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Ad Tech Is the Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Advertising (adage.com)
124 points by huac on Jan 10, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 63 comments

There was a very interesting article posted here yesterday:

http://blog.sumall.com/journal/optimizely-got-me-fired.html (discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10872359)

Take a good look at it. Ignore the surface-level content about fixing the stats behind A/B tests. Read what else is there.

This article literally admits that marketing industry is destroying itself from inside, by applying on each other the same dishonest tactics they use on us. Now I don't know if it'll be enough to help users - maybe it's only buying us time before they figure out how to effectively manipulate people, or maybe it just makes adtech a stable, self-perpetuating resource waster - but it does feel good.

The ad industry doesn't have a problem with ad blockers. It has a problem with basic human decency.

There is a BIG problem with the current model of the advertising industry. It's based on STEALING attention from people. This is an outstanding lack of respect.

How about treating people like intelligent beings who know what they want for themselves and that stay informed ?

Make specialized advertising sites where companies can promote their products and services and let the users come when they want to check out what's new or look for something they need. They will come. And they will be happier and the companies will be happier.

This is a civilized advertising method in... my view.

>Make specialized advertising sites where companies can promote their products and services and let the users come when they want to check out what's new or look for something they need. They will come. And they will be happier and the companies will be happier.

You mean like a product website - or the physical version, a shopping mall?

So a product website has a one to one relationship with the product.

I'm referring to a website where various companies can ADVERTISE their various products and services in any way they want. Basically just present their ads in a civilized way, instead of shoving them down our throat like it currently happens anytime, anyplace, anyhow.

I suppose this could be an extra feature of a virtual market or just a standalone site or both.. but the ad should be tied with places where people WILLINGLY go to buy things or discover new things to buy.

I still think you're delusional, but at least I can think of an example of what you're talking about- the movie trailers page on the Apple QuickTime website. It was (still is?) the go-to place to get official HD movie trailers.

Would love your opinion of my site. I publish office design photo tours and then pair the content with ads for office furniture, plus a product listing area :)

> There is a BIG problem with the current model of the advertising industry. It's based on STEALING attention from people. This is an outstanding lack of respect.

Not to be flip, but when has advertising not been about trying to command the attention of those who would otherwise ignore what you have to say?

It always has been and that's precisely the problem. What is surprising is that so much of it is legal, and that it actually is a respectable occupation.

There is a BIG problem with the current model of the advertising industry. It's based on STEALING attention from people. This is an outstanding lack of respect.

Not only that, but because advertising IS effective, it's like a trojan horse for your brain.

Turn your head and look in the wrong place, see an effective advert, and you are more likely to give your money to one company and less likely to another. And you probably don't even know it consciously - and you certainly haven't made the decision taking into account whether the company's wider actions make it one you want to support or not.

Advertising is an exploit. And like we close exploitable holes in software, like we try to guard against fallacious reasoning or biases in important decision making, we should also guard against exploitable holes in our thought processes when it comes to advertising.

We know advertising works, we know it makes people buy things based on what feels good/safe/trustworthy coming from a company with a good marketing department, rather than what's in a person's own interest. We know it works - that's why it shouldn't be allowed. Because it works.

And why we, individually, should block it aggressively.

It seems HN likes to complain about the ad industry when in fact what they're really criticizing are ad tech firms. Ad tech makes up a small fraction of the ad industry. Defaming the ad industry because of ad tech firms is like slamming the entire automotive industry for faulty airbag manufacturers.

Yes, I was criticizing the whole industry. Publishers abuse the tools ad tech provides to basically steal money from brands and often at the expense of consumers. Brands are so eager to cut costs, they ignore the basic principal that you get what you pay for. Big agencies use these tools to mask hidden profits. VCs invested gleefully at the opportunity to "disrupt" the agency business. And the anarchistic emergence of ad tech is what's made this all possible.

Isn't that exactly the point? If the competitive landscape (the industry) is such that enough of the firms are incentivized to make these bad decisions, then why not blame the industry?

Marketers tricking marketers goes back to the first organism which disguised itself as something else in order to kill it or avoid being killed. Somehow things get better.

> Somehow things get better.

Yes. Eventually humans appeared, and they were able to escape (some of) the mechanics of "eat or be eaten" by creating civilization.

