Wednesday 30 December 2020

Massive Scandal Brewing In Big Tech

Latest on failure of the ad only model for internet business

The Ad-Based Internet Is About to Collapse. What Comes Next?

The web as we know it relies on advertising, but that model is headed for a crash. Fortunately, we can build something better from the wreckage.


The past few years have witnessed a masive swith of spending on advertising by businesses and government agencies / NGOs from traditional advertising media to the internet. This has lead to some rather unsavoury companies such as Google and Facebook growing massively while others with long established businesses have gone bust or downsized significantly. One of the drivers of this transformation in how we do business had been the enthusiasm with which many politicians have pushed the mantra of "change" as if it is unquestionable that any innovation is beneficial to society as a whole.

It is often the case that the "change" advocated by politicians, particularly left wing politicians, is actually harmful to small business and those on low and middle incomes and greatly beneficial to global corporations, banks and billionaire investors. A case in point is online banking, very useful to me because I'm tech savvy, but an absolute nightmare to others. As our personal banking has been forced online, local branches have closed, costing many jobs in the community, and people who don't have or struggle to use computers or smartphones have been abandoned.

There's an old woman who can't walk far lives nearby, and as we are not on a main public trasport route, if I or one of the other people in the close is not available she has to get a cab into town (£3 each way) to pay a bill or obtain cash. This wonderful "change" in the way we organise our finances hasn't done her any favours. Just one example, there are many more. The girl bringing up three kids alone (her name is Kelly as it happens,), living on a sink estate, one of the renewal projects stated under a socialist government's  dreams of creating a brave New World. Unfortunately the Brave New World went the way of other socialist utopias because the planners forgot even socialists need shops, pubs, local ameneties. The one shop on the estate closed in the 1990s and the bus service was cancelled because scumbags kept trashing the buses so now as well as having to get into town somehow to cash her benefit cheque, (banks will not touch people like Kelly,) she has to schlep back from the supermarket with six bags of shopping. Three cheers for "change".

It's easy to talk of people power, but once The Powers That Be have decided something much change for the benefit of their corporate cronies there is little we can do to stop it. We rely on politicians or governments overreaching themselves. And in the case of the "change" that was going to enrich our lives by putting all our activity on line, that may be about to happen. A truly massive scandal is brewing in Big Tech.


This scandal concerns the fact that 60% of advertising “clicks” are in fact NOT coming from humans; they are generated bots or automated algorithms that don’t buy anything. EVER.

If you don’t believe me, and think I’m just making this up, consider what Keith Weed had to say last month.
Weed is head of Marketing for the consumer goods giant Unilever. In this role, he oversees a marketing budget of $8+ BILLION per year. And here are his statements on the impact of bots in digital advertising.

With $8.4 billion in annual ad spend, the advertising industry pays attention when Unilever is unhappy. During the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, Unilever's chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed outlined the three concerns that "keep him up at night."
"If you don't have your ad viewed, you are dead,” Weed told a Cannes audience on Wednesday.
He wants advertisers to "join up the dots in the digital industry." As Weed sees it, this ecosystem is corrupted. Some 60% of traffic online is bots. "We want to buy eyeballs of viewers not bots," says Weed. "If it is too good to be true, it probably is."
Source: Mediapost.

What does this mean?
The Tech Giants, Facebook and Alphabet (formerly Google), make the bulk of their money by charging advertisers a certain amount for every click the advertisers’ ads receive online.

The price that Facebook and Alphabet can charge for advertising space is based on the amount of web traffic that ads receive. The more traffic these ads receive, the HIGHER the prices Facebook and Alphabet can charge advertisers for ad space.

So if 60% of ALL AD CLICKS are in fact BOTS, not HUMANS, the reality is that these ad prices are in fact MASSIVELY overstated.

Again, if you think I’m making this up, consider that another consumer goods giant, Proctor and Gamble cut its online marketing budget by $100 million and found… ZERO IMPACT ON GROWTH.

Procter & Gamble Co. said that its move to cut more than $100 million in digital marketing spend in the June quarter had little impact on its business, proving that those digital ads were largely ineffective.
Almost all of the consumer product giant’s advertising cuts in the period came from digital, finance chief Jon Moeller said on its earnings call Thursday. The company targeted ads that could wind up on sites with fake traffic from software known as “bots,” or those with objectionable content.
Source: WSJ.

