Making digital advertising accountable for impact (or not)

Recently I was telling a group of publishers that, unfortunately, much of the business that has supported journalism (advertising) has always been smoke and mirrors. Advertisers took it mostly on faith that they were getting what they were paying for (i.e., increased sales or influence). I don’t doubt that they got some of those benefits, but probably never nearly as much as the people selling ad space promised.

That’s a problem: If integrity is supposedly what you have to offer your audience or community, then it’s bad business to shaft your customers (the advertisers).

Then along came the age of digital advertising, and finally some direct evidence of advertising’s impact started creeping in to the picture: clickthroughs, etc. These metrics were flawed and digital advertising mostly sucked (but then again, so did most print and broadcast advertising), but it was a step toward accountability, at least theoretically.

And then there was a development that purported to go even further toward helping advertisers and marketers ensure that they were spending their money usefully across all media, digital and otherwise: the demand-side platform. Wikipedia currently defines this as:

A system that allows digital advertisers to manage multiple ad exchange and data exchange accounts through one interface. Real time bidding for displaying online ads takes place within the ad exchanges, and by utilizing a DSP, marketers can manage their bids for the banners and the pricing for the data that they are layering on to target their audiences.

DSPs are unique because they incorporate many of the facets previously offered by advertising networks, such as wide access to inventory and vertical and lateral targeting, with the ability to serve ads, real-time bid on ads, track the ads, and optimize. This is all kept within one interface which creates a unique opportunity for advertisers to truly control and maximize the impact of their ads. 

Sounds good — except that DSPs can be mostly smoke and mirrors all over again, just with more data attached.

Check out Confessions of a Demand-Side Platform Salesperson, from Digiday this week:

Anyone that has not worked at a DSP or a trading desk, consider yourself lucky. It is the cesspool of our industry, with the DSPs racing towards an acquisition or IPO and the trading desks trying to validate themselves as valuable within the holding companies. It is a sweatshop environment on both sides, with workers who are bludgeoned from the top down.

I think it is time for the major advertisers to get in and take responsibility for how their dollars are being spent. There is double-dipping within many agency/trading desks, and your advertising dollars are not as impactful as they have been. The tires need to be violently kicked at a trading desk before agreeing to allow your dollars to go through there. 

Also, the big publishers need to man up, regain their integrity and pull out. Madoff pulled off his scheme under the watchful eye of the SEC. You think the same thing isn’t happening under the oh-so frightening eye of the IAB?

 

PR fail: World’s dumbest news embargo

I cover technology for CNN.com and elsewhere, so I get a lot of pitch e-mails from PR folks. Some of these are very useful and well targeted. Most are rather “meh.”

…And a few are utterly stupid.

Here’s one such e-mail I received today, in its entirety. Name of the PR person, PR firm, and client are removed to protect the guilty:

I’m writing today on behalf of [LINK TO CLIENT] a leader and innovative provider of device-centric, [TECHNOLOGY] solutions. They wanted to offer you the opportunity to receive some news which is under embargo until 9 a.m. CET on Monday, Feb. 27. If you are open to receiving news under embargo and agree to this embargo time, I would be happy to provide you with the news.

Seriously: I never heard of the company, I don’t know what this might be about, and I have no way to gauge whether their news is important or interesting enough for me to check out at all — yet THEY want ME to agree to an embargo in advance, before I have any idea whether they’re potentially relevant?

Folks, you always have to prove your information or news is worth somebody’s time. Just tell me why I should care, why this is relevant to me or my work. Always. There is no point in being coy.

And no, I’m not going to click the link in your e-mail to find out more about the company. I don’t know you. This looks like spam.

So I flagged this message as spam.

Associated Press opens North Korea news bureau, they’ll fit right in!

No, really:

Associated Press opens news bureau in North Korea | World news | guardian.co.uk.

…As if the news business wasn’t already Kafkaesque. Well, AP is an appropriate choice for this. 

Having done some critical coverage of several boneheaded AP strategies in digital media over the last few years, I think they see eye to eye with NK regarding the dangers of criticism, and how to respond to it.

I’m not kidding: See the response from Paul Colford, AP’s director of media relations, to a 2010 KDMC story I wrote about the controversial AP News Registry program

Local, mobile, paywalls, Google, more: My latest KDMC news for digital journalists posts

Over the last month I’ve fallen behind on noting here what I’ve been writing at the News for Digital Journalists blog on the web site of the Knight Digital Media Center. Here’s a quick roundup of what I’ve covered there since late February…

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Coming soon from Yahoo: Personalized mobile content platform

Say what you will about Yahoo, but I’ve always liked that they’ve generally realized the value of reaching out to feature phone users — who, according to ComScore’s latest numbers, still comprise three quarters of the current US mobile market.

For instance, Yahoo apparently has deals with many wireless carriers to have its mobile offerings listed in the default menu options for feature phone web browsers. This generates a lot of traffic to Yahoo News — and in turn, to lots of news sites.

Now they’re cooking up something else that should interest news and content publishers who are considering their mobile strategy. Today on the Knight Digital Media Center site, I wrote:

Yahoo to launch personalized mobile content platform

The bottom line for news orgs:

Feature phone users are especially likely to desire content personalization, given the difficulty of navigating and searching web sites from those devices. If this Yahoo platform makes that easier for consumers, and if Yahoo offers some fair revenue opportunities for news publishers, then a platform like this might be a useful complement to a news organization’s own direct mobile offerings.

Yeah, I know at Mobile World Congress next week, Yahoo’s official announcement will make this sound like it’s all about smartphones and tablets. But I hope some people will be asking about how this platform will work with Yahoo’s mobile web offerings — and whether it will include support for Javascript-based apps that can run on many feature phones.