Posts tagged ‘online advertising’


More evidence that contextual advertising is better than creepy, programmatic behavioural ads

01.06.2022

Cory Doctorow posted a link to his collection of links at Pluralistic for August 5, 2020. The first one’s heading piqued my interest: ‘Contextual ads can save media’.

It’s worth having a read, especially about the BS behind behavioural advertising (i.e. surveillance advertising) and the ‘real-time bidding’ that so many ad networks have been trying to sell to me but which none of them can explain.

If it smells like BS, it probably is.

I tell each one: we sell ads, give us some banner code, and we’ll stick it up. They perform well, we increase their share. They perform badly, we decrease them.

They usually go on about the superiority of their systems but if I don’t understand them, then I’m not going to make the switch.

I won’t cite what Cory says on that as the real gems are later in the entry.

Here’s the one, which agrees fully with something I’ve been saying, though my experience is anecdotal and not backed up by proper, quantitative research: ‘Contextual advertising converts at very nearly the same rate as behavioral advertising, and just as well as behavioral ads for some categories of goods and services’.

He then gives this link.

He notes that in 2019, The New York Times ‘ditched most of its programmatic behavioral ads’ and that the Dutch public broadcaster, NPO, has followed suit, ‘ditching Google Ad Manager for a new custom contextual ad system it commissioned’.

‘They’ve since experimented with major advertisers like Amex and found little to no difference between context ads and behavioral ads when it comes to conversions.’

There’s also greater reach because of GDPR requiring that people opt in to behavioural ads.

My emphasis here: ‘And they’re keeping that money, rather than giving a 50% vig to useless, creepy, spying ad-tech middlemen.’

I knew there was a reason I kept rejecting those people.

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The erosion of standards

10.01.2022

For homeowners and buyers, there’s a great guide from Moisture Detection Co. Ltd. called What You Absolutely Must Know About Owning a Plaster-Clad Home, subtitled The Origin of New Zealand’s Leaky Building Crisis and Must-Know Information for Owners to Make Their Homes Weathertight, and Regain Lost Value.
   My intent isn’t to repeat someone’s copyrighted information in full, but there are some highlights in there that show how the erosion of standards has got us where we are today. It’s frightening because the decline in standards has been continual over decades, and the authorities don’t seem to know what they are doing—with perhaps the exception of the bidding of major corporations who want to sell cheap crap.
   The document begins with the 1950s, when all was well, and houses rarely rotted. Houses had to have treated timber, be ventilated, and have flashings.
   They note:

By the time 1998 rolled around, NZ Standards, the Building Industry Association, and BRANZ had systematically downgraded the ‘Belts and Braces’ and were allowing houses to be built with untreated framing, with no ventilation, and poorly designed or non-existent flashings and weatherproofing.
   Councils accepted these changes at ‘face value’ without historical review. They issued building consents, inspected the houses, and gave Code of Compliance Certificates. Owners believed they had compliant, well-constructed buildings, but they did not.

   Shockingly, by 1992, the treatment level for framing timber could be with ‘permethrins (the same ingredient as fly spray)’, while one method used methanol as a solvent and increased decay. By 1998 ‘Untreated Kiln Dried Timber (UTKD) was allowed for framing’. The standards improved slightly by 2005 but it’s still well off what was accepted in 1952 and 1972.
   We recently checked out a 2009 build using plaster cladding and researching the methods of construction, including the types with cavities, we are far from convinced the problems are gone.
   Talking to some building inspectors, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence on how shaky things still look.
   Since we moved to Tawa and made some home improvements, we realize a lot of people in the trade do not know what they are talking about, or try to sell you on a product totally unsuited to your needs. This post is not the place for a discussion on that topic, but one day I might deal with it.
   However, I am surprised that so many of the tried-and-trusted rules continue to be ignored.
   Sometimes people like me go on about “the good old days” not because we don rose-coloured glasses, but we take from them the stuff that worked.
   It’s not unlike what Bob Hoffman included in his newsletter today.
   As I’ve also no desire to take the most interesting part—a diagram showing that for every dollar spent on programmatic online advertising, a buyer only gets 3¢ of value ‘of real display ads viewed by real human people’—I ask you to click through.
   Again, it’s about basic principles. If so many people in the online advertising space are fudging their figures—and there’s plenty of evidence about that—then why should we spend money with them? To learn that you get 3¢ of value for every dollar spent, surely that’s a big wake-up call?
   It won’t be, which is why Facebook and Google will still make a ton of money off people this year.
   The connected theme: rich buggers conning everyday people and too few having the bollocks to deal with them, including officials who are meant to be working for us.