Again, Proctor and Gamble cut online advertising by $100 million and had ZERO impact on its results.
These are two massive companies both of which spent BILLIONS in advertising. And both of them are stating point blank that the value of digital advertising via companies like Facebook and Alphabet is
MASSIVELY overstated.

What happens if these companies have to begin accurately pricing their ads? What happens if more advertising giants start pulling funding?

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How effective is internet advertising? 

This new paper by Tom Blake, Steven Tadelis, and Chris Nosko is not entirely reassuring for the future of journalism, but it confirms what I have long suspected:
Internet advertising has been the fastest growing advertising channel in recent years with paid search ads comprising the bulk of this revenue. We present results from a series of large scale field experiments done at eBay that were designed to measure the causal effectiveness of paid search ads. Because search clicks and purchase behavior are correlated, we show that returns from paid search are a fraction of conventional non-experimental estimates. As an extreme case, we show that brand-keyword ads have no measurable short-term benefits. For non-brand keywords we find that new and infrequent users are positively influenced by ads but that more frequent users whose purchasing behavior is not influenced by ads account for most of the advertising expenses, resulting in average returns that are negative.
The NBER version is here, an ungated version is here.


gwern June 12, 2014 at 2:34 pm
If you look at the statistical approach taken in (discussion: ), you’ll see that it’s almost impossible to show that online advertising works and use it to profit; so unless offline advertising is dramatically, orders of magnitudes, more effective than online advertising, the reduced demographic info & increased measurement error compared to online advertising means that the conclusions will hold doubly for offline advertising too.

And here lies the fundamental contradiction of online advertising:
POSITIVE: You can measure the effectiveness of your ads. NEGATIVE: You can measure the effectiveness of your ads and discover they’re not effective.
But for some reason a black and white ad for some watch brand I don’t care about in a random page of a newspaper that I might, just might flip past is worth lots.

Google AdWords focused very heavily on ‘results’ and had their system shutting down ads that people didn’t click on, but the advertising industry pushed back against this, they WANTED ads (or wanted to SELL ads..) that no one ever clicked on, calling it “branding.”
But the pay-for-performance model is increasingly prevalent … revenue-shares, for instance, with the publishers. This isn’t a perfect model since there are tradeoffs, people who would have bought anyway but whose purchases get traced back to an individual advertiser. Measurement here is hard.
There’s a trend though towards measurement and payments based on metrics and demonstrated results, at least in financial services for sure. Sometimes advertisers may mis-specify the metrics, so may not really get what they’re looking for, but that’s less an issue with advertising than the buyers of advertising.
In any case, the more measurable the results off an ad the higher the premium the ad space will command. You can buy worthless ads with tons of impressions for next to nothing. Or you can sell display ads at $8 or even $10 per 1000 on a pure impression basis. Move to pay for performance and you can see hundreds of dollars per qualified lead.

Al Broadman June 12, 2014 at 4:51 pm
Al Broadman here, economist. Used to run a blog about economics until I found it to be a huge waste of time and productivity.

I did a piece on advertising a couple years back that showed the same results but included all forms of advertising.

The gist was this.
Basically people ignore it. Its hit or miss, luck of the draw, being in the right place at the right time.
The internet and search has changed the whole arena for people. No longer are they forced to trust little ads competing for their attention to get information about consumption opportunities. If someone has a need, the solution is but a Google away. First page positioning used to be very important but as more of it becomes paid inclusion and money driven and as consumers are getting smarter and more suspicious of big money, that factor is becoming less and less irrelevant.

So if advertising as we have had so far is not working then what will? Personal and Local are the two keys. Local consumption is a huge trend right now. People are concerned about the environment, employment, and ethics so local consumption gives them an opportunity to see how a producer is handling those three issues and make their choices accordingly. Shaming a producer is much more effective if that producer goes to one of the local churches and attended the same town hall meetings and works well as a means to control the more anti-ethical behavior that capitalism can inspire.
I’m a well known advertising hater and will go so far as to turn my head away from it to keep the propaganda from affecting my point of view. I’m true individual and consider my brain to be a private sanctum that no marketing company’s offerings are allowed. I make my choices based on need and research, not shiny promotional pieces designed to tug at my emotions while twanging my behavioral responses based on new neurological science. Oh no, we won’t have that in my head.

I recently went to a local BBQ gathering in my home town and local farmers as well as backyard BBQ’s were showing off their skills for the community. I eat way to much BBQ and sampled way to many BBQ sauces. But what I did do was come home with quite a few bottles of BBQ sauce I would have never given a second thought to. Why you ask?

