Algorithms: Recipes for Disaster

When we purchase digital advertising, we place our faith in the algorithms–a fancy word for “recipes”–used to determine things like the final price of the inventory, which creative is shown, and the frequency at which those impressions are shown. There’s additional recipes to figure out if there’s a real person on the other end of the impression and whether they might be interested in the products we’re selling.

It’s comforting to believe that the recipes are neutral and unbiased. We are told constantly that they are a fair system, void of irrational human biases, where only the cream rises to the top. A meritocracy, in other words. After all, how could pure mathematics be wrong?

I’m often the one questioning the recipe and the recipe-makers themselves. I’m constantly told that “we’ve never been asked that question before.” I used to think that comment was hyperbole. I know there’s lots of smarter people than me out there. Surely somebody must have asked that question before, right?

I now think the recipe-makers are telling the truth. I think they’re often faced with skepticism, which they usually wave off with a version of the “you don’t get it, man” that’s been used since before the first dotcom crash. But I believe that they’re almost never faced with the specific questions about how exactly they arrived at the recipe. The blind faith in math by untrained digital “marketers” (who can’t do math themselves) has resulted in a dearth of common-sense questions.

Do you want to know what the impact of lousy recipes looks like? Read this article about how crummy algorithms, that nobody understands, are literally putting people’s lives at risk. Maybe these recipes aren’t being written by the best of the best, sure. After all, the best of the best are trying to make a quick buck at Facebook. But at least they let anybody with a sack of rubles pilfer our PII for nefarious purposes take good care of the data.

Algorithms are built by people. People are flawed. The algorithms are flawed.

Takeaway: Stop blindly trusting algorithms–they are being used to siphon off your advertising dollars. Start with strategy. Segment-Target-Position. Fight the Philistines. Don’t be a magpie. And win.

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Attacking You With Retargeting

torches-and-pitchforksWebKit recently updated WebKit to address

“An attacker seeking to track site visitors can take advantage of the user’s HSTS cache to store one bit of information on that user’s device.”

in an interesting and understandable technical blog post by Brent Fulgham.

It’s the same loophole used by Criteo and possibly other retargeters.

Said another way, your retargeting vendors are probably more akin to malicious attackers than they are to traditional agencies.

It pains me to see that the profession of marketing has devolved to the state where many advertisers have resorted to hacking customer and prospect computers.

Are you attacking your own customers with your retargeting efforts? And if you are, are you doing business in the EU or targeting EU citizens? Are you sure?

Bonus question: If you’re using Criteo or another retargeting vendor (not “partner”), do they contractually indemnify you for transgressions of GDPR? I’d read that contract today. May 28 is fast approaching.

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Who’s Viewing Your Ads? Maybe Your IoT Security Camera.

Another day, another case of IoT security lapses. When buying digital media, you should always ask “how many humans are viewing my ads, and how can you prove it to me?” This article from Threatpost describes the extreme lack of security in security cameras made by Hanwha Techwin, which feature the Samsung brand name, among others.

Maybe strangers on the Internet want to watch you undress. It’s definite that strangers on the internet want to use your network and the devices on it to commit ad fraud or mine for cryptocurrency.

You should assume the media you’re buying is being viewed, at least in part, by compromised IoT devices unless proven otherwise.

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Reduce Spend, Increase Reach? Wait, This Can’t Be Right…

P&G eliminated 20% of their most ineffective spend and generated 10% more reach, according to this article in AdWeek.

Wait, that doesn’t fit the narrative about digital media. It’s all supposed to be about good, cheap media, reaching the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

Could it be that a lot of what we’ve been fed about digital marketing is a crock?


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Programmatic: Buying or Media?

Young hipster man making a good-bad signI’ve been asked a couple of times if I’m pro- or anti-programmatic. My answer, sometimes to the asker’s frustration, is “it depends.”

Whether or not a medium works for you depends on many things. The first, and most fundamental question to ask before purchasing any media is “does the target audience use that medium?” That’s forgotten a lot these days, particularly in the world of cheap digital media. Just because a medium has a lot of reach, doesn’t mean you want to buy it, regardless of the price.

Here’s how I think of “programmatic.”
Continue reading

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The #1 Ingredient in AdTech “Special Sauce”…

dd510f76-ce1f-45a1-b8bb-0ce02bb72789_1.ea8d127e179f3b4760f9ab2493c4503f…is Russian dressing*.

In other words, there really isn’t anything secret. Good …aaS products are good because they have good people and process. The technology is mostly generic.

Takeaway: Make marketing and advertising technology decisions on people, not the algorithms. Because marketing is about people, always.

*Unless it’s Ranch. And if you eat that, it’s between you, your doctor, and your undertaker.

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8 Surprising Lessons From Black Panther Marketers Can Use TODAY…

Black-Panther-TChalla-posterSorry. Just kidding. You can get back to getting your hustle on, or whatever it is that GaryVee is suggesting.

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Virtue Signaling and Fake Marketers

Marketing has changed forever” is the gospel according to the fake marketers.

Wrote Malcolm Auld in his brilliant article yesterday. Since we’re in the era of fake news, fake traffic, fake impressions, fake agencies, and fake presidents, let’s call out the charlatans for what they are. Fake.

To stiffen your resolve against the onslaught of BS from marketing charlatans, I encourage you to read Mr. Auld’s excellent How the fake marketers used virtue signals to establish credibility…

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We Couldn’t Afford To Buy Records

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 5.30.48 PMI have been under the mistaken impression that Duane Eddy, the King of Twang, was no longer with us. I just learned today, courtesy of Premier Guitar, that Mr. Eddy is still with us, going strong and will celebrate his 80th birthday on April 26th.

In an interview in this month’s Premier Guitar, he describes tuning his guitar quickly when listening to the radio to learn country music songs. The songs were never quite in A440 because everything was tuned to whatever piano was around. The reason for his need to tune quickly to the radio?  “We couldn’t afford to buy records.”

That’s a common theme from many of the legendary early stars of rock and roll. They made do with what they had at hand. Though hard work and talent, they shaped rock music with sounds and themes we hear to this day. Check out the video below to see the crowds Mr. Eddy was drawing as he helped start rock and roll. And please read the interview with him in Premier Guitar. Utterly fascinating.

Happy 80th, Duane Eddy!


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Media Whitewash

The ever thought-provoking Don Marti wrote something in “This is why we can’t have nice brands” on February 17th that reminded me of a standard direct mail practice:

“Twitter has a solution that keeps its ads saleable: just don’t show any ads to important people. I’m surprised they can get away with this, but given the mix of rip-off and real brand ads I keep seeing there, it seems to be working.”

Back in the heyday of direct mail, we had small but important lists of people that we never wanted to promote. That list included the executives in our company*, state attorneys general and staff, and regulators of various types, among other folks.

You’d never want to accidentally put an aggressive direct mail piece into the mailbox of an AG who was running for governor, for example. The suppression file of a few thousand names was worth its weight in gold in avoiding legal issues and was trivially easy to do in the merge/purge.

But how does suppressing one’s own executives in direct mail relate to Twitter? Continue reading

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