Don Marti

QoTD: Abraham Lincoln

All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years.

Abraham Lincoln

(Our computers, though...)

Posted Sun 21 Dec 2014 06:48:38 PM PST
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Look who's beating the advertising business at the BS game.

I read Bob Hoffman's blog, and, fine, I have to agree that advertising has a certain amount of bullshit in it. But the sad news is that old-fashioned brand bullshit is losing out to web-scale Big Data bullshit. Seriously, ad people, you're getting beat by a bunch of computer programmers. That's weak. Our idea of bullshitting is stuff like Look at the the ROI to the company if you buy me a faster computer! We're just tech people, no formal training in any of this stuff. We shouldn't be able to out-bullshit anybody. But I guess that as soon as you throw TECHNOLOGY and STATISTICS into the mix, ad people are all, whatever you say!

Bwah ha ha.

How about a simple example of the kind of thing that gets through?

I'll start a used car lot, and hire a statistician. She stands around with a clipboard and watches the people who walk in. 20% of the people kick at least one tire. Out of the tire-kickers, 10% end up buying a car. Out of the rest of the people, only 1% end up buying a car. So, out of every 1000 visitors:

20: kick a tire and buy a car.

180: kick a tire and don't buy a car.

8: don't kick a tire, buy a car anyway.

798: neither kick a tire nor buy a car.

What do I do with this information besides sell 28 cars? Maybe, not much. But let's say I need to hire my nephew. So he comes in to work and starts handing a live rat to everyone who kicks a tire. Now, half of the people who get a rat just run away.

100: kick a tire, get a rat, run away.

10: kick a tire, get a rat, buy a car.

90: kick a tire, get a rat, don't run away but don't buy a car.

8: don't kick a tire, buy a car anyway.

798: neither kick a tire nor buy a car.

Now, are the rats a good idea? If you want to go by common sense, probably not. I'm selling 18 cars instead of 28. But let's say the nephew and the statistician work together to justify the rats. The statistican can do multi-touch attribution on car sales. How does that work?

Simply speaking, channels that appear more often in converting paths than to no-converting paths receive a higher weight, which in turn allows them to claim more conversion credits and thus revenue.

By multi-touch attribution, the rat plan is a huge win. There are 18 converting paths and there's a rat on 10 of them.

So, did I convince you that we should be handing out rats to more customers? Probably not. But use real-world messy data, dress it up with a few more graphs and some more mathematical-sounding language, and make the rats digital? Hell yeah.

Posted Sat 13 Dec 2014 07:29:11 AM PST
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Thought Leader Insights

Thought Leader Rob Rasko writes: One of the greatest fears publishers face is an impending loss of revenue, based on the spread between what they earn selling their premium inventory and what they earn from programmatic. In some instances, the delta between publisher premium and programmatic can be as great as ten to one; in other words, some publishers’ programmatic ads are earning only ten percent of what their premium counterparts earn. Since programmatic is here to stay...

Too much corporate speak. Let's see if we can find someone who puts it more clearly. This is my neighborhood. You and your friends have to show me a little respect, ah?....You should let me wet my beak a little.

Adtech proponents don't say it like that, though. It's not adtech people wanting to take web publishing's ad revenue away on their own initiative. Programmatic is here to stay and it's all INEVITABLE because of TECHNOLOGY and stuff. How about that Internet, disrupting the economy again? What can you do?

This is, of course, bullshit. The mess that web ads are in, where adtech destroys more value than it captures, is a matter of economic gamesmanship, not technological inevitability. Like all long-running varieties of bullshit, the adtech variety depends on different qualities to get past different people. It beats regular marketing people's filters by having just enough math in it to scare them. It gets past the technology people by appealing to one of the oldest, most deeply held IT biases: if it was hard to write, and technically elegant, it must be good. (Ever notice how so many tech people automatically say better ads instead of more targeted ads even when targeting reduces a medium's value?) Finally, the people with the best chance of detecting adtech bullshit—journalists who cover business and the web—are kept looking the wrong way by their own pride in the editorial/advertising firewall, which is ordinarily a good thing.

So what's the answer? Let's look at the chart.

Print is moving down and to the left. It'll be too small for analysts to bother tracking within a few years. Mobile is moving to the right, and a little up. All the web has to do is let mobile take over the bottom right corner, which it's on its way to doing, and move up and a little left to get out of the way and take print's old niche.

That depends on fixing third-party tracking, though. Maybe, if we can somehow get all the Thought Leaders to focus on native apps while the web quietly fixes its trackability issues, it'll be fixed before anyone knows it. Especially if publishers can give the audience a little nudge.