The interactions were personal and local. The person selling the stuff was right across from me and actually used the stuff and was giving out or selling plates in my home town. I felt like I was supporting a neighbor instead of a transnational corporation who only panders to the consumer elite don’t care or notice their anti-value-added nonsense such as brand names, patients, copyrights, CEO wages that are so insane they make you wanna slap yourself must less the board of directors, etc. Someone who works for themselves or for a real person you or someone you know knows.

I’m not anti-global. Not by a longshot. I believe that globalism is an economic opportunity for each and every one of us that has literally been unheard of in the history of man. What I am against is transnational. The making of something in a remote place and then the assembling of it in another, and then the pandering of it in another. It is the very nature of buy low and sell high that is spoiling the global opportunity for everyone but big business.

But I digress here. Advertising. I’ve long been a fan of promotional advertising and feel it is one of the only types that does not offend the senses. A single thirty second promotional ad before and after a entertainment segment is non-offensive and gets its point across while leaving the consumer with a vague good feeling about the product or company. Now you put a ad segment in the middle of that same entertainment and all your going to do is piss a lot of people off. Advertising in its right place, and no where else.

These are just thoughts from inside an economist’s head. Nothing more, nothing less.

 Kevin Frei June 12, 2014 at 9:11 pm
I’m with Josh Sacks. The point of advertising on google search is to show up on the first page for specific products and services that you wouldn’t rank for organically. Ebay is not at all a typical advertiser for the reasons Josh stated.

Also want to echo a Michael’s comment with a personal example: One time I was watching Hulu and I got the option to answer a short quiz and they would direct the advertising revenue from my session to a charity of my choice. The quiz was a handful of questions about a car, and I couldn’t answer one of them. I couldn’t remember the make, the class, anything, despite the fact that I had presumably just watched two or three commercials about it. I thought geez, that commercial had zero effect on me. How can tv continue when advertisers can measure the ineffectiveness of their ads?

The Anti-Gnostic June 14, 2014 at 9:24 am
In two decades wasting time on the Internet, I’ve never clicked through to purchase anything but that’s just me. My impression from my peer group is people will occasionally click thru to Amazon for a very targeted product. I’m not sure how Facebook justifies its valuation.

Speaking of, I’ve often wondered how close “The Social Network” was to a true depiction of Zuckerburg’s character. That “cool” aesthetic disappeared pretty quick once the IPO talk started.

A reminder of the importance of paid search marketing contrasting the search network with the display network

Facebook ad click-through rates surprisingly low 

Don't count on this causing a drop in Facebook's advertising revenue -- expected to double this year to $4 billion -- but it may prompt some uncomfortable questions from prospective advertisers, as well as some fancy footwork from Facebook ad reps. An analysis by online analytics firm Webtrends of more than 11,000 Facebook campaigns shows that ads on the social networking site last year had click-through rates which on average were about half the click-through rate of your typical non-Facebook web banner ad. (Also see: Mark Zuckerberg's first website at Harvard sold in online auction) The average click-through rate (CTR) for Facebook ads in 2010 was 0.051%, or about one click-through for every 2,000 ad impressions. The industry standard CTR is 0.1 percent, or one CT for every 1,000 impressions, as Mashable's Todd Wasserman points out. Facebook's CTR last year also was down from 0.063% in 2009, while the cost per click (CPC) increased in 2010 to 49 cents from 27 cents the previous year. That downward trend in CTR and upward trend in CPC is a "typical pattern for display ad networks as the audience becomes more savvy and demand causes prices to rise," Webtrends explains. "Brands investing now will save money building their Facebook ad programs now by taking advantage of currently low rates that will continue to increase over time." There's your positive spin, Facebook ad sellers! And while the low CTR for Facebook ads relative to regular banner ads might trouble some advertisers, don't expect them to go running back to Myspace.


go-Digital Blog on Digital Marketing

'Digital marketing is dead' proclaims Procter & Gamble's global brand building officer Marc Pritchard

