The scene is a common one. 15 people, sitting in a fancy high-tech conference room which experiences standard connection issues over the first 10 minutes of every meeting. We’ve all been there. This conference room belongs to a well-known ad tech company. Suddenly, the meeting attendees erupt in joy and exuberance. Are they celebrating a new business win? Successful completion of a campaign? Negative…this meeting was merely a standard kickoff call for a new campaign.
The positive reaction was due to the team learning that this campaign would be running site served ad tags trafficked by them, not the client. This meant that the client was entirely dependent on vendor reporting and campaign insights. Which ultimately meant that the client’s media budget and how it was spent was completely at the mercy of said ad tech vendor.
Needless to say, the fashion in which the campaign was executed internally was nowhere close to what the client was sold on externally. Now what did this entail? Below are several examples of bad faith business practices that were common at this company.
- Delivery of majority of impressions across fraudulent low-cost inventory
- Complete removal of audiences and geo fences in order to fully deliver client budget without prior client notification
- Purchase of inventory across open exchange when clients were sold on all inventory being bought through premium publisher relationships
- Uneven pacing towards the end of the month as under pacing campaigns saw significant spikes in daily spend from fraudulent bot traffic bought by vendor to fully deliver on campaign budget
- Complete fabrication of client performance data, especially around custom-built ad unit engagement
- Complete fabrication of vendor 1st party brand lift study data
- Misrepresentation of max avails during campaign planning stage in order to secure greater client budget
These practices were status quo for this ad tech company. And are status quo across an industry where transparency and accountability are often discussed but rarely acted upon.
My name is David Nyurenberg and I’m a proud digital marketer. Although it’s been several years since the above experience, the absurdity of it still replays in my head every day. Like many of my fellow colleagues who worked in ad-tech at the time, I didn’t aspire to lie to my clients and steal their budgets. It kind of just happened. Much like it happens to many of the other amazing people within the digital advertising industry.
My career path has been an unorthodox one. I started out brand side doing marketing & communications for a nonprofit, then moved publisher side, followed by 2 separate yearlong stints at multiple ad tech companies, followed by what had been my longest tenured role to date on the agency side. Through all the ups and the downs, my passion for the promise of digital has never wavered. I say promise because what we as an industry can be and what we are, are 2 totally different things.
The type of shady business practices described above proliferate through every corner of our industry. What we as an industry are selling internally to ourselves and externally to our clients is not what is happening truly underneath it all. Something stinks, we all know it, but for a variety of reasons, nobody wants to say anything about it. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try to turn a blind eye, reality cannot escape the larger world.
- Tens of billions of dollars in online ad fraud.
- Inflated and absurd “metrics” from Facebook
- Advertising dollars going to supporting terrorist, nazi, and pornography sites
- Advertisers unknowingly supporting pedophile rings on YouTube
- Billion dollar fraud in influencer followers
- Traffic fraud
- Criminal federal investigation of Facebook data sharing
- The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office stating that adtech is “illegal” and “out of control”
- A report from the Association of National Advertisers claiming that corruption and kickbacks were “pervasive” in the advertising industry.
- Massive fraud in social media followers.
- Click farms going 24-hours a day
- Numerous scandals involving online publishers, search engines, and browsers spying on people without their knowledge or consent.
- Sharing of “secure” personal information among web entities
- FBI and Justice Department investigations of media practices.
- Google secretly sharing personal data with advertisers.
To quote advertising historian and best selling author Bob Hoffman, we are all involved in a “conspiracy of silence”. Whether its fear of retaliation for speaking up, general apathy, purposeful ignorance or just a feeling of helplessness in the face of it all. Many reasons exist for how and why we’ve allowed our industry to get to this point.
PT II will delve into the serious flaws behind the programmatic open exchange buying model. How & why bad actors are exploiting it and why our industry as a whole is not incentivised to fix these issues.