Digital Flim-Flam: Mode Media Edition

How does the 10th most trafficked group of websites, per comScore, go out of business overnight? That’s what you should be asking yourself as you read the news about Mode Media’s abrupt shut-down last week, especially if you’re one of the army of freelancers left unpaid.

You might wonder how the company was able to attract an “audience” (there’s that digital word that should immediately cause your antennae to go up) of 137 million monthly unique visitors and  generate over $90 million in annual revenue. You would also be right to wonder how they could have raised over $225 million in funding and be valued at over $1 billion as of 2013.

The answer is pretty simple. The traffic wasn’t real. It was bots purchased from traffic brokers and sold to unwitting advertisers who didn’t care enough to look too hard at what they purchased. At some point the whole traffic scheme falls part if they can’t arbitrage the junk traffic for enough to cover the cost of producing the “content” (there’s another digital word that should also cause you to look twice).

Take a look at the following video, which has received over 10 million views as I write:

 

100 Years of Fashion: Wedding Dresses ★ Mode.com Daily Views

100 Years of Fashion: Wedding Dresses ★ Mode.com Daily Views

Really compelling huh? So compelling, it generated almost 900K views in the day or two after launch (left).  And bots have been viewing and clicking on it ever since.

As they say around the poker table, if you don’t see the sucker, it’s you.

Takeaway: Look at your direct, PMP and programmatic buys, line-by-line and site-by-site. Look at your site transparency report. And trust your gut: if it feels wrong or odd to you, it is.

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