s address to the 1974 graduating class at Caltech, Cargo Cult Science.

Although Feynman was speaking in the age of ESP, transcendental meditation, Uri Geller, and other such woo, he was really speaking about the eternal problem of human nature. We’ve wanted to believe in magic since we sat in caves, looking at the stars, and making up stories about what they were and how they go there.

The caveman with the best story got a special hat, a bigger cave, and tribute from the other cavemen. The cavemen today get a C round, unicorn status, and a perpetual speaking slot at every conference to feed you more B.S. If they’re really good, they go to Davos. Or get a TED talk.

Be the solution. Run clean univariate tests. Hire a few people with grey hair that have seen a few cycles of B.S. Most of all, be scientific. Science is harder work than unthinking believing, but will do wonders for your bottom line.

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Remove Tracking Pixels, Secure Your Data

Data leakage from publisher sites results in loss of data revenue for the publisher. An unsophisticated buyer would never buy premium first-party data from the publisher, when they can buy “the same” stuff for pennies on the dollar from vendor X.

Data leakage isn’t just about lost revenue. It opens up the publisher to legal risk, depending on local regulations (cough, GDPR).

Thoughts on dealing with data thieves are here. But the article doesn’t provide the correct and easy answer. Remove the tracking pixels. What do you think those 50 or 60 trackers on your site are doing anyway? Think you’re getting full value from the data that’s leaking out?

I’ve got a Rolex for $30 if you do.

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The Root of Digital Advertising B.S.

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 8.49.58 AMFor years, Bob Hoffman has been writing about the delusion held by advertisers that people want to interact with us or our ads.

I was an early adopter of that now-disproven fantasy. I bought in back in ’89-’90 when I worked Prodigy’s “interactive marketing” internal agency Look! Creative Group. It was fun (not) jamming JWT creative for Ford into 2 lines of 60 characters into some NAPLPS stencil.

I thought it was cool and I thought it was the future of advertising. I was also fooled by cold fusion, another big topic at the time. Mostly I was just looking for money for food while in graduate school and would have believed just about anything, if it paid.

We shared the same delusion about “interactivity” back then as we do now, but it took a while for digital online advertising to take off. Two main reasons: The first was that computers weren’t everywhere, but we knew Moore’s law would solve that problem eventually. The second was that there wasn’t any decent tracking. We definitely didn’t know what happened if the viewer didn’t click on the ad. As a result, advertisers were skeptical and were slow to move to digital.

Enter surveillance marketing. The ubiquity of tracking pixels, scripts, cookie synching, etc. has enabled the adtech and martech industries to sell us a bewildering array of B.S. that claims to track our every move and help serve the right ad to the right person at the right time.

The engine on the digital marketing B.S. train is view-through attribution. What this means is that we can supposedly tell if a viewer saw the ad–but didn’t act–and then attribute some of the subsequent action they take to that ad. Via a multi-touch attribution (MTA) model, which algorithmically attributes fractions of the conversion, we now have the “evidence” that non-interactive ads created interactivity. And that opened the advertiser floodgates, controlled mostly by gullible magpies.

The idea that a banner ad from yesterday should get almost any credit for the pair of shoes you buy today is laughable. Not because advertising doesn’t have an effect over time. It does. It’s just that the list of assumptions to believe view-through attribution is so long. Such as:

  • Was the ad even served?
  • Was it served on the site I thought it was?
  • Was it served to a person?
  • Was it served the right person?
  • Was it served in a viewable location?
  • Finally, was it even seen?

As I’ve written about before, you can’t assume any of the above to be true. Don’t believe it? Just follow Augustine Fou and Shailin Dhar. Within a week you’ll see their research and analysis on all of the above, and more.

Want to get a sense for how problematic this is? Start asking your marketing managers and agencies the following questions about view-through attribution:

  1. What percentage of the sales attributed to digital marketing have an action (i.e. click*) associated with it?
  2. Show me this equation:    sum of all fractional view-through attribution / all “digital” sales
  3. How long is your view-through attribution window, by source and media?

Don’t be surprised if, for the first two, you see numbers exceeding 90-95%. Once you calm down, ask them to detail, specifically, what they are doing to ensure that the conditions I bullet-pointed above are being met. Ask for proof.

If your view-through attribution window is longer than 24… minutes, ask how it was arrived at and if an in-market clean and univariate test was used to arrive at the window(s). And ask to review the results**

Now freak out, once you realize that 95% of your digital marketing budget is being allocated by an algorithm via laughably long windows, built on assumptions that have never been validated.

Takeaway: The view-through is the money machine that powers digital marketing B.S. If you don’t understand exactly how it’s being used, you’re being taken to the cleaners.

* Yes, I know clicks aren’t everything. I also don’t believe most clicks are human anyway.

** Please use a disinterested third party to review the test design, analysis, and the data. You’d be shocked at how many people that could no longer pass middle school Introductory Physical Science are analyzing your tests.

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Digital Marketing Tips From El Al

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 8.04.41 AMEl Al airlines has never been bombed and only hijacked once. This in spite of being a constant target for well-funded and persistent criminals. An enviable track record. How do they do it?

Isaac Yeffet, El Al’s former head of security summed up the reasons for the airline’s success in an interview in 2010 with CNN:

“Stop relying only on technology. Technology can help the qualified, well-trained human being but cannot replace him.”

We must embrace this philosophy to secure our digital marketing campaigns. Our enemies, ad fraud criminals (who are happy to be identified!), are highly motivated. The opportunity for low-risk profit is immense. They are abetted by an ad tech and martech ecosystem that appears to be intentionally designed to make their criminal activity easy.

Those criminals have the ability to bypass your fraud filters with ease, sell fake inventory via complicit ad exchanges, drive fake traffic with bots, without bots, and even create fake agencies to facilitate their efforts. And advertisers even help them by leaking our valuable user data to the criminals themselves via the placement of surveillance tracking pixels. Don’t believe me on the last one? Read this about how the session replay scripts that might be on your site feed the fraudsters the training data they need for their AI and machine learning-driven crime.

Advertisers won’t beat them on the technology front. The best ad tech fraudster technologists don’t work for us. They work for the criminals. The ad tech industry isn’t going to help us. If digital ad fraud went away, many of the companies on the ad tech LUMAscape disappear. They depend on fraud for their very existence.

Like El Al, advertisers have to take care of things ourselves. We must take a human-powered, zero trust approach to digital advertising. We must embrace the following within our marketing or finance organizations:

  • A marketing security function, well-trained and compensated to detect fraud
  • An interrogation of every cookie, mobile ID, ad ID, ad impression
  • Treating every impression as the “first impression” (i.e. tomorrow doesn’t matter–the fraud that kills your budgets might start today)
  • Believe in the use of technology to support people, not the other way around
  • “If it looks fishy, it is” approach, instead of trusting the vendor (not “partner”) or algorithm

The above must take place within our organizations. It can’t be outsourced to agencies or third parties. Note that even outside of Israel, El Al always takes care of its own security. You should too.

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No Real Marketer Wants Their Budget Increased…

…properly-trained marketers focus on improving business performance. A bigger marketing budget might be a second order effect.

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