Don Marti

Tue 23 Sep 2014 08:27:52 PM PDT

Treasuring clicks, trashing content

Matt Harty from Experian writes, Marketers Buy Clicks But Don’t Understand What They Get. More:

Clicks usually do not bring any other information with them. When the click hits the marketer’s site, the ability to value the differences (and related potential ROI) between these visitors is minimal.

Harty's proposed solution, not surprisingly, is to add another layer of Big Data intermediaries, to sell information about the users behind those clicks. This one will fix it for sure, right? But does online advertising have to be just a matter of piling up more and more layers of companies selling expensive math and sneakily-acquired PII?

If only there were something that you could attach an ad to, some work that people who were interested in a certain topic would naturally see as valuable and want to spend time with. Something that would make an ad pay its own way, by sending the message, as Kevin Simler put it, Here an ad conveys valuable information simply by existing.

Yes, paying for something valuable to run the ad on would cost money, but that's part of how advertising really works. Advertising done right pays its way by carrying a signal to prospective buyers, one that they have an incentive to receive and process, not block. Simler also points out a kind of meta-signaling, or "cultural imprinting." When a brand establishes itself, it helps its customers send their own signals.

[B]rands carve out a relatively narrow slice of brand-identity space and occupy it for decades. And the cultural imprinting model explains why. Brands need to be relatively stable and put on a consistent "face" because they're used by consumers to send social messages, and if the brand makes too many different associations, (1) it dilutes the message that any one person might want to send, and (2) it makes people uncomfortable about associating themselves with a brand that jumps all over the place, firing different brand messages like a loose cannon.

Advertising isn't just a game of spam vs. spam filter, popup vs. popup blocker, and cookie vs. Privacy Badger. There's more to it than that, or there can be.

Meanwhile, Bob Hoffman writes,

Content is everything, and it's nothing. It's an artificial word thrown around by people who know nothing, describing nothing.

Good point. The audience's perception of how much it cost to place an ad is the way that the ad acquires its signaling power. The ad-supported resource, whether it's a TV show, an article with photos, or a story, amplifies the ad by its quality and apparent cost.

A famous byline on a magazine cover increases the magazine's reputation, which increases the signaling power of the ads inside, which makes ad space more valuable. Get a reputation for paying well, get more money from advertisers, and so on. Do it right and the more you pay people, the more advertisers pay you, the more you can pay people. (This is the positive feedback loop that pro sports is in. And not only is the sports audience not the product being sold, the audience is paying to be advertised to.)

Signaling through quality editorial product is the opportunity that online advertising is thowing away, by programmatically buying ad units attatched to crappy, infringing, or outright fraudulent "content". Somehow, people have gotten the idea that math matters, user data matters, but "content" doesn't.

What's the alternative? Some ideas at What can brands do now? and Solutions.

Bonus links

Malvertising Campaign Employs the Nuclear Option on Zedo A malicious Javascript file, unintentionally served last week by the Zedo advertising network, redirected victims to the Nuclear exploit kit which (under the right circumstances) delivered a punishing series of infections onto PCs.

Einbinder Flypaper, The brand you've gradually grown to trust over the course of three generations.