Impressions are easy, getting the consumer’s cash not so

Imagine that you reviewed your credit card bill and found one out of every three transactions to be bogus. Guess you would soon be on the phone with the credit card provider in order to try to get the matter quickly resolved.

Now turn to a different world, the online advertising one. The Wall Street Journal reported that as much as 36% of web traffic that advertisers pay for is fake. This includes impressions and mouse clicks generated by web bots, invisible ads, shrunken websites, the list of bad actors goes on. Digital advertising is expected to hit 50B this year. We are therefore potentially talking about as much as 18B of ad spend on fraudulent traffic.

Though there are some who claim this number is way overblown and that the actual amount of fraud is much smaller. However there does not seem to be a lot of dispute about the fact that ad fraud does exist though estimates of its extent may very well vary.

The world of online advertising is a fascinating one. Programmatic purchases using ad exchanges with multi-step, real-time bidding processes for millions of ad impressions, all perfectly executed in milliseconds. Remember the ads that follow you wherever you go. You can thank the cookie on your machine for helping advertisers value the impression you create when you land on a website, unleashing a competitive process to serve an ad based on your unique profile. From a technology standpoint, the process is quite remarkable.

This world is all about getting thousands and thousands of ads to millions of consumers causing a feeding frenzy if you will. It is a world ruled by impressions, clicks, and the like.

Yet come to think of it, how valuable is an impression really? I rarely notice ads that show up on a web page. They usually fail to make an impression on me. On the other hand, on TV or radio, there is no getting away from ads short of moving to a different channel. Those ads certainly make their presence felt.

Perhaps it might be a good idea to deflect this discussion toward what is the value that advertisers are getting from online advertising. This whole emphasis on impressions and clicks seems due for a rethink.

Conceivably the answer lies in raising the bar on online advertising. In delivering creative ads that educate or entertain. Ads that elicit user engagement prompting the user to do something more substantive, like filling in a form for example. Of course this would mean that the volume of ads will be likely to drop dramatically but then advertisers should end up getting much more bang for their buck. With less advertising to go by, a number of free sites that subsist of advertising might have to start charging for content or simply go away, which would be a huge change, something that we as consumers may not welcome. After all we have come to expect free stuff.

But overall it could result in a much higher quality web experience, driven by more valuable, substantive content. Think back to the pre-Internet days. There was not a lot of free information available back then. If you needed something you pretty much had to buy it.

Why should things be different on the Internet?

As in a number of other areas, back to the future could be the way forward.


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