September 2013

Procter & Gamble's global brand building officer Marc Pritchard has proclaimed digital marketing to be "dead".
Speaking at Dmexco, the chief marketer from the world's largest advertiser, asked; "Try and resist thinking about digital in terms of the tools, the platforms, the QR Codes and all of the technology coming next. We [Procter & Gamble] try and see it for what it is, which is a tool for engaging people with fresh, creative campaigns...the era of digital marketing is over. It's almost dead. It's now just brand building. It's what we do."
He made this statement after running a video advertisement for a Braun electric shaver that initially ran online only, ignoring all traditional marketing, driving sales before running through traditional media.
"It wasn't the digital component. It was the campaign," he declared, explaining that it prove to the company what could be achieved in the digital world.
"This is a mindset that we are trying to infuse in our company and it's creating a tremendous shift [within P&G.] It's freeing up our minds on building creative ideas that come to life through the mediums that we engage with every single day - search, social, mobile, PR, and yes, even TV."
He continued to describe the strategy as 'Digital Back', explaining; "start in the digital world and build your way back to the rest of the marketing mix. Our best agencies do that right's an approach that is building our brand equities, our sales and our profits."
He said that digital technology was a "means to reach people" through brands and capture consumer imaginations in a way that had been impossible before.
"But we can only do that if we have this one component that has been a constant since the beginning of brand building - an idea. Fresh creative ideas that are powered by insights, that are powered by the way people think and feel and are inspired by creativity, always have and always will create great campaigns. Digital tools just give us a new way to spread those ideas in ways that we've never imagined before...great ideas matter more now than they ever have before, because with these digital tools at our disposal we have the chance to be successful widely beyond whatever we had imagined."
Pritchard continued to explore some of his company's brands and how they had utilised new technology, powered by ideas to be a global success, including Old Spice, Vella Koleston and Oral B work.

How Facebook Helped Screw Up P&G's Ad Budget

May 2013

year ago, Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald told Wall Street that a key part of his cost-savings program would include cutting 5,700 jobs and using more social media like Facebook and Google, which deliver "free" ad impressions.
He hoped to chop $1 billion in costs off P&G's massive $10 billion annual ad budget, the biggest on the planet.
A year later, and the experiment isn't going so well. McDonald actually managed to get rid of 6,250 jobs, most of them brand managers, according to his most recent presentation to Wall Street. That's the "good" news.
The bad news is that those "free" social media impressions have not cut $1 billion in costs from P&G's ad budget. Ad Age estimates P&G still spends nearly $10 billion a year. But while that number may be roughly flat, it's become less effective over the year.
Now, P&G's ad budget is set to rise again — and in part it's because Facebook ended the free ride for advertisers in the middle of last year.

McDonald and his CFO, Jon Moeller, both said the company had begun increasing paid marketing spending again, even to the extent of super-traditional door-to-door sales.
According to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the call, the pair were asked:
Michael Steib - Credit Suisse:  Good morning. You made several references towards investing behind marketing spending, could you be a bit more specific please? What does that mean, does that mean that ad spend for example is up sequentially in absolute terms and as a percentage of sales?
Bob McDonald: Yes.
Jon Moeller: Yes.
Michael Steib - Credit Suisse: Okay.
Bob McDonald: It also means we are investing in things like sampling – door to door sampling, selling, things that will generate trial and awareness of the new innovations.
P&G LayoffsP&G details its layoffs.P&G
Ad Age noted that P&G's year has thus far left investors unimpressed. One analyst accused the company of fudging its numbers upward:
Dara Mohsenian - Morgan Stanley: Hi. Bob, I just wanted to focus on the top line. The two-year average organic sales growth decelerated in the quarter versus Q2 and last year despite the higher marketing and the greater innovation. And it looks like it was even rounded up to get to 3%. …
Ad Age notes that while P&G cut U.S. spending 5% last year to $2.8 billion, its rivals stepped in to the vacuum. L'Oreal increased spending 1.9% to 1.5 billion and the beauty category as a whole saw spending rise 5% to $6.8 billion.

So why did P&G's free-on-Facebook experiment fail? One reason is that Facebook changed the rules mid-year. It altered the news feed algorithm (which some refer to as "Edgerank") so a brand's page posts are only seen by about 15% of a brand's fans. If companies wanted to guarantee reaching their entire audience, they had to pay for ads inside Facebook.
The free ride — in which brands with big fan bases could reach a large percentage of them without paid media  — was over.
P&G now also appears to be rediscovering the need for paid advertising.