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Contextual targeting worked, so why abandon it?

27.09.2021

Didn’t I already say this?

   Contextual targeting worked for so long on the web, although for some time I’ve noticed ads not displaying on sites where I’ve blocked trackers or had third-party cookies turned off. That means there are ad networks that would rather do their clients, publishers and themselves out of income when they can’t track. Where’s the wisdom in that?
   I can’t believe it took Apple’s change in favour of privacy for the online advertising mob to take notice.
   This is how I expect it to work (and it’s a real screenshot from Autocade).

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How is your ad network different from this?

11.02.2021

No point beating around the bush when it comes to yet another advertising network knocking on our door. This was a quick reply I just fired off, and I might as well put it on this blog so there’s another place I can copy it from, since I’m likely to call on it again and again. I’m sure we can’t be alone in online publishing to feel this way.
   The original reply named the firms parenthetically in the last two scenarios but I’ve opted not to do that here. I have blogged about it, so a little hunt here will reveal who I’m talking about.

Thank you for reaching out and while I’ve no doubt you’re at a great company, we have a real problem adding any new ad network. The following pattern has played out over and over again in the last 25-plus years we have been online.

  • We add a network, so far so good.
  • The more networks we use, with their payment thresholds, the longer it takes for any one of them to reach the total, and the longer we wait for any money to come.
  • Add this to the fact we could get away with charging $75 CPM 25 years ago and only fractions of cents today, the thresholds take longer still to reach.

   Other things usually happen as well:

  • We’re promised a high fill rate, even 100 per cent, and the reality is actually closer to 0 per cent and all we see are “filler” ads—if anything at all. Some just run blank units.
  • We wait so long for those thresholds to be reached that some of the networks actually close down in the interim and we never see our money!
  • In some cases, the networks change their own policies during the relationship and we get kicked off!

   I think the problems behind all of this can be traced to Google, which has monopolized the space. It probably doesn’t help that we refuse to sign anything from Google as we have no desire to add to the coffers of a company that doesn’t pay its fair share of tax. Every email from Google Ad Manager is now rejected at server level.
   If somehow [your firm] is different, I’d love to hear about you. The last two networks we added in 2019 and 2020, who assured us the pattern above would not play out, have again followed exactly the above scenario. We gave up on the one we added in 2019 and took them out of our rotation.
   Hoping for good news in response.

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Online advertising dollars: Google’s cut from your work is 40 per cent

02.06.2020

From Bob Hoffman’s The Ad Contrarian newsletter of May 24: ‘two weeks ago a study by the ISBA and PcW that reported that half of every “programmatic” ad dollar is scraped by adtech middlemen’ and ‘According to a paper written by Fiona Scott Morton, an economist at Yale University, Google pockets about 40¢ of every online ad dollar before it ever gets to a publisher. Not just search dollars, not just programmatic dollars, but all online ad dollars.’ Just one more reason I refuse to sign these:

   I’m not part of the 90 per cent. And the bastards at Google are rich enough. Let them share it with illegal content mills as they are peas in a pod. Another solution for legitimate publishers is dearly needed.
   At least there’s been some sort of work with the commissions agencies take in other media, and that’s typically at 15 per cent here. Google is taking the piss with its automated systems.
   We know the US doesn’t have the balls (or funding?) to take them on at this point, but how about other sovereign territories in which Google operates? Surely they have to comply with our laws, too?