Bonus links

Leslie Anne Jones: Trapped between Yelp and a hard place

Alana Semuels: Is There Hope for Local News?

Rance Crain: Is Consumer Tracking the New Advertising?

News: Cleaning Up the Ad Clutter

Baekdal Plus: The Four Laws of Privacy - (by @baekdal)

John McDermott: Google’s display advertising dominance raises concerns

Lucia Moses: Inside T Brand Studio, The New York Times’ native ad unit (via Mediagazer)

Judy Shapiro: It's Time to Balance the Tech-Human Element in Marketing

Ruben Bolling: Richard Scarry's Busy Town in the 21st Century (via kottke.org)

Dan Gillmor: When Journalists Must Not Be Objective (via Dan Gillmor)

Samuel Gibbs: Europe’s next privacy war is with websites silently tracking users (via Techrights)

Mark Wilson: TMI Is The Future Of Branding

george tannenbaum: Mike Nichols and Digital Natives.

Tom Philpott: Brazil's Dietary Guidelines Are So Much Better Than the USDA's

rhhackettfortune: How online pharmacy spammer organizations really work (via Krebs on Security)

Jim Edwards: Google's New Ad Strategy Could Delay A Bunch Of Tech IPOs (GOOG) (via VentureBeat)

Ben Goldacre: When data gets creepy: the secrets we don’t realise we’re giving away

Zach Wener-Fligner: Google admits that advertisers wasted their money on more than half of internet ads

Barry Levine: With Big Data, where’s the magic in marketing?

Phys.org - latest science and technology news stories: Unlike humans, monkeys aren't fooled by expensive brands

Posted Sat 06 Dec 2014 09:24:34 PM PST
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Figure 1

Well, "Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful" has a graph now.

This is what happens when you take the ad spending vs. user time data from each year's edition of Mary Meeker's Internet Trends report.

What is it about print advertising that makes it so much more valuable per user minute than web or mobile advertising?

Why has web advertising stayed in roughly the same spot even as the amount of processing power being thrown at the problem of matching users to ads increases?

Why is mobile, the most targetable medium of all, even crappier than the web?

Posted Thu 04 Dec 2014 08:53:09 PM PST
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Nifty tech delivers ineffective crap at incredible speed!

Andy Oram: A small technological marvel occurs on almost every visit to a web page. In the seconds that elapse between the user’s click and the display of the page, an ad auction takes place in which hundreds of bidders gather whatever information they can get on the user, determine which ads are likely to be of interest, place bids, and transmit the winning ad to be placed in the page. (How browsers get to know you in milliseconds)

Bob Hoffman: The rate of clicking on banner ads is so tiny, that for a media genius to deliver the 100 clicks she promises a client she has to buy over 100,000 impressions. And so, in trying to achieve goals, an enormous amount of ads must be bought. And splattered all over everything we are trying to do online. Also, because they are so ineffective, they are ridiculously cheap. And they keep getting cheaper. The result is that every creepy company in the world can afford these things and annoy the shit out of us with them. (Display Advertising is Poison)

Hold on a minute. Online display ads are terribly ineffective, despite all the bleeding-edge technology being thrown at them?

Close. But not despite. Because.

Posted Wed 03 Dec 2014 07:13:48 AM PST
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Who's taking all the online ad money? (it's not me)

Chris Sutcliffe says publishers are losing out to adtech: Vox may have both innovative ad formats and significant scale, but traditional display isn't seen as especially exciting in a world where Google, Facebook and ad tech firms are taking home most of the money. (Why has Vox Media been valued at less than half of BuzzFeed?)

Michael Eisenberg says adtech firms aren't making much, either: Adtech and ad networks are equally fragile as they are completely dependent on publishers (many of whom themselves, as Adam points out, are dependent on Google and Facebook.) (A Call to Israeli Engineers! Adtech Is Not For You.)

What if they're both right?

What if the money in online advertising is vanishing not because the publishers are making off with it, or because adtech firms are making off with it, but because the valuable parts of advertising are being just plain destroyed online?

What if web ads as we know them are just the digital equivalent of Windshield Flyer Guy? Checking out the car, leaving a flyer. And failing to send a brand-building signal. Targeting destroys signaling power, so adtech firms, and publishers, are fighting over a pool of money that gets smaller as they get better at grabbing it.

John Broughton explains: From the point of view of an advertiser the biggest problem with ad tech (programmatic as it’s called by advertisers) is that it, and the internet at large, is not currently setup to deliver brand advertising. At all. (How will brand advertising work? )

That old browser bug, the flaw in cookie handling that enables tracking and prevents signaling, is costing us a lot, isn't it? Time to talk about the necessary steps for fixing it , for both brands and publishers.

