Marketers love digital because they can track it, and then spend countless hours pouring over the data. Marketers love data because it makes for excellent graphs and great talking points in meetings.
What marketers do not love is digital ad fraud, and sadly digital ad fraud is a problem with no solution in sight. Fraudulent, nonhuman traffic involvement in digital advertising in 2018 was estimated to incur losses of 19 billion U.S. dollars to advertisers worldwide.
What’s gone from the internet, isn’t truth but trust: the sense that the people and things we encounter are what they represent themselves to be. Years of metrics-driven growth, lucrative manipulative systems, and unregulated platform marketplaces have created an environment where it makes more sense to be fake online — to be disingenuous and cynical, to lie and cheat, to misrepresent and distort — than it does to be real. Fixing that would require cultural and political reform in Silicon Valley and around the world, but it’s our only choice. Otherwise, we’ll all end up on the bot internet of fake people, fake clicks, fake sites, and fake computers, where the only real thing is the ads.
“The only real thing is the ads” sounds dystopian, and it is. Even if Big Brother isn’t watching us, we’re watching Him.
DO NOT TRACK
“Advertising used to be concerned with imparting information. Today it is concerned with collecting information.” –Bob Hoffman
Today, you are what you click, because what you click creates a self-reinforcing circle of content dumps. When you go to Facebook and click on an ad or sponsored post, your interest in the topic or product is recorded and used to feed you more like-minded materials. If you show an interest in a tropical vacation, a new car or a pair of pants, all of a sudden your stream is full of pants, cars and tropical vacations.
I am interested in wildlife conservation, so I was just served this benign ad on Facebook:
I’m open to receiving an ad from National Geographic so there’s no obvious reason for me to be concerned or annoyed. It’s what I don’t see that’s bothersome. I don’t see the algorithm that’s determining what content I see.
Like an ad or dislike an ad, the pursuit of relevancy and personalized marketing has led the tech giants and the marketers who continue to make them rich to cross one too many lines. Max Reed mentioned the loss of trust that comes with the loss of privacy. Think about how fundamental loss of trust is online. On an individual level, even when our intentions are good, we tend to carefully craft our online identities. In other words, we consciously participate in the fakery.
Contrast our Instaselves with all the imperfections of corporeal reality. When we meet in person, we receive a hundred clues a second that helps us get to know the real you. Your voice, your eyes, your clothes and so on speak volumes. Call it raw data. For marketers, this matters because fake customers don’t pay the bills.