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Why I don’t sign up to new online ad networks in a hurry

26.02.2020

In the early days, banner advertising was pretty simple. By the turn of the century, we dealt with a couple of firms, Burst Media and Gorilla Nation, and we had a few buy direct. Money was good.
   This is the pattern today if we choose to say yes to anyone representing an ad network.
   I get an email, with, ‘Hey, we’ve got some great fill rates and CPMs!’
   I quiz them, tell them that in the past we’ve been disappointed. Basically, because each ad network has a payment threshold (and in Burst’s case they deduct money as a fee for paying you money), the more ad networks we serve in each ad spot’s rotation, the longer it takes to reach each network’s threshold. And some networks don’t even serve ads that we can see.
   They say that that won’t happen, so I do the paperwork and we put the codes in.
   Invariably we either see crap ads (gambling and click-bait, or worse: pop-ups, pop-unders, interstitials and entire page takeovers for either) or we see no ads, at least none that’ll pay.
   Because we give people a chance we leave the codes there for a while, and that delays the payment thresholds just as predicted.
   At the end of the day, it’s ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ because no one really seems to honour their commitments when it comes to online advertising. With certain companies having monopoly or duopoly powers in this market, it’s led to depressed prices and a very high threshold for any new players—and that’s a bad thing for publishers. What a pity their home country lacks the bollocks to do something about it.
   Every now and then they will feed through an advertisement from Google because of a contractual arrangement they have, and the ad isn’t clickable—because I guess no one at Google has figured out that that’s important. (Remember, this is the same company that didn’t know what significant American building is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC on Google Earth, and the way to deal with whistleblowers is allegedly to call the cops on them.)
   We deal with one Scots firm and one Israeli firm these days, in the hope that not having American ad networks so dependent on, or affected by, a company with questionable ethics might help things just a little.

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Facebook: no change, business as usual

24.10.2019

I would have loved to have seen this go to trial, but Facebook and the plaintiffs—a group of advertising agencies alleging they had been swindled by the social network—settled.
   Excerpted from The Hollywood Reporter, ‘The suit accused Facebook of acknowledging miscalculations in metrics upon press reports, but still not taking responsibility for the breadth of the problem. “The average viewership metrics were not inflated by only 60%-80%; they were inflated by some 150 to 900%,” stated an amended complaint.’
   Facebook denies this and settled for US$40 million, which is really pocket change for the multi-milliard-dollar company. Just the price of doing business.
   Remember, Facebook has been shown to have lied about the number of people it can reach (it now admits that its population estimates have no basis in, well, the population), so I’m not surprised it lies about the number of people who watch their videos. And remember their platform has a lot of bots—I still have several thousand reported on Instagram that have yet to be touched—and Facebook itself isn’t exactly clean.
   Every time they get called out, there are a few noises, but nothing ever really happens.
   This exchange between Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mark Zuckerberg is a further indication that nothing will ever happen at Facebook to make things right—there’s no will from top management for that to happen. There’s too much to be lost with monetization opportunities for questionable services to be shut down, while Facebook is all too happy to close ones that don’t make money (e.g. the old ‘View as’ feature). The divisions and “fake news” will continue, the tools used by all the wrong people.
   It’s your choice whether you want to be part of this.

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How to lose readers: accuse them of something they don’t or wouldn’t do

11.06.2019

Here’s a sure-fire way to lose readers and cost you ad revenue.
   It seems Haymarket’s Autocar (which I have been reading in print since 1980) wasn’t pleased about people using online ad blockers, so it created a warning.
   The trouble is I don’t use ad blockers. In fact, you can see a massive advertisement underneath the warning:

In fact, that ad keeps changing, so I guess the advertiser is charged for totally useless impressions.
   Clicking ‘I’ve disabled my Ad-Blocker’ does nothing.
   I decided to click the other option, for advice on how to whitelist the ad blocker that I do not have.