Posted Mon 01 Dec 2014 10:08:40 PM PST
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Unpacking privacy

Maybe the word "privacy" has something in common with the "freedom" in "free software". Privacy is a big heavy word, with too many meanings to be be a good part of a business message. Some free software people handled their version of the problem by coming up with the open source brand, to help close deals without having to have a big conversation about freedom. Maybe what we need today is something similar, a name for a subset of privacy that's worth money.

The big place to cash in is display advertising on the web. The money in advertising is in signaling, not direct response. And an ad medium can optimize for response rate or for signaling power, but not both. So there's clearly a small part of "privacy" that has cash value: for publishers and brands on the web, the quality of having an audience rather than a set of database records, the chance at making web ads work like magazine ads, not like the "windshield flyers" they are today.

Before the emergence of the "open source" brand, people kept having "software freedom" vs. "commercial software" arguments. But the problem wasn't freedom on one side against business on the other. The framing around open source made it clear that some kinds of commerce work better when market participants have some kinds of freedom.

Today, "people want privacy" sounds to me like "people want freedom" and "people want data-driven services" sounds like "people want software functionality." That's a recipe for wasting a lot of carpal tunnels on having two different arguments, threaded together. We need a new word for the economically helpful aspects of privacy, so that we don't have to argue about a word that's just as complicated as "freedom" every time we want to implement a subset of it.

(We do need to keep talking about freedom and privacy sometimes, even though they're hard words. But just as we can have better Internet freedom conversations when we can show examples of corporate-supported free software, I mean open source, we'll also be in a better position to talk privacy when we can point to whatever the new word for a subset of privacy is projects that work in the interests of publishers and brands.)

Publishers and brands can both use whatever the new word is. Publishers first. When ad networks can track the same user from expensive sites to cheap ones, and agencies buy impressions based on who the ad networks say the user is, then high-value sites (the ones that invest in original content) are stuck in the business of selling the same impressions as lower-value sites.

Once the ad networks have a user labeled as a "car intender", then some low-end site can show him a cheap cat GIF and get paid to run a (relatively) high-value car ad on it. Makes it harder for the sites that actually review cars. Content sites lose, and intermediaries win.

The question then is, why do high-value sites participate in user tracking at all? Why not just run only first-party ads? There's some research on that. The problem is that if the medium is targetable, then the best strategy for an individual site is to do targeting, even if (because of the signaling value of its content) the site would do better in a system where no user could be targeted. When we stop thinking about privacy as a big, complicated, hard concept, and try to break out some kind of Minimum Viable Privacy, just enough to protect that "car intender" from site to site tracking, then ways out of the race to the bottom start to present themselves.

For example, high-quality sites could be encouraging users to install anti-tracking tools, to make those users less targetable anywhere. This would reduce revenue in the short term for the high-quality sites (by making inventory disappear) but have a much more dramatic effect on the lower-quality sites that are only viable because of targeting. For brands, the case for helping and encouraging customers and prospects to protect a subset of "privacy" is even stronger. Just need a word for it.

Posted Sat 29 Nov 2014 09:59:05 PM PST
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simplicity

Complexity in organizational structures and agreements between people can hide information about what is the right thing to do.

The obligation to do the right thing, however, is conserved, passed through and divided among every participant in an organization or every party to an agreement.

This is the best reason I can think of, so far, to look for simplicity in organizations and in the terms of agreements.

Posted Sat 29 Nov 2014 10:22:27 AM PST
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Why I'm not signing up for Google Contributor (or giving up on web advertising)

Making the rounds: Google’s New Service Kills Ads on Your Favorite Sites for a Monthly Fee. Basically, turn the ads into the thing that annoys the free users, wasting their bandwidth and screen space, until some of them go paid. You know, the way the crappy ads on Android apps work.

But the problem isn't advertising. The web is not the first medium where the audience gets stuff for free, or at an artificially low price. Cultural works and Journalism have been ad-supported for a long time. Sure, people like to complain about annoying ads, and they're uncomfortable about database marketing. But magazine readers look at the ads, and even Tivo-equipped TV viewers have low skip rates.

The problem is figuring out why today's web ads are so different, why ad blocking is on the way up, and how can a web ad work more like a magazine ad? From the article:

If people are going to gripe constantly about ads and having their personal data sold to advertisers, why not ask them to put a nominal amount of money where their mouths are?

Because that's not how people work. We don't pay other people to come into compliance with social norms. "Hey, you took my place in line...here's a dollar to switch back" doesn't happen. More:

It could save publishers who are struggling to stay afloat as ad dollars dwindle, while also giving consumers what they say they want.