Multicellular organisms invented that a long time ago.

Yes, and we're reinventing it one level above.

Related: http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/08/17/the-goddess-of-everythi....

What about families and tribes? Half a level?

This and another article I was reading a week ago got me thinking - is there an opportunity for a friendly ad network?

At the very least I'd like it to have:

- no tracking of visitors, it decides what ads to show based on the content of the site being viewed

- all ads are approved by a human before being displayed, and link bait will be banned

- ads are static images only, no js allowed

I'm also wondering about a feature so users can pay to support sites and in exchange they won't be shown ads.

If anyone wants to work on this, my email address is in my profile :-)

Someone else mentioned TheDeck, but another prominent place where this is the case is Reddit (very on topic, minimal % of content, no tracking, approved, etc.)

Two issues that come up:

- This pays less, not so much the static images and lack of link bait, but the lack of retargeting.

- They're still blocked by ad-blockers at the same rate as everything else

That idea sounds similar to The Deck: http://decknetwork.net/

Sounds just like banner ads back in the 90s!

Still looking for an idea in this thread that moves us forward...

Subset of JS permitted in a policy-declared Iframe, similar to CSP, limited to merely fixed rendering, no networking whatsoever, save the initial script exec. Ads go in here, or browser blocks them by default, as a spam-like prevention measure.

The thing about ads is, if they are done right, they are very useful. For example, I buy hot rod magazines specifically to get the ads (the articles are the fluff). I enjoy the previews of coming attractions when I watch a movie, and use them to decide what to watch. I enjoy watching "Detroit Muscle" shows on TV because they are about product placement (they show how to use the products to work on your car.) Etc.

But ads that goes out of their way to force me to watch it, ads that show so often I loath the sight of it, ads designed to be irritating, etc., motivate me to go out of my way to never ever buy their stuff.

Interestingly, I have developed a sort of "ad blindness". My eyes do not see popover ads, banner ads, etc.

I work in the ad-industry. Many of the concerns here are true. If you are like me, you use ad-blockers and ghostery with much reason.

But the main problem is that the current model has been and still is extremely profitable. Ad-tech helps business grow their revenues. Click-baits, user tracking, pop ups, targeted ads... all these things exist because they make incredible amounts of money for many involved parts (publishers, ad-platforms, audience analyzers...), and because the majority of internet users are not like you and me, and they do respond to ads, click on them (or are tricked to do so) and don't give a shit that they are being profiled for profit.

I think, as users are more aware and ad-blockers become the default (which is awesome), we will move into a model where you either accept the ads (possibly better integrated), or pay, or find it more difficult to visit some sites (there will always be ways to circumvent). Ad-industry will never be truly on the side of the random internet users, as they are not the ones paying the ad-tech companies (publishers do). In any case, the ad-industry will continue on its own ways, perhaps less intrusively (most of what makes ad-tech you don't even see it, the ads are just the tip of the money making iceberg). This illustrates it very well: http://performancemarketingassociation.com/wp-content/upload...

I'm a freelance writer. What little money I make is usually connected to advertising in some way. So, I've generally been against ad blockers.

But lately, I've been considering it.

More and more I'm coming across web sites that are just supposed to display a text article that are unusable, either loading painfully slowly on my aging PC that isn't getting upgraded any time soon, or completely freezing my browser.

While I couldn't say for certain the exact cause, the problem almost always exists on a site with an auto-playing video ad in the sidebar.

Heck, I have no problem watching an HD stream on Twitch.tv while having 40 browser tabs and other apps open but as soon as there's an ad break, my whole computer grinds to a halt.

I don't want to deprive anyone of money but in the last few months, online ads have started affecting my ability to use my computer. And that's on top of the privacy issues and the occasional malware dumps through ads.

It is really the pop-up ads and ones that auto-play audio or have any kind of animation that are terrible.

Also the sites that make you click through a bunch of pages to read an article.

I don't mind the rest.

I thought it might be fun to add a request header like "X-AdBlock-Reason" that lets them know why I blocked their ads.

"X-AdBlock-Reason: too-many-ads"

"X-AdBlock-Reason: overbearing-ads"

"X-AdBlock-Reason: poor-ad-performance"

"X-AdBlock-Reason: stop-paginating-unnecessarily"

"X-AdBlock-Reason: i-dont-like-supporting-web-content-creators"

Now that makes me wonder whether there's an extension that will let me add that header and randomise the reason. Sounds like an interesting thing to shove into someone's log.