Proctor and Gamble slashes digital ad spend by over $100M

July 2017

Procter & Gamble Co. (PG -0.52%) said that its move to cut more than $100 million in digital marketing spend in the June quarter had little impact on its business, proving that those digital ads were largely ineffective.
Almost all of the consumer product giant’s advertising cuts in the period came from digital, finance chief Jon Moeller said on its earnings call Thursday. The company targeted ads that could wind up on sites with fake traffic from software known as “bots,” or those with objectionable content.
The question here is whether or not this is the beginning of a larger reconsideration of digital advertising value — and its translation in to meaningful sales of products. Facebook targeted advertising, advertising directly on content producing websites and objectionable content websites were named specifically as areas where scaling back was occurring en masse.
The Proctor and Gamble cuts will probably send some shock waves that cause others to reconsider spending in similar ways. I think digital ad spending, especially on content producing sites and highly targeted ads, is an area that deserves attention as we keep our eyes on an expensive domestic stock market that was led higher in part by expansion of ad revenue in the tech sector.
Full disclosure: No position long or short in Proctor and Gamble. Short position against NASDAQ 100.

P&G Slashed Digital Ad Spending, This Is What Happened Next 

by Wolf Richter, Wolf Street

Tired of feeding an opaque, slimy industry of bots and fake clicks
Procter & Gamble, one of the largest and most sophisticated advertisers in the world, reported on Thursday that sales were slightly down in the fourth quarter and for the fiscal year, despite consumer price inflation. It’s the epitome of corporate revenue stagnation: only price increases keep revenues from declining. An activist investor – formerly called “corporate raider” – is breathing down its neck. So cost cutting to raise profits is the trick.
When a corporate giant cuts costs, it cuts the revenues of other companies.
And it did. Its “selling, general, and administrative expenses,” which include advertising and marketing, fell 7% in the quarter. Net income jumped 12%. And digital advertising took it on the chin in P&G’s earnings report:
Digital ad spending was lower versus a high base period and due to current period choices to temporarily restrict spending in digital forums where our ads were not being placed according to our standards and specifications.

Back in the day before digital ads, advertisers lived by a rule of thumb: Half of our advertising doesn’t work and is wasted; we just don’t know which half.
Digital advertising with all its consumer tracking technologies and direct micro-targeting promoted by now withering “adtech” companies or booming Facebook was supposed to have changed that equation. But it hasn’t. The hard part still is figuring out which half is wasted. But P&G is working on it.
When P&G speaks about cutting digital advertising, people listen, other companies follow, and the advertising industry quakes in its boots.
In April, P&G announced some details of its $12 billion or so cost-cutting binge over five years. This includes slashing $2 billion in advertising expenditures – among them $1 billion in media and $500 million in agency fees.
A year ago P&G announced that it would move away from ads on Facebook that micro-target specific consumers. Facebook is trying to leverage its enormous trove of consumer data to enhance its income. This has been its big promise. But P&G found that this micro-targeting of specific consumers based on the data Facebook has collected on them reduced reach and wasn’t working.
During the earnings call with analysts on Thursday (transcript via Seeking Alpha), CFO Jon Moeller explained the gist of it:
“In the fourth quarter, the reduction in marketing that occurred was almost all in the digital space. And what it reflected was a choice to cut spending from a digital standpoint where it was ineffective: where either we were serving bots as opposed to human beings, or where the placement of ads was not facilitating the equity of our brands.”
He touched on the two most common complaints about digital advertising scams:
  • Advertisers are paying for ads that are viewed and clicked on by bots, not humans.
  • Ads are placed by thousands of automated “ad exchanges” that are out of control of the advertiser on sites and pages that don’t match the advertiser’s products.
The entire vast space between legitimate advertisers and legitimate publishers is populated by a murky slimy world of often invisible entities, usually automated, that try to extract their cut and in the process further dilute the effectiveness of advertising expenses.
So P&G cut over $100 million out of its digital advertising spend in the fourth quarter, and this is what happened, according to Moeller: “We didn’t see a reduction in the growth rate.” And he added, “What that tells me is that that spending that we cut was largely ineffective.”
These spending cuts on digital ads are part of a larger strategy to more quickly halt spending on things – from ad campaigns to product development programs – that aren’t working, CEO David Taylor told the Wall Street Journal:
“We got some data that said either it was in a bad place or it was not effective,” Mr. Taylor said of the digital cuts. “And we shut it down and said, ‘We’re not going to follow a formula of how much you spend or share of voice. We want every dollar to add value for the consumer or add value for our stakeholders.”
P&G didn’t say if it would shift its ad spend from digital to other media, such as television. TV networks have long been clamoring that much of digital ad dollars disappear without trace in the opaque world of the Internet. But back in the day when we lived by the rule that half of ad spending was wasted and that we just didn’t know which half, there was no digital advertising – and TV networks got a big part of the pie, and still, half of the ad money just disappeared without producing results. So TV isn’t going to be the solution.
Marketing executives of other companies too have long riled against the murkiness of digital advertising, the false promises, the intractability of the Internet, the clicks and views by bots on which advertisers are wasting their money, and the billions of dollars that get blown without results. But getting a grip on what works and what doesn’t is hard.