I presume whatever’s in that blue box are the instructions, which are illegible.
   Autocar often talks about the difficulties behind some car infotainment interfaces, but you’d hope a publisher with a budget that far exceeds mine would get this right.
   The irony of this effort is that Autocar winds up losing ad revenue.
   I have Tweeted them, so here’s hoping this silly tech can be removed so I can help their bottom line. You do wonder about their bosses sometimes though—maybe this sort of abrasive behaviour comes from the top.

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Why paywalls are getting more prevalent; and The Guardian Weekly rethought

10.11.2018

Megan McArdle’s excellent op–ed in The Washington Post, ‘A farewell to free journalism’, has been bookmarked on my phone for months. It’s a very good summary of where things are for digital media, and how the advent of Google and Facebook along with the democratization of the internet have reduced online advertising income to a pittance. There’s native advertising, of course, which Lucire and Lucire Men indulged in for a few years in the 2010s, and I remain a fan of it in terms of what it paid, but McArdle’s piece is a stark reminder of the real world: there ain’t enough of it to keep every newsroom funded.
   I’ll also say that I have been very tempted over the last year or two to start locking away some of Lucire’s 21 years of content behind a paywall, but part of me has a romantic notion (and you can see it in McArdle’s own writing) that information deserves to be free.
   Everyone should get a slice of the pie if they are putting up free content along with slots for Doubleclick ads, for instance, and those advertising networks operate on merit: get enough qualified visitors (and they do know who they are, since very few people opt out; in Facebook’s case opting out actually does nothing and they continue to track your preferences) and they’ll feed the ads through accordingly, whether you own a “real” publication or not.
   It wasn’t that long ago, however, when more premium ad networks worked with premium media, leaving Google’s Adsense to operate among amateurs. It felt like a two-tier ad market. Those days are long gone, since plenty of people were quite happy to pay the cheap rates for the latter.
   It’s why my loyal Desktop readers who took in my typography column every month between 1996 and 2010 do not see me there any more: we columnists were let go when the business model changed.
   All of this can exacerbate an already tricky situation, as the worse funded independent media get, the less likely we can afford to offer decent journalism, biasing the playing field in favour of corporate media that have deeper pockets. Google, as we have seen, no longer ranks media on merit, either: since they and Facebook control half of all online advertising revenue, and over 60 per cent in the US, it’s not in their interests to send readers to the most meritorious. It’s in their interests to send readers to the media with the deeper pockets and scalable servers that can handle large amounts of traffic with a lot of Google ads, so they make more money.
   It’s yet another reason to look at alternatives to Google if you wish to seek out decent independent media and support non-corporate voices. However, even my favoured search engine, Duck Duck Go, doesn’t have a specific news service, though it’s still a start.
   In our case, if we didn’t have a print edition as well as a web one, then online-only mightn’t be worthwhile sans paywall.

Tonight I was interested to see The Guardian Weekly in magazine format, a switch that happened on October 10.
   It’s a move that I predicted over a decade ago, when I said that magazines should occupy a ‘soft-cover coffee-table book’ niche (which is what the local edition of Lucire aims to do) and traditional newspapers could take the area occupied by the likes of Time and Newsweek.
   With the improvement in printing presses and the price of lightweight gloss paper it seemed a logical move. Add to changing reader habits—the same ones that drove the death of the broadsheet format in the UK—and the evolution of editorial and graphic design, I couldn’t see it heading any other way. Consequently, I think The Guardian will do rather well.