You lost me at giving consumers what they say they want. When has that ever worked? People say all kinds of stuff. You have to watch what they do. What they do, offline, is enjoy high-value ad-supported content, with the ads. Why is the web so different? Why do people treat web ads more like email spam and less like offline ads? The faster we can figure out the ad blocking paradox, the faster we can move from annoying, low-value web ads to ads that pull their weight economically.

(More: Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful)

Posted Sat 22 Nov 2014 08:34:02 AM PST
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Round-up for your future?

Another example of how the firearms industry is better at thinking long-term than the IT industry is.

MidwayUSA has a NRA Round-Up Program to make it easy for customers to make a small change donation to the National Rifle Association when placing an order. They have collected more than $10 million just through that one program (and they have others).

Does any IT vendor offer "round up for EFF?"

The IT industry in the USA depends on the First and Fourth Amendments, but we don't take care of them the way that the firearms industry helps with the Second. More: Learning from Second Amendment defenders.

Posted Fri 21 Nov 2014 07:30:56 AM PST
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Interest dashboard?

Mozilla's Interest Dashboard is out. Darren Herman writes,

The Content Services team is working to reframe how users are understood on the Internet: how content is presented to them, how they can signal what they are interested in, how they can take control of the kinds of adverts they are exposed to.

This sounds like vintage Internet woo-woo. Seriously? "take control of the kinds of adverts they are exposed to?"

I want to see ads for scientific apparatus, precision machine tools, spacecraft, and genetically engineered crops, because those ads tend to be interesting. But I don't actually buy any of that stuff. So why should advertisers care what I'm interested in? They care what I'll actually buy. (what I actually buy: burritos, coffee, and adapters for connecting one computer thingy to some other computer thingy.)

The "users will take control of advertising" concept is just as unrealistic as the "Big Data will enable ads that don't have to pay for decent content" concept.

The sad part is that we don't need to go chasing new user control stuff to make the needed fixes in online advertising. As a user, I wonder why Mozilla is pursuing new features while leaving known bugs unfixed.

Offline, we had an advertising model that worked, based on signaling by supporting content. As advertising moved to the web, advertisers chose to abandon signalful advertising and pursue user tracking instead, by exploiting the third-party cookie problem. Netscape's privacy flaws (copied by other browsers, and still in Mozilla) created a problem for journalists, brand advertisers and everyone on the web except a vocal group of adtech firms.

When a software company comes up with a nifty new feature without fixing old bugs, users get mad. Before chasing after fancy new dashboards, please fix the known fingerprinting and third-party tracking bugs. The brokenness of Internet advertising is because of flaws in things that the browser needs to get right, not because we have been short a dashboard.

More on all this: Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful

Posted Wed 12 Nov 2014 06:14:15 AM PST
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Audience snatching example

This is why we can't have nice things, service journalism edition.

Chris O'Hara writes: In the open market, a 30-year-old male car intender costs the same whether you find him on Cars.com or Hotmail.

How does that work for the publisher? Someone builds a car site, does tests and reviews, pays people who can write (a lot of car writers are really good, and IT writers could learn from them). And then the ad network, as soon as it figures out who's a "car intender," follows him around the Internet to show him ads somewhere else.

Adtech is heroic? Seems like it's just the high-tech version of sneaking out of a restaurant before the bill comes.

Think of the online service journalism we could have if the whole advertising industry wasn't fixated on the idea of getting out of paying for it. The traditional print ad model was for the agency to take 15 percent. Today, intermediaries between the advertiser and publisher take 55-75%, and they justify it by being able to do audience snatching. Fix the audience snatching problem, and the web could have less desperate clickbait, and more trips to Lower Saxony for test drives. (The other effects of audience snatching are signal loss, fraud, and support for illegal sites, but this is already too long.)

Publishers get sucked into the tracking game, but there are ways out. Site management can't really help, because they have to work within the existing system, even pretend to be concerned about dark traffic. Individual writers, though? If you can make your loyal readers harder to track online, you win.

Posted Sat 08 Nov 2014 06:24:33 AM PST
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Your online journalism brand is doomed...unless you master these four basic tech tips (and break one well-known online rule)

(update 22 Nov 2014: new headline, minor copy edit)

Just picture this for a minute.

Your city puts in a brand-new monorail system.

A Journalist rides it to work.

On the platform, someone steals his wallet.

The Journalist gets in to work and writes a long think piece about "how can Journalism survive in the age of monorail technology?"

Please, knock it off.

Yes, Journalism is in trouble. But it's not the monorail, or the Internet, that's taking your money. Journalists, the Internet is just the playing field for a game that other companies are beating your employers at. (Just like Amazon is better at ebooks than publishers are, but that's another story.)

