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This year, IBM, Citigroup, and Microsoft -- some of the world's most tech-savvy and sophisticated marketers -- used Google's ad platform to buy online advertising.

- Why use online advertising? Because only online advertising provides us with the data and targeting ability we need to efficiently reach the people who are most valuable to us.

- Why use Google's buying platform? Because only Google has the depth of analytical resources to make sure we are targeting exactly the right people in the right place at the right time.

You've heard this a thousand times, right?

Well, it turns out that IBM, Citigroup, and Microsoft's advertising wound up on the website of Muhammad Jibril Abdul Rahman, known as the "Prince of Jihad" and according to the head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, is "... the most important online terrorist in Southeast Asia."

I'm just guessing here, but something tells me that violent jihadists were not the primary media target for IBM, Citigroup, and Microsoft.

With all the sophisticated data and targeting technology of online advertising, how could such a thing happen? Simple, it happens every minute of every day.

The point is not that that IBM, Citigroup, Microsoft and Google are particularly stupid. The point is that online advertising is a cesspool of fraud, corruption, deceit and profound impenetrability. 

Nothing is what they tell you it is. Your agency and your marketing department think they know what they're doing. They don't.

They think they know what they're buying, but they don't. They think they know what they're paying, but they don't. They think they know what they're getting, but they don't. They think they know who they're dealing with, but they don't.

Last week's newsletter  talked about the "Avalanche Of Ad Fraud", this week the Financial Times had a similar story that illustrated both the fraud and the alarming cluelessness of marketers.

According to the Financial Times, WPP, the world's largest advertising agency network, launched a crackdown on suspicious websites last year that sold ad space through WPP's own ad sales marketplace. How did this affect the volume of space WPP sold? It dropped 65%!

I wonder if they returned 65% of the money they "earned" from their online ad sales?

As we mentioned last week, there are many types of online ad corruption. Here is what the FT had to say about bots:

"The most pernicious and common variety of ad fraud involves computer programs, or “bots”, that simulate the activity of a real person browsing the web or using an app. Hackers build an army of bots, known as a botnet, by sneaking the software on to vulnerable household computers. 

The malicious software runs quietly in the background of the infected computer without making its presence known to the owner. Then, under the hacker’s remote control, the botnet — which can be rented through black-market internet forums — is directed to visit certain websites. The most sophisticated bots are programmed to click from one website to another, watch videos for their duration, and even add items to an online shopping basket." 

In other words, it is not impossible that you are running a criminal enterprise from your laptop without knowing it. And the criminal portion of your laptop may be on sale right now on the online black market.

Of course marketers, who always think they're smarter than everyone else, believe they know how to protect themselves. A big shot media exec at Unilever -- a company that spends 2 billion Euros a year on online advertising -- thinks he knows the solution, “You need to do the homework and go to the highest level of granularity to understand what’s going on.”

Yeah, good luck with your granularity. Ask any con man, the biggest suckers are always the ones who think they have the answer.

Nobody knows how much corruption there is in online advertising and nobody knows how to fight it. We don't even know how to measure it. It is out of control. The way most agencies are dealing with it is by closing their eyes and pretending it ain't there. 

The man who wrote the report on ad fraud for the World Federation of Advertisers had this to say, “Ad fraud is growing to a magnitude that will be very difficult to manage or reduce... Advertisers need to stop putting money blindly in to digital.”






...will be here soon. In late August, I'll be doing a couple of talks in New Zealand for the government owned national broadcaster, TVNZ.


In September I'll be speaking in Oslo for Discovery Networks, Norway.


Also in September I'll be speaking at the ADFX Awards in Dublin, Ireland.




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