Fake News Root Cause: Digital Advertisers

Screen Shot 2017-05-10 at 9.06.42 AMLike you, I’m sick of  the slanted stories being pushed to me through social media. I’m tired of having to hunt down the source material of everything I read, just to make sure I’m not being fooled. I’m disgusted with the low level of fact-checking and slipshod attention to detail in today’s 24 second “news” cycle. And I realized who’s to blame.

Me. And you. And the companies we work for.

Somewhere in our rush to use digital media, we got obsessed with reach and the size of audiences (the magic word again) and impressions. We got taken for a ride by the ad tech industry hucksters, who built an almost-perfect money-making machine on top of fake inventory created on phony websites.

Jim Rutenberg, of the New York Times, reminded us in an article last week that “Real news costs real money; fake news comes cheap.” If advertisers and our agencies are obsessed with getting more advertising inventory and cheap reach, there’s nothing like fake websites to satiate that desire. Why spend money on quality journalism, when you can invest that money in software engineering and arbitraging dodgy traffic to careless marketers? The margin is far better. Who cares if a little truth gets lost along the way?

Google and Facebook aren’t our friends either. You’re giving them 90%+ of your incremental spend this year. Have they ever fallen short of providing the impressions you “need” either? If volume is the name of the game, they’ll provide it and we’ll fall for it because, as Richard Feynman would say, we marketers “don’t look too hard.”

Shame on us.

Enough is enough. As Shareen Pathak in today’s Digiday asks, yes, media buyers do have a moral obligation to save media. We live in a society that needs a free flow of ideas and a strong, independent press to hold corporations and our government accountable. Quality journalism costs money. The good news is that quality attracts quality, in both viewers and advertiser dollars. It is a virtuous cycle. Somebody’s got to re-prime the pump. That’s the advertiser.

Stop looking at the CPM. Look at quality. Damn what your multitouch attribution model says (which is either owned by a publisher or an ad tech provider) and use common sense. Forget reach. Forget “audiences.” Demand quality. Buy quality. Do your own analysis. Be skeptical of everything you see or hear in the digital marketing ecosystem.

Win for your companies. Win for society.

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