On the other hand, I probably wouldn't use it. I would stick out like a sore thumb to people tracking me.

The author talks about "ad industry" as "us", and the website's name is "Ad Age". I want to understand this context better: is it a big industry publication? And what audience inside ad industry does it cater to, exactly?

I'm the author.

Ad Age is obviously an ad industry publication—-probably the biggest one--but within that there are a diverse audiences it caters to. You can google the term "lumascape" to see a ton of images showing just what a chaotic mess of companies and kinds of companies are involved in digital advertising, but there are typically four groups involved: the brands that are paying for all this marketing, the agencies who they hire to help them reach their customers, the publishers that produce the content, and the ad tech companies that provide the tools to get the ads from the brands and agencies to their potential customers as they spend time on publisher's sites.

One criticism I've gotten on this piece is that it's not ad tech's fault, it's the publishers who use these tools. I think that's like saying it's not the drug dealers fault that his user OD'ed.

A key point I was trying to make was not that the tools themselves are the problem, but that the environment they've emerged in is. All of those audiences I've described play a role in that environment.

The very insightful chart mentioned above: http://www.lumapartners.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/201...

Ad Age is a well known publication among advertising agencies. While articles are written on broad topics I'd say that the publication primarily is written for executives in creative and design-focused agencies.

Well, it was founded in 1930, so that alone should give some clue. More info here:


Ad Age is one of the oldest and most respected industry rags in marketing.

Advertising doesn't have to suck. We can tell great stories with digital.

Imagine if you'd seen an article about Shaq being a giant, and it only had ONE ad for mayonnaise instead of 38. Imagine all the great stories Folgers Mayonnaise (or whoever) could have told!

I claim (with no evidence) that you can't tell great stories about mayonnaise with digital, or with anything. I claim similarly that people don't want to see or read great stories about mayonnaise.

Sure, you can interrupt a TV show and put a mayonnaise advert there, where a roughly-captive audience will see it, you can put an advert by a road or on a building, where people can't reasonably avoid it, and from that there will be more recognition of some brands than others. Within the context of a TV ad which is going to exist, there are better and worse adverts, and adverts which try (successfully) to manipulate feelings about mayonnaise by connecting them to happy family mealtime scenarios and so on.

But people are not clamouring for George R. R. Martin's latest "Game of Mayonnaise" installment. Nobody is hanging on Stephen King's publishing schedules looking for something, anything, about mayonnaise. People aren't quoting "top 10 films of 2015" and including Spielberg's latest mayonnaise epic, or desperately hoping that the decision between Amazon Prime and Netflix will be settled once and for all by whichever one finally gets on the missing mayonnaise content.

This is collective intelligence at work. This will be how the Wild West is won. The industry hasn't been able to police ourselves, so consumers will force change upon the industry themselves.

Yes. But if you read that as "the stories we are telling about mayonnaise aren't good enough", then I think you're not receiving the same message that the collective intelligence is sending.

You clicked three adverts a day, every day, on your phone - every single one by accident - a hundred adverts and not a single one you were interested in - and you read that as "advertising is great, just think how good adblockers will make it"?

I strongly disagree. Advertising can be enjoyable and fun to watch.

Probably the best example of this is Super Bowl advertising. Every year, I make a point of looking up many of the ads on YouTube even though (a) I hate football and (b) I have about 0 interest in most of the products advertised. Why? Because they're, in a sense, the pinnacle of commercial storytelling. Per second, they're the most expensive stories ever told—and that leads to amazingly high production values and, often, some very fun advertisements.

There's a reason that the best ads have tens of millions of voluntary views on YouTube.

I'm a little surprised that there weren't more and better examples of how ad tech is misused. Also missing was any sort of vision of how things should be. It's nice to see this attitude in Ad Age, though.

Ad Tech was born out of the marketer's need to target, display, and track user web actions (even offline), and content creators need to monetize their creations. It is not just content creators, but large enterprises like Walmart and Kohl's, Amazon who have ad space on their homepage.

The Ad Tech crew came in and connected the pipes in order to provide a solution to marketers and in return content creators. The consