Sometimes it feels like I’m preaching to the choir on the pitfalls of digital marketing. But I think it’s important to keep the sermons coming because the choir is growing larger and louder all the time. Here are a couple recent examples.
Google Is Considering Making Ad Blockers Mandatory on Chrome
For Google, it’s an interesting conundrum. If they hadn’t bought DoubleClick, their obvious play would have been to simply block all display ads other than the inventory on AdWords. (It’s hard to believe, by the way, that the DoubleClick deal happened a decade ago until you read a 2007 New York Times account of it: “DoubleClick, which was founded in 1996, provides display ads on Web sites like MySpace … and America Online.”)
Against the backdrop of the DoubleClick deal, however, Google runs the risk that they’ll be perceived as doing the right thing (blocking obtrusive ads) for the wrong reason (because those obtrusive ads compete with Google’s own somewhat-less-obtrusive ads).
In a vacuum, blocking ads is 100% defensible because it prevents disruption of the user experience and places the blame where it belongs: on the publishers who shouldn’t be serving pop-ups and takeovers and click-bait in the first place. In other words, if Google is simply taking away the things that drive down efficacy, in theory it should balance out on pricing and economics because they’re actually only taking away the worst of the inventory. Hard to fault them for that.
But if Google’s perception is that people just generally don’t want any ads to follow them around and retarget them, that’s a much thornier issue. It’s hard to see how digital marketing can survive without some form of retargeting. And honestly, the industry has been so abusive on retargeting that I’m not sure Google needed to do anything because people have become blind to almost every ad anyway. We’ve all become living, breathing ad blockers.
So, I’m not sure there’s much upside here. Still, if the plan is to make Chrome free of the kind of annoying ads that disrupt the user experience, I can’t see any downside, either.
Marc Pritchard Puts the Gamble in Procter & Gamble
Publicly declaring that the emperor has no clothes is not without risks. An emperor, after all, is a powerful force — and an embarrassed emperor could be particularly vengeful.
Therefore, there was a bit of risk involved when Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard began a systematic public smackdown of digital this year. (This interview with mobile.nytimes.com summarizes his position.) Even so, it’s a good bet that Procter & Gamble’s gamble will pay off because to take issue with Pritchard’s stance is to suggest he’s wrong when he says things like this: “The entire murky, nontransparent and in some cases fraudulent supply chain is the problem.”
I have no problem with that statement. In fact, having declared in a recent article that “it’s time for advertisers to demand accountability from publishers and for publishers to provide it,” I can only say: Bravo.
But I’ll also point out that fixing these problems is much easier said than done. As I wrote in another recent article, even a brand with the best of intentions “could be relying on a whole basket of providers from across the ethical spectrum.”
The sad truth is that it’s virtually impossible to know what you’re dealing with in the current digital ecosystem unless you’re behind a pay wall like The Wall Street Journal or Vanity Fair.
Yes, a marketer can vow to always use quality content and not some of the garbage that’s out there. But even with quality content you still might have fraudulent traffic. And as Doc Searls pointed out in an excellent post, “Since adtech systems are automated and biased toward finding the cheapest ways to hit sought-after eyeballs with ads, some ads show up on unsavory sites. And, let’s face it, even good eyeballs go to bad places.”
I agree with Searls that most digital advertising isn’t advertising at all. It’s more akin to direct response with its tawdry history of fraud, especially abuse by many list brokers and list managers.
But really, I think the perfect analogy for digital doesn’t even involve marketing. Instead, it’s swampland in Florida. And I worry that if we don’t heed what the preacher is preaching, we’ll all end up swimming with the gators.