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Cambridge Analytica is merely Facebook’s ‘smaller, less ambitious sibling’

14.04.2018

Beyond all that had gone on with AIQ and Cambridge Analytica, a lot more has come out about Facebook’s practices, things that I always suspected they do, for why else would they collect data on you even after you opted out?
   Now, Sam Biddle at The Intercept has written a piece that demonstrates that whatever Cambridge Analytica did, Facebook itself does far, far more, and not just to 87 million people, but all of its users (that’s either 2,000 million if you believe Facebook’s figures, or around half that if you believe my theories), using its FBLearner Flow program.
   Biddle writes (link in original):

This isn’t Facebook showing you Chevy ads because you’ve been reading about Ford all week — old hat in the online marketing world — rather Facebook using facts of your life to predict that in the near future, you’re going to get sick of your car. Facebook’s name for this service: “loyalty prediction.”
   Spiritually, Facebook’s artificial intelligence advertising has a lot in common with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica’s controversial “psychographic” profiling of voters, which uses mundane consumer demographics (what you’re interested in, where you live) to predict political action. But unlike Cambridge Analytica and its peers, who must content themselves with whatever data they can extract from Facebook’s public interfaces, Facebook is sitting on the motherlode, with unfettered access to staggering databases of behavior and preferences. A 2016 ProPublica report found some 29,000 different criteria for each individual Facebook user …
   … Cambridge Analytica begins to resemble Facebook’s smaller, less ambitious sibling.

   As I’ve said many times, I’ve no problem with Facebook making money, or even using AI for that matter, as long as it does so honestly, and I would hope that people would take as a given that we expect that it does so ethically. If a user (like me) has opted out of ad preferences because I took the time many years ago to check my settings, and return to the page regularly to make sure Facebook hasn’t altered them (as it often does), then I expect them to be respected (my investigations show that they aren’t). Sure, show me ads to pay the bills, but not ones that are tied to preferences that you collect that I gave you no permission to collect. As far as I know, the ad networks we work with respect these rules if readers had opted out at aboutads.info and the EU equivalent.
   Regulating Facebook mightn’t be that bad an idea if there’s no punishment to these guys essentially breaking basic consumer laws (as I know them to be here) as well as the codes of conduct they sign up to with industry bodies in their country. As I said of Google in 2011: if the other 60-plus members of the Network Advertising Initiative can create cookies that respect the rules, why can’t Google? Here we are again, except the main player breaking the rules is Facebook, and the data they have on us is far more precise than some Google cookies.
   Coming back to Biddle’s story, he sums up the company as a ‘data wholesaler, period.’ The 29,000 criteria per user claim is very easy to believe for those of us who have popped into Facebook ad preferences and found thousands of items collected about us, even after opting out. We also know that the Facebook data download shows an entirely different set of preferences, which means either the ad preference page is lying or the download is lying. In either case, those preferences are being used, manipulated and sold.
   Transparency can help Facebook through this crisis, yet all we saw from CEO Mark Zuckerberg was more obfuscation and feigned ignorance at the Senate and Congress. This exchange last week between Rep. Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto and Zuckerberg was a good example:

   Eshoo: It was. Are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?
   Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, we have made and are continuing to make changes to reduce the amount of data …
   Eshoo: No, are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?
   Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, I’m not sure what that means.

   In other words, they want to preserve their business model and keep things exactly as they are, even if they are probably in violation of a 2011 US FTC decree.
   The BBC World Service News had carried the hearings but, as far as I know, little made it on to the nightly TV here.
   This is either down to the natural news cycle: when Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica in The Observer, it was major news, and subsequent follow-ups haven’t piqued the news editors’ interest in the same way. Or, the media were only outraged as it connected to Trump and Brexit, and now that we know it’s exponentially more widespread, it doesn’t matter as much.
   There’s still hope that the social network can be a force for good, if Zuckerberg and co. are actually sincere about it. If Facebook has this technology, why employ it for evil? That may sound a naïve question, but if you genuinely were there to better humankind (and not rate your female Harvard classmates on their looks) and you were sitting on a motherlode of user data, wouldn’t you ensure that the platform were used to create greater harmony between people rather than sow discord and spur murder? Wouldn’t you refrain from bragging that you have the ability to influence elections? The fact that Facebook doesn’t, and continues to see us as units to be milked in the matrix, should worry us a great deal more than an 87 million-user data breach.

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