The immeasurable failure of online advertising

There has always been controversy about whether or not traditional advertisements actually worked. While marketers had no solid proof, media companies kept profiting. But then came the age of digital marketing where everything could be tracked, traced, counted and analysed. Search giants such as Google and Yahoo started promoting this, and soon marketers were flocking to online advertising. Finally they had proof that their efforts were working. Best of all, they had the numbers to back it up. And no one doubted these numbers – until now.
Who caused the commotion?
Last year a group of researchers from eBay released their findings based on a large experimental study. It concluded that search ads are almost worthless for any well-known brand. This study was reworked and released as a formal paper last month in association with the National Bureau of Economic Research. This caught a lot a heat and got us thinking - do any online advertisements work?

Paid search ads have been around ever since Yahoo! introduced them in 1996. Since then companies have invested millions to make their name come up as the top result – and eBay is no exception. But recently eBay decided to experiment. They wanted to know whether these inorganic, paid listings were worth it. They halted their search ads on a particular region while using the other regions as a control. The expected result was that users from that particular region would forget about the existence of eBay and use alternative sites to make their purchases. But the results were surprising.
Results showed that on average there was no drop in sales even though search ads were removed. It seems anyone who Googled an item and wanted to buy explicitly from eBay would somehow find them way - either by scrolling down until they found the eBay link, passing other resellers, or by visiting eBay directly. In the instance of a novice client who does not know about the existence of eBay, the paid search ad merely acted as an informant, showing that eBay is in the reselling business, but it did not guarantee clicks. The overall revenues from search ads, as assessed by eBay, were close to zero.

Then why do people buy online ads?
If you ask any advertising giant such as Google or Facebook, they can churn out convincing statistics and third party research to prove that their advertisements not only work, but are well worth the investment. Research firms are even able to generate correlations between the advertisements users see online and what they buy in stores, all based on data collection. But big data is not always as precious as it seems. The margin for error is way too high.

Hey Advertisers: The Data-Mining Emperor Has No Clothes

Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

When a big advertiser pulls its online adverts and its sales remain unchanged, that tells everyone who's paying attention something important. 

It's an article of widespread faith that data-mining enables advertisers buying online adverts to target consumers with laser-like precision. Vast warehouses of servers grind through billions of records of consumer profiles and transactions and with a bit of algorithmic magic, distill all this data down to the prime target audience for whatever good or service you're selling: probiotic goo, battery-powered back-scratchers, Zombiestra(tm), investment newsletters based on darts tossed by monkeys, etc.

And everybody knows online media is the place every advertiser wants to be and needs to be. By some measures, online advertising exceeded television advert spending in 2016 (around $70 billion each). Unlike traditional media advertising, which is stagnating or declining, online advertising is still expanding smartly--especially in mobile media.

Combine the promise of god-like targeting via data-mining with fast-growing online platforms, and you've got advertisers falling over themselves in their rush to spend billions more on online advertising.

As if that wasn't enough to get advertisers salivating, the time consumers spend online continues to expand as well:

