The Emperor of Advertising has no clothes

This is funny (so to speak). Eric Schmidt recognised in an interview last Thursday that Google “can’t guarantee” ads will not appear against content its advertisers might find inappropriate. Whoa! For those of you who are too young, Eric was recruited by Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to run the company in 2001, when Google was only the best search engine in town but still in search of a business model. That business model happened to be advertisement. One would guess Eric knows what he is talking about

Eric’s words came last week after the controversy erupted when The Times reported that some advertisements were running with YouTube videos that promoted terrorism or anti-Semitism. Those “revelations” caused an immediate reaction from a host of offended customers, starting with UK government, which pulled their digital advertising from Google and YouTube. So far, 250-and-counting organisations have suspended their advertisements (including BBC, Guardian, Marks & Spencer, McDonald’s, Channel 4, Tesco, Audi and several banks). Google has apologised and sworn to do better, and stock markets are still trying to figure out the impact all this may have.

Now, I have a couple questions:

My first question is: Does this come as a true surprise? Right now? Seriously? Because it sounds more like the child crying “the emperor has no clothes” (you can substitute here: “my ad dollars worth nothing if at all!”) in the middle of a crowd well aware that that was the case…but where no one dares to say just in case they can be seen as “unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent.”

Everyone who has ever spent a week in the “digital world” has a vivid experience of how broken the advertising model is. We all receive plenty of bad placed/addressed ads, which will never return anything but a bad image to advertised brands. And everyone who have spent a few dollars on an online advertising campaign knows the weird places to where his or her ad can be routed. C’mon, we all know this!

I do not doubt that serious brands make every effort to understand the return on investment of their advertising budgets, but the reality is that advertising, for all the smart guys Google’s (and Facebook and the like) troops, with all their big data, and their machine learning artillery to micro-segment audiences, online advertising is like pouring dollars down the drain… especially if you do not want rats to become your loyal customers.

My second question/reflection is: Are we all aware that this broken model is the one supporting our beloved digital world?

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