The drugs don’t work. Nor do Banner Ads.

We’ve known it for at least 15 years, but it’s nice to hear it from the IAB UK.

“Old banner ads aren’t working anymore.”

They never worked, but that’s good enough. Apparently, “native advertising” is the future. Native advertising accounts now for a quarter of all display advertising.


But what about those “old banner ads”, which account for about £1.31 billion on a total of £3.98 billion spent on digital advertisement in the first half of 2015 in the UK?

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Read: 15 Questions About Online Advertising. It’s for free.

Implied Contract

So, tell me more about this supposedly implied contract: I read an article once on your website, and I will be tracked forever, wherever I go on the web? Is that really part of the implied contract? Getting tracked by as many as 2,053 trackers. Really?

Pop-ups, pop-unders, huge ads, ads that trick or force me into clicking, animated Flash ads, audio-banners, video ads that start on their own. All part of the same implied contract?

What about bandwidth and time, both of which are money. Every time I load the homepage at, that’s $0.32 on me so that they can show me video ads.

Seriously: is it an implied contract, or is it a scam?

15 Questions About Online Advertising

My short E-book about Online Advertising is almost ready. No, I’m sorry, it’s not a how-to, get-rich-quick book. But hopefully there are some good answers to these interesting 15 Questions About Online Advertising nobody ever asks, and some good links, too.

1. Why Banner Ads?
2. What was Online Advertising supposed to be like?
3. Did it work out as advertised?
4. ​Why not?
5. Why are Banner Ads still around?
6. Is all this Targeting good?
7. Is this Advertising at all?
8. How big is this thing?
9. What is Programmatic?
10. Does Online Advertising work for Publishers?
11. Does it work for Advertisers?
12. Does it work for the Middlemen?
​13. Is it a gigantic scam?
​14. Should my company stay away from Banner Ads?
15. Is there any hope for Online Advertising?

The book is ready: Get your copy now!

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E’ pronto anche in italiano, Maremma maiala!

The Problem With Targeting

In Chapter 3 of my book, I wrote:

Last but not least, there is the unspeakable truth in an era in which we have come to idolise Social Media: the New Yorker was much more of a real Social Network and of a Community than Facebook or Twitter ever were or ever will be! The New Yorker was, as Steve Harrison put it, “both an extension of the individual and a place of communion to which they came for their shared experience”.

I closed the Chapter by asking:

Could the fact that we’re missing a common shared vision of the world like the one we had as readers of the NY Times or of The New Yorker be detrimental not only to the fate of our democracies, but to advertising as well?

While looking for a possible answer, I came across an article that goes against the conventional wisdom: not Half of my advertising is wasted, but I don’t know which half, as Wanamaker loved to quip; but rather: The Waste in Advertising Is the Part That Works.

Just like elaborate deer’s antlers or long peacock tails in the animal world (see: The Handicap Principle), lavish, even extravagant ad spending on the part of a company may signal a high-quality, successful brand that is confident consumers will try and buy their quality products over and over again so that they will be able to recoup their investment.

On the other hand, the argument goes, advertising on the web makes it possible for any small company to buy ads and act as if they were a big, confident and successful company.

Do I agree? Only in part: I look at a number of clues in order to make a guess about quality and reliability, and I think lavish ad spending could just as well signal an ego problem, a miscalculation or an attempt to brainwash consumers, for example to sell them products “unsafe at any speed”. Or that a company is selling crap at a premium price and can afford to continue advertising it. Soda, anyone? Or junk food? No, thank you.

Don Marti: The Problem With Targeting

However, I found a second and related argument much more interesting: on the web, low ad prices and targeting have made it unnecessary for a company to have to show their true colours and their confidence in their products to all their potential customers.

Or, as Richard Stacey put it:

The issue with targeting is that after a while, you narrow things down to the point where you stop having a group large enough to constitute an audience and end up with a group of individuals.

With enough slicing and dicing, a company can save money, but could risk ending up looking like the dishonest politician who crafts different speeches for different audiences, to the point that, as Don Marti explains, a consumer could think that:

With good enough targeting, you could be the one poor loser who they’re trying to stick with the last obsolete unit in the warehouse.

Apparently, consumers somehow understand this; they dislike tracking and targeting and dislike it even more the more they understand how it works. And there is no doubt: adoption of ad blocking and tracking protection tools is going and will go up.

So, the very fact that print ads are less targetable, force companies to speak to the whole audience and in doing so help them being perceived as trustworthy instead of sneaky is one of the reasons why ads in newspapers and magazines are more effective than ads on the web and can command a much higher price. I like this counter-intuitive theory a lot.

Plug for my Book

To find out about other ways in which companies are compromising their brands, wasting their marketing money and making fools of themselves, and to try to find an antidote to all this madness, check out: What Happened To Advertising? What Would Gossage Do?

The real real data

I came across a very interesting post on Facebook from the team that is handling Social Media for Expo 2015 in Milan. How is the event going? We don’t know. The organisers and/or City Hall and/or the national government, it’s not clear, decided not to give us, you know, the stupid citizens who actually paid for this event with our taxpayer money, any numbers. Total number of tickets sold? We don’t know. Average attendance at the event compared to the 100,000 people per day they were expecting? Same as above.

What we do know, on the other hand, is how many fans and followers Expo has; how many posts and likes and comments; tweets, and retweets, and live tweets etc. You name it, we have the data. Does all this activity lead to ticket sales? No, we don’t know that, either.

Cost Per Hour

So, the new bullshit metric for online display banner ads, the scam formerly known as Interactive Advertising, only nobody “interacted” with it, is: Cost Per Hour. CPH. Which to me, I’m really really sorry, will always mean Copenhagen. Not Cost Per Hour.

As I’m a bit of a lazy fuck, let me try to run some very rough back-of-the-envelope numbers. Facebook makes 1 cent in profit per every hour their users waste on their website. Let’s say their margin is 50%. Their revenues would be 2 cents per hour.

If their margin were 25%, their revenues would be 4 cents per hour. How many total hours do people spend on FT? How many times more than what Facebook makes can they charge? Leaving aside the hoopla: can this “very brilliant” idea ever work?

Should it ever work? Seriously: what’s the very deep idea behind this “innovation”? Let’s charge our customers more? Why in the world should they say ok and play along?


Update: TNW holds the key to understanding the change: it’s all about engagement. Of course! How stupid of me not to understand it. And how do you measure engagement?

The ‘cost per hour’ (CPH) metric, developed with analytics firm Chartbeat, measures how long an ad is viewed, rather than simply whether it is seen.

Yeah. Funny how nobody ever made up similar bullshit about ads on tee-vee. Maybe — but just maybe — it was because they actually helped to sell the damned products.