Op-Ed: Digital ads tanking? What a surprise.

Posted Sep 17, 2017 by Paul Wallis
The underperformance and non-performance of digital ads has been legendary for years. Now, apparently there’s a “crisis of confidence’, even in Google ads. What a surprise. Maybe the wheel will be invented someday, too?
According to Facebook  Russian-linked groups bought over 3 000 ads worth $100 000 in the past two ye...
According to Facebook, Russian-linked groups bought over 3,000 ads worth $100,000 in the past two years
Pexels / Kaboompics // Karolina
The crisis of confidence is self-inflicted, to start with. Digital advertising basically ignores all the core principles of good advertising and marketing. The total failure, and the revenue effects, are entirely predictable.
A lot of money has gone in to developing this legless white elephant of an advertising medium, and things are not looking good. There are multiple issues in user experience alone which are counterproductive, let alone the lousy, uninspired rubbish trying to pass themselves off as selling points.
The lucky user is saturated, 24/7, with people trying to sell something to them on every possible type of media. The response is almost entirely negative. The average user automatically blocks out 95% (long established metrics) of this garbage as irrelevant, which most of it is.
That number is a good indicator of how utterly useless blanket advertising has always been, and not just digital advertising. These are basic theories of advertising and marketing which nobody seems to get.
Things people hate about advertising
We have to address the much-resented, and equally despised, tracking sneakiness. “Track the customer’s online behaviour” is now a total crock, too. You call this “personalization”? or maybe “contextualization”? Just because somebody spends time looking at nice houses or lifestyle magazines does NOT mean they’ll be buying a mansion every 5 seconds, either. Finance, maybe. A job, quite likely. Not just sales ads totally out of context with the transaction. Try to imagine that a transaction might involve more than just clicking on an ad, anyway, see if that helps.
By tracking, companies can give you targeted ads, you say? Do tell. I got ads trying to sell me my own books when I got on The New York Times, ads for John Deere tractors in my local news site, ( I do some stuff for a John Deere specialist services company in Michigan) and similar utterly useless stuff.
This is exactly how good your tracking is in conversion terms, O Mighty Gerbils of Digital Advertising. Functionality, zero, or in these cases, less than zero, particularly when you bear in mind there was no hope of any sale in either case with me. Whatever info was available for me to receive these ads was way out of context in any possible sense of a sale.
The books might be some sort of glitch, but the John Deere stuff was intrusive. I have never done anything online related to John Deere. The only way anyone could have known I was doing that work was through emails, or intruding on my content management systems for that work. We’re now talking about illegalities, as well as useless advertising.
Contextual advertising? Ha bloody ha.
Another problem – Ad quality, placement and context. You couldn’t sell sex to anyone based on the minimal standards of these godawful ads. Consider trying to sell life insurance to heavy metal freaks, or Lamborghinis to anyone who considers themselves a failure and is looking for motivation. (Ad quality, in which a Lamborghini is the selling point for a motivation book isn’t exactly spectacularly well thought out, either.) Great marketing positions, guys, you must be very proud, and probably very broke, by now. Who in their right minds would do this sort of targeting?
Now consider the sheer volume of ads using up people’s bandwidth on phones. They’re paying to see stuff they don’t need to see, which they’ll never buy. Good advertising strategy? Really? How? The more likely scenario is that they don’t have any money because of the ridiculous amounts they spend on their phones. The metric is “phone sales great, ad sales lousy”. Sound familiar?
Basic advertising presentation
Then there’s web content, aka “Everything must look like Buzzfeed”. This is not helping site revenues, at all. The revenue is peanuts in most cases, and hardly worth the rituals involved in setting up and maintaining these ads.
To start with - The Buzzfeed layout is fine for Buzzfeed, which is a very broad spectrum site. It’s not so good for practically everything and everyone else. Targeting is about relevant content, not ridiculous site layouts which simply distract users. Stay on topic, and you’ll get a lot more interest in your site ads.
You don’t have to look far to see the howls of fury this slopfest is generating around the world. What was originally irritated, skeptical negativity is now genuine anger, from both advertisers and users. If ad spending goes down on lack of results, (what a surprise) the disaster will spread.
You mean someone's figured out how to measure the effectiveness of advertising?
We’ll leave out the issues of AdWords costs, and the price per click for something which generates easily debunkable mythologies about costs for returns on investment in advertising. There’s no point in saying much more than that ad costs have to justify themselves.
The fact is that you can measure the effectiveness of online advertising to the last cent, and that’s what’s happening when money is pulled out of advertising. Why should anyone spend good money on worthless outcomes? Either digital advertising has suddenly become unnaturally stupid, or people who should know better are continuing to do stupid, pointless, and in fact suicidal, things.
Suggestions, or how not to screw up every ad you publish
A few basic pointers:
1. Test your damn advertising first. This is basic, since Claude Hopkins wrote Scientific Advertising circa1900, it’s required, and it’s absurd not to test any digital media you’re spending millions on, anyway.
2. Monitor real transaction performance, and respond to failures. Get rid of these horrors! Use basic, unambiguous, metrics to monitor, and if performance is substandard, kill off the failures, ASAP.
3. Target ads properly. Match ads to content, not “adorable” demographics which obviously don’t work. Content is king for a reason. Users only require the content, they don’t need the ads unless the ads are up to speed with their actual online areas of interest.
4. Lose the sleaze, yesterday or preferably sooner. User distrust is based on solid facts. Drop the dating agencies, get rich quick, and any products which might look risky to users.
5. Do something about this damn software which can’t even tell the difference between an author and a customer looking for something to read. It can’t be that hard.
6. At least consider the ancient American advertising saying, “Who needs it?” when doing any kind of advertising. Those who do not need it will not click. Clear enough?
7. Try and make ads interesting! How many bored to death people are likely to click on anything? Particularly when shooting themselves rather than watching another repetitive ad could be so much a better move?
As a pro writer, I can tell you one thing that might finally connect with whatever remaining living synapses still exist in digital advertising – The really great thing about online advertising for me is that I didn’t write all that crap.
I like inept, dull, stupid, hopelessly out of touch competition, and I’ll be very sorry to see it go. For humanitarian reasons, however, I’m all in favor of upping the standards across the board before the customers actually go extinct. There’s also something about sending every advertiser on the planet broke with advertising non-achievements that bothers me; I wonder why?