There's one little problem with this narrative: online adverts don't work as well as they're advertised. Proctor and Gamble recently announced that a significant reduction in their online social-media advert spending had no measurable effect on sales.
The only possible conclusion (unless you're selling online adverts for a living) is: online adverts don't work.
There's another little multi-billion-dollar fly in the ointment of online advertising known as click-fraud-- the clicks on adverts may not be humans actually interested in the product being advertised but automated bots skimming money from advertisers or competitors.
So all those clicks aren't from actual consumers; they're bots clicking on click-farm sites which send a small fee for every click to the owner of the site, which just so happens to be the owner of the bots clicking on the adverts.
Or an advertiser finds they owe $100,000 in click-fees for the tens of thousands of clicks their adverts garnered--but most of the clicks were generated by competitors seeking to bleed the advertiser of revenues and introduce false data points.
Click-fraud is the industry's dirty little secret, and the numbers are kept secret lest the reality that the Emperor has no clothes gets out. Despite all the hoopla about mobile adverts, fast-growing market, blah blah blah, there is precious little real-world evidence that online adverts actually do the intended job of generating new sales and attracting new loyal customers.
Just look at the online advertising you're being served. Do you get adverts promoting airline tickets to destinations you've just been to and that you'll never return to, adverts promoting wrenches after you've just bought the only wrench you're going to need in this life, etc.?
If this contextual advertising is the best that data-mining can do, it's pathetically ineffectual. Assuming you haven't installed ad-blocking software (another industry reality that is rarely mentioned), have you ever clicked on any of the adverts in the sidebars of your social media or email websites--except by accident?
But what about all those thousands of data-points Big Data has collected on us all? All our purchases, all our credit history, how much time we spend online, the sites we visit most often, and all the rest of the mind-numbing details of every day life.
All of this data-mining is predicated on a false assumption: that my past purchases predict my future purchases. Other than the most brain-dead conclusions--yes, I will buy gasoline again somewhere in the near future, probably at Costco, using either the Costco credit card or an airline mileage credit card--this data has little or no effective predictive value because our spending is tightly limited, controlled and prioritized, so there's near-zero leeway for impulse buys or unplanned purchases.
Spending can be constrained by modest levels of disposable income (i.e. cash left after paying all the essential bills, existing debt, etc.) or by budgeting.
As for enticing me to buy gasoline elsewhere than Costco, or switching credit cards--you're wasting your money. Giving me $1 off each gallon would work, but only as long as I got this enormous discount--a discount that will bankrupt the issuer in short order.
As for enticing me to switch credit cards--I tear up multiple card offers every week, and have done so for years. So the card offers are batting zero despite literally thousands of pitches via mail, print and online adverts. No "targeted ad" based on data-mining is going to change that.
I might switch if you give me back 10% of all purchases in cash, but that's an offer that will bankrupt the card issuer.
The fantasy that's repeated in every account of the staggering effectiveness of mobile advertising is this: I'm walking past a pizza shop and my mobile phone displays a coupon for that very pizza shop. Wow! Imagine the power of combining location with all the treasure trove of big-data-mining about little old me!
Here's a credit card purchase from three years ago for a pizza shop--this guy is a pizza fan, no doubt about it. This advert is a statistical winner.
Nice, except that 1) I rarely eat pizza, and when I do, it's generally at home; 2) I never buy meals on impulse, since that ruins my diet/fitness regime (and I'm too thrifty to buy meals on impulse anyway) and 3) my phone is often not with me, off or otherwise disabled.
What this tired narrative never includes is my dismissal of the advert as a matter of habit, and the possibility the advert alienates me in longlasting ways. Most of us never look at ads, and the more you make them intrusive, the more we hate the website, the advertiser and whatever product/service is being pitched.
Advertisers may have unwittingly poisoned themselves and their product/service. The net result of the data-mined, contextual, statistically targeted advert may well be a consumer who blacklists the pizza shop from then on.
This alienation is of course completely opaque to the data-mining software: there are no data traces left by blacklists/ alienation.
But the flaws in data-mining-yields-advertising-success are much, much deeper than this: human behavior is contingent on events that have yet to happen, and the decision process is completely invisible to data mining and algorithms.
Here's some examples from my recent purchase history.
I recently bought an airline ticket to Switzerland. Whatever inferences the data-mining software might extract from this will necessarily be false, as the motivation was completely contingent and unpredictable: my brother was in a motorcycle accident, and he needed my help as his wife was hundreds of kilometers away caring for the grandkids.
Whatever inferences the data-mining software extracted from the meal I purchased at an Italian cafe a week later would also be intrinsically useless/ false as the only reason we went to that cafe was it was the only restaurant my brother could reach on foot with his cast and cane.
What inference could any software extract from this that would be useful because it was accurate? None. The situation, the motivation, every single part of the decision was intrinsically opaque to any data-mining software.
As for what else I bought in town--groceries, paid in cash--another zero for the data-mining software.
The only item of any value that I did buy, I bought through my brother's account--another layer no software could possibly penetrate. Software will wrongly attribute the purchase to his profile, not mine, a totally false projection.
Virtually every inference that automated software attempted to extract from my spending would be worse than useless, as it would be misleading. The only inferences with a shred of accuracy--here is a consumer who randomly buys an airline ticket to Europe--is utterly useless to advertisers.
The only adverts that have any chance of working are the traditional variety that assume only one in 10,000 people will have a contingency-based need or desire for the product or service being advertised. So the adverts attempt to reach 1 million people in the hopes that a hundred might be interested and a handful might proceed further.
What advertisers who are shaking themselves out of the online-advert trance are discovering is that the data-mining advert Emperor has no clothes. The industry as it stands can't identify which clicks are fraudulent or accidental, which ads actually trigger a sale, or which ads actually alienate potential customers.
When a big advertiser pulls its online adverts and its sales remain unchanged, that tells everyone who's paying attention something important: the industry isn't doing a very good job for the billions it's being paid.