Why are news organizations failing?

Alexis C. Madrigal said it best. The ad market, on which we all depend, started going haywire. Advertisers didn’t have to buy The Atlantic. They could buy ads on networks that had dropped a cookie on people visiting The Atlantic. They could snatch our audience right out from underneath us.

The problem isn't Advertising as such. Advertising has always been part of the revenue mix for Journalism. Back in the day, we used to say that the ads paid for the content, and the subscription revenue paid for printing and postage. Good journalism can be a high-signal ad venue, so the potential rewards to advertisers are great. Supporting Journalism on the Internet isn't about going from ad-supported to some untried subscription-only model. We can fix the bugs in what we have.

Where is the money going?

The problem is that advertisers are caught up in the Big Data trend. Instead of putting ad budgets to work where they can send a signal, and supporting Journalism along the way, advertisers are choosing third-party ads, which follow users across multiple sites.

While Journalism depends on advertising, half of the online ad money is going to adtech intermediaries and another half is getting stolen. This doesn't add up to 100% because the adtech companies get their cut from the fraud perpetrators too, but, come on, Journalists, of course you have no money.

The advertising business has been sold on the proposition that it's possible to reach an audience without paying for some kind of quality product to put the ads on. Instead of attaching an ad to an attention-getting article, the current fad is to spend on intermediaries instead. The result has been crappier advertising, less money for content, and more money for fraud.

Eric Picard writes,

It will be hard for publishers—even the large ones—to resist the momentum that will build to plug into these walled gardens, forcing publishers to effectively commoditize themselves in exchange for access to identity, targeting and analytics data.

How does working for a commodity publisher sound?

Not so good? Tired of watching pay, benefits, and expense accounts shrivel up, while somehow the online ad business is all Aeron chairs and free tacos?

It's a game. Make a move already.

This is where Journalists can stop lamenting the Future of Journalism, and, ready? Act in your own economic interests for once. Look, the Internet is not hard-wired against you. It's just that people who understand it better than you—online ad business and their frenemies, the ad fraud gangs—are using it to rip you off.

Here are those four tips and one broken rule.

The more you make your audience aware of tracking problems and motivate them to be harder to track, the more motivation the advertisers have to work in a constructive way.

For Journalists, a future high-signal/low-tracking online ad business isn't just a source of positive externalities. As far as I can see, it's the best shot at a respectable living.

Bonus links

Work in progress: ad.aloodo.com tracking detection system

Accidental equality: Three publisher take-aways from Facebook's results

Your Ad Ran Here (Not Really)

Big Data and me

Posted Fri 07 Nov 2014 09:13:46 AM PST
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If users don't care about privacy...

Another one from the "If users don't care about privacy, why is this even a thing?" department. (Previously: gas pump sticker, RFID protector )

Here's a page from a mailer opposing California's Proposition 46.

Prop 46
mailer

If the "privacy is dead" crowd were anywhere near right, the pro-46 mailers would have come out with something like:

"Proposition 46 helps you connect with public and private sector stakeholders and share your love for your favorite health brands!"

But that's not the kind of message that works on regular people. All that connect, share, conversations with brands jive? That only works in Marketing meetings with too few breaks and too much PowerPoint® and CO2.

Bonus links

No on 46: Privacy

George Tannenbaum: Conversations about brands. A Primer.

The Economist: Leaders: Advertising and technology: Stalkers, Inc.

Emerging Technology From the arXiv - MIT Technology Review: The Murky World of Third Party Web Tracking

Adam Tanner, Contributor: Health Entrepreneur Debates Going To Data's Dark Side

In the Pipeline: The Most Unconscionable Drug Price Hike I Have Yet Seen

Alltop RSS: Kyle and Stan Malvertising Network Nine Times Bigger Than First Reported

Darren: Some big hairy questions for advertising and marketing technology

Quinn Norton: "What Does Ethical Social Networking Software Look Like?" in The Message

Paul Scicchitano: Critics Say Big Data May Discriminate

Zach Rodgers: Under Pressure From Buyers, Fraud-Plagued AppNexus Girds For Battle

AdExchanger: Come Together: How The Advertising And Software Industries Are Converging

ronan: It’s Official: Consumers Are Just Not That Into Retargeted Ads

Posted Sat 25 Oct 2014 07:31:46 AM PDT
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QoTD: Bob Hoffman

The addiction to targeting, which digital technology has only amplified, has derailed the advertising industry from concentrating on its real job—creating interesting messages.

Bob Hoffman

Posted Thu 23 Oct 2014 05:21:47 AM PDT
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Older stuff: archive