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?

 

Five ways to think mobile first (notes for OpenGov Hackathon and BCNI Philly)

On Saturday April 28 I’ll be in Philadelphia to help with the BarCamp News Innovation unconference and Open Government News Hackathon. These events are sponsored by the Center for Public Interest Journalism at Temple University, and are part of Philly Tech Week.

Temple is my old stomping ground; I graduated from journalism school there in 1990. And I’m rather stunned at all the huge new buildings that have sprung up around the campus. Good to see the school grow!

The reason Temple brought me in to help with these events is because I’m passionate about mobile and about the Philly area. I grew up in South Jersey and still have lots of family and friends in the region. So for me, helping more people in the Greater Philadelphia Area access more useful local information, news, and services via their cell phones is not just important — it’s personal!

…This is especially pressing given the continuing rocky status of Philadelphia Media Network, which publishes the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com. My grandfather Len McAdams worked on the editorial team of “The Inky” for decades. He’d be furious to hear that earlier this month PMN was sold for the fifth time in six years — at a fire sale price of $55 million. Sheesh.

Here are a few points I’d like participants in tomorrow’s barcamp and hackathon to consider…

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Boulder better prepared for zombies than Oakland

I’m planning a move from Oakland, CA back to Boulder, CO. Clearly, one factor in this project is: how to prepare for the zombie apocalypse, wherever I am.

I checked out Map of the Dead – a great map mashup that helps you find the closest zombie survival supplies. Just enter your address to find the locations of the closest gun store, liquor store, grocery or convenience store, hardware store, outdoor store, gas station, doctor, pharmacy, military, police, radio tower, harbor, or airport.

They also list the locations of places you’d probably want to avoid during a zombie outbreak: Hospitals and shopping malls (zombies LOVE those places), cemeteries (obviously) and campgrounds (not really defensible).

I checked out the Temescal neighborhood in north Oakland, where I currently live. Here’s what I’ve got to work with, considering running distance — and it’s not looking good. I’m pretty close to several major hospitals, which tend to be ground zero in an outbreak. And not too much in the way of nearby supply locations. And, believe it or not, no nearby gun shops.

My north Oakland neighborhood: Not looking good in case of zombies. (Click to enlarge)

In contrast, downtown Boulder, Colorado seems a smarter bet for waiting out the zombocalypse. Within a few blocks there are several outdoor shops (which is probably also the best place to get survivalist food, water filters, etc.), grocery and liquor stores (if I’m facing zombies, I will need a large supply of good tequila), AND a gun store!

Downtown Boulder, Colorado. Better bet for surviving the zombocalypse. (Click to enlarge)

Also, the closest hospital is over a mile away from downtown Boulder — not even shown on this map. That’s a bonus.

The mobile version of this website isn’t bad, but could stand some further optimization. In fact, this is one of those cases when an app really would be a better option. You’d want to cache this information offline, for when the internet and cell networks go down following mass chaos. And maybe build in an option to use the phone’s antenna as a walkie-talkie, or to listen to radio broadcasts. And, of course, get the latest CDC updates on the status of vaccine development and deployment.

Plus an app could store a library of tutorial videos showing key zombie survival skills, like this:

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.

I’m not alone in this: reflections on social media and digital connection

Social media, digital communication channels, and cell phones often get accused of alienating people, enabling bullies, and breaking down the human ties which are the foundation of society.

Bullshit. Personally, I am far happier on a day-to-day basis thanks to these technological tools. They have added considerable love, meaning, joy, and value to my life. With their help, I’ve been able to offer nurturing and support to far more people I care about than ever would have been possible otherwise.

So I wasn’t surprised when a recent Pew study found that 85% of adult who use social networking sites say that people are mostly kind. Also, 68% reported they’d had a experience on social media that made them feel good about themselves, and 61% had experiences that made them feel closer to another person.

I know I’m not alone in this…

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Not tall enough to ride this attraction

Making some lemonade here. Had a rather unpleasant interpersonal experience lately, and decided I needed to set some clear entry requirements (emotional maturity and communication skills) for people I let very far into my life. So instead of just chalking it up to “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt,” I actually GOT THE T-SHIRT! A friend is working on a better line art version which I’ll be selling online. But for now, here’s the concept. Whadya think?

You must be at least this tall to ride this attraction. Custom ordered from Zazzle.com. Better line art version to follow.

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

Adapt or your business model will die!

I’ve long been frustrated with how stuck-in-the-mud much of the news industry and many journalists regarding their own business models or career path. Seems to me, the key skill to survive and thrive in chaotic, disruptive times is adaptability.

Here’s a great example of adaptability: How the much reviled flavor-of-the-month web startup Chatroulette has found a way to make money off its inevitable tide of exhibitionists:

Fast Company: Chatroulette Founder Andrey Ternovskiy Raises New Funding: “50,000 Naked Men”

“Chatroulette can’t fully wean itself off nudity yet. “You’ll still see some naked men, about one every hour,” Ternovskiy says. Of the roughly 500,000 visitors Chatroulette receives daily, about 10% are males itching to show their business. So Ternovskiy parlays that business into profit.

“Everyday, about 50,000 new men are trying to get naked,” he says. “What we’re doing is selling the naked men to a couple of websites–it’s an investment for us.”

When users flag someone enough times for indecent behavior (by clicking a button), the offender is automatically transferred to a partner site. Thanks to deals with adult dating services like FriendFinder.com, Chatroulette is earning cash hand over fist from the referral traffic.

“Basically, once we detect a person is naked, he’ll be kicked from our service to another website,” Ternovskiy says. ”So, we’re actually getting revenue from naked men right now.”

 

Input needed: HOW could a news site be a truth vigilante?

I’ve been following, with interest, the recent flap sparked by this Jan. 12 column by New York Times public editor (ombudsman), Arthur Brisbane: Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?

Brisbane asked NYT readers: “I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”

This led to consternation from many Times readers, who believed this kind of revelation is part of the basic job of any news organization. GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram offered a good roundup of the flap, and at The Guardian Clay Shirky wrote an eloquent deeper exploration of the mindset disconnect between the Times and its readers.

Many people are debating the ethical implications of this issue. However, I’m wondering about the practicalities and possible opportunities.

If the NYT (or any news organization) does decide to point out when sources offer inaccurate “facts,” HOW might they accomplish that? Might there be good options, especially online, that could serve this purpose in addition to inserting relevant text into stories?… Continue reading