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Another Tech Scandal In Waiting As Unicorns Continue To Eat Cash

SNAP, Twitter and Tesla Issue Misleading Finance Figures

When Snap reported “earnings” this week – in quotes because it was its biggest loss ever – media headlines were euphoric, from TechCrunch (“Snap shares skyrocket on first earnings beat with revived user growth”) to The Wall Street Journal (“Snap Climbs Back Above IPO Price After ‘Shocker’ Earnings”). The theory was that Snap had reported “better-than-expected earnings.” Thanks to these headlines, over February 7 and 8, Snap shares skyrocketed 48% to $20.75, though they have fallen off somewhat since then. So here are some modest suggestions as to what the headlines should have been, based on Snap’s “earnings” report: 

Snap losses surge 106% to $350 million in Q4, and 570% to $3.4 billion for the year, the most ever.
Snap lost more money than it generates in revenues; what is it doing with all this money?
Snap burned $820 million in cash in 2017, but still sits on $2 billion from investors and can keep going at this cash-burn rate through 2019, so no problem.
Snap Q4 loss soars to $350 million, on $286 million in revenues. Stop and think about that for a moment.
Losses are ballooning faster than revenues, and from a larger base, which is the road to financial perdition, but no problem for analysts.
Twitter also reported earnings this week, and the media headlines showered it with love, from The New York Times (“Twitter Has Good News for Once: Its First Quarterly Profit”) to CNBC (“Twitter rockets more than 20 percent after the company reports first-ever net profit”).
Twitter’s shares jumped 27% on the announcement, after they’d already soared 60% over the past year on takeover hype that never materializes but keeps getting trotted out time and again to pump up shares. Since the spike following the earnings announcement, shares have declined 10%.
So here are some suggestions for headlines to describe Twitter’s situation:
Twitter 2017 revenues shrink 3.4%, Q4 revenues inch up 2%, as company embarks on Cost-Cutting as strategy
Twitter makes $91 million in Q4 profit after gutting R&D and sales and marketing expenses, which might explain revenue stagnation. But still loses $457 million for the year.
Twitter cuts $68 million from R&D and $71 million from sales and marketing expenses in Q4, trying to shrink itself to growth. Good luck.
Even the ceaseless promos from President Trump and the media circus around his Twitter actions fail to boost Twitter’s revenues.
No other company has ever gotten this much constant and free promo from any White House, but Twitter still can’t make it work.
Tesla’s earnings report late Wednesday triggered more mixed and somewhat impatient headlines, as it is becoming increasingly difficult, even for the fawning media, to willingly and blindly fall prey to Tesla’s hype and broken promises.
So these mixed headlines ranged from The Street (“Tesla’s Earnings Report Was Remarkably Drama-Free, by Its Standards”) to CNBC (“Tesla shares fall as Wall Street doubts the slowing cash burn is for real”).
Before the “earnings” report, Tesla shares traded at $345, giving it an inexplicable market capitalization of $58 billion. Shares have since fallen about 10% to $309. So here are some suggestions, based on Tesla’s “earnings” report, for headlines that are less mixed:
Tesla loses $675 million, the most ever, in Q4, and nearly $2 billion for the year, also the most ever.
Tesla has no clue when or if its Holy-Grail $36,000 Model 3 will ever be mass-produced.
Tesla would lose so much money on its Holy-Grail $36,000 Model 3 that it cannot afford to mass-produce it, if it actually could mass-produce it.
Tesla shows “slowing cash” burn caused by its failure to mass-produce Holy-Grail max-cash-burning $36,000-Model 3.
Tesla cut capital expenditures by $223 million from guidance to show slowing cash burn, just when it should invest to get production going.
Tesla’s global market share is an invisible 0.1%. Why is its market cap $58 billion?
Tesla now ominously “targets” rather than “forecasts” a production rate of its Holy-Grail Model 3 of “2,500 by the end of Q1 and 5,000 by the end of Q2,” nearly a year behind prior hype, and might never get there RELATED

Big Tech Ban President Trump, But Reveal Their Contempt For Free Speech And Diversity Of Opinion
As the Trump presidency enters its final week in the USA the haters are sharpening their knives and drooling at the prospect of taking revenge on Trump and his supporters for denying them the power they crave for four years ...

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