100% Of The Money

In digital advertising comes from the advertisers. That means advertisers ultimately call all the shots: where they buy, how they buy, and what technologies they use.

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Monday Morning Quarterbacking: The 8 am Meeting

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 11.23.03 AMHow’d your crack of dawn review go this morning? What did the rear echelon (senior management) put unnecessary scrutiny on? Did it help?

If it’s any consolation remember that no Monday morning quarterback ever threw an interception or missed a receiver. No Monday morning quarterback ever wore a Super Bowl ring either.


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Ad Fraud Crash Course

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 12.27.45 PMAccording to one recent study, as much as $16 billion will be stolen from advertisers in 2017. It could be more, as nobody really knows the size of the digital fraud problem. But we know that it’s a lucrative business and advertisers are being taken to the cleaners.

It’s relatively easy to educate yourself on advertising fraud. There’s a bunch of good videos from security experts and, yes ad fraud prevention vendors, about how it works and what you–as an advertiser or agency–might be able to do about it. At least you’ll know what kind of questions to ask of your agencies, vendors, publishers, and platforms.

So why does this great video from White Ops CEO Michael Tiffany only have 1,200 views? Or this one from Integral Ad Science’s Grzegorz Miaskiewicz have only 245? Isn’t anybody interested in solving the problem? About $80 billion will be spent in digital marketing this year. You’d think a few more people might be interested in what they’re actually buying.

If you’re doing any kind of digital marketing, I strongly suggest you take the time to watch these and others. Here’s an embed of Michael Tiffany’s talk. Watch it tonight when you get home. Ask good questions. And win.



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Ignore “Three Rights” At Your Campaign’s Peril

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 8.54.49 AMI believe in the old “40/40/20” rule of direct response marketing which states that 40% of the performance of a campaign is dependent on the the list, 40% on the offer, and 20% on everything else. I’ve proven it to myself in the breach when I made mistakes at list order or selection, or got the offer wrong.

You can also think of it as the “Three Rights” which you must do correctly to for successful digital performance marketing campaigns. If it helps, think of them as another Triumvirate. These are your Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. Don’t get any of them wrong or “Et tu, Brute?”

The Digital Advertising “Three Rights”

Right Person – Right Site – Right Ad

The sequence is important. Start with the person you want to reach, not a proxy in an “audience.” Name, address, and physical location matter. Then decide where you’re going to show the ad. Again, location matters. You don’t see Tiffany ads in the rest rooms at truck stops along I-95, and you don’t see co-marketing promotions with Mercedes-Benz for CB radios.

Finally, “right ad” refers to the combination of offer, copy, and creative (in that order!) that catches the prospect’s eye and gets them to buy. Mess up any of the Three Rights in your campaigns, particularly your digital efforts, and you’ll see poor performance.

Takeaway: Use the Three Rights when you plan and execute your campaigns. Also use this format when you post-mortem* your campaigns. And win.

*You do debrief after every campaign, right? If not, use the Afterburner STEALTH debrief to do it correctly in only twenty minutes.

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Are You Running These Ads? Why?

Weekend homework. Ask yourself, are you running any of the ads rated as 3 or lower by the Coalition for Better Ads? If so, why?

And if you’ve decided that running lousy ads makes sense, ask yourself whether you’re worried about ad blocking. Also, go to your digital marketing team and your advertising agency and see how many of those people are using ad blockers so they can get their work done.

We can do better folks. Let’s start on Monday.

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Partner? Nope. Vendor!

One word that seems to have been banished from business is “vendor.” It has been replaced by the kinder, everybody-gets-a-medal term “partner.”

I hear this all the time in pitches to my clients. “We want to partner with you to help you unlock value in your business.” “As your partner, we’ll help you create amazing product experiences for your customers.” “We’ll partner with you to…”

What a bunch of nonsense. They want to make money, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But please, don’t fall for the “partner” schtick. They know it’s harder to fire a “partner” than to get rid of a vendor. And you tend not to look as closely at the faults of your partner (think of your significant other, true business partner, etc.)  And that’s the psychology of getting you to use the term “partner” to describe what is in reality a vendor relationship.

Takeaway: Unless your “partner” is only working on a percentage of the incremental value they create for you, they’re not. They’re a vendor. And that’s ok.

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Blockchain vs. Digital Fraud?

I’ve been speaking with many people over the past few years about using blockchain technology to mitigate fraud and increase advertiser confidence in online advertising.

It sounds like other people are thinking the same thing. I just noticed this video from MetaX, which explains how it might work: https://vimeo.com/209302657

I’m encouraged, even though I have questions about whether blockchain ledgers are fast enough for programmatic marketing or whether this might just add another layer of cruft and cost to the digital marketing environment.

Ordinarily, I’m not in favor of adding more advertising technology. But, in this case, I think this might help. As every advertiser should be able to tell you,  it is preferable to have confidence in the ad inventory at the impression level before buying to playing whack-a-mole with easily-gamed anti-fraud technologies grafted on during and after the buying process.

MetaX still looks to be a work in progress. I know other competitors and approaches will emerge. I hope that our industry will be able to find a way for blockchain to be used effectively.

I’m encouraging my friends and clients to consider testing technologies like this. Your agencies should be doing the same.

Takeaway: Look into using blockchain technology to verify the chain of custody of the impressions in which you serve your ads. Until then, buy only what you know. And win.
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Marketing: It’s About People

Segment the universe first, determine your target audiences, and craft offers that appeal to those people. If you’re mostly worried about audience reach or how many devices are in your graph (whatever that is), you’re not marketing. Sorry.

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Advertising Needs More History Majors

In the United States in 2014, only 1.7% of the undergraduate degrees awarded were history degrees. In the period since 1971, the share of history and social sciences degrees has declined from 18% to 9%. 1

Why study history? According to R.G. Collingwood, Oxford philosopher,

“We study history in order to see more clearly into the situation in which we are called upon to act.”

An understanding of history is necessary to help us avoid making the same mistakes. Yet, as a society we no longer value the study of history. Everybody wants to get rich quickly, usually as a result of their “personal brand” or being on a reality TV show or as a Wall Street investment banker. (All pretty much the same thing.) So we get degrees in finance and leave the study of history to the musty old professors.

The result? When an advertising huckster comes along, pitching AI or machine learning, it all sounds great. The younger folks, with no exposure to past nonsense nor the inclination to look back in time, fall for it and add new things to the already gigantic advertising tech stack. Somebody gets rich, but it’s not the advertiser.

Those of us old enough to be exposed to history hear “AI” and “machine learning” and remember neural networks 2. We ask lots of inconvenient questions. The huckster leaves to look for more fertile ground. The advertiser keeps their money and stays on strategy.

With the constant bleat of “new” from well-funded startups that prey on the historically-challenged advertiser, is it any wonder advertising is such a mess? “XXX is dead” and “XXX% improvement” are storylines used for thousands of years and rejected by those successful enough to understand history–of their trade, of their nation, and of their civilization.

Takeaway: Hire some good liberal arts majors, particularly history majors. They know how to reason, how to write, and how to see if you’re being pitched some rehashed nonsense. And win.


1 Dr. Niall Ferguson, October 28, 2016, quoting Julia Brookins, “New Data Show Large Drops in History Bachelor’s 11.Degrees,” Perspectives on History, March 2016, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/march-2016/new-data-show-large-drop-in-history-bachelors-degrees

Witchcraft that was purported to be better than logistic regression models back in the 90’s. Call me to discuss.

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Fairy Tale: “Ads We Want to See”

One of the biggest fantasies shared by digital marketers and advertising technology providers is that people want to see ads. The problem isn’t them, it’s us. If only we installed more technology (and chipped away at privacy a little more), we’d improve our omni-channel results, they say.

This belief has been used to pile technology, algorithms, and nonsense on our marketing efforts. The first result is a supply chain that’s so opaque almost nobody can tell you why a particular advertisement was run. The second result is that adtech companies have made a lot of money by skimming your media dollars.

It’s a narcissistic delusion to believe that anybody cares about what we have to sell. There’s no magical technology solution that will make consumers* suddenly want to “engage” with our advertisements or our brands.

In the offline world, we always knew that our ads weren’t wanted. But they were tolerated, because they are part of the deal. We spent a lot of time making sure we got the targeting just right, put forth a compelling offer and did strong creative to catch the eye.

In the digital world, the focus is mostly on more algorithms and outright surveillance. How’s that working for you? How’s your signal to noise ratio look? Are you running ads on jihadi websites? Are you even showing ads to human beings? Are you sure?

Think the problem with digital advertising will be solved with more technology?

Takeaway: Segment your audience, select the target audiences, understand your allowable, craft compelling messages with stunning creative ideas, then decide which channels to use, and show your ads to people–not “identities.” Underpin all this with a core truth: Nobody cares about your product, your brand, or your ads.
And win.



*When I see the word “consumer,” my BS detector goes off. Mold, fungi, and insects are consumers. People buy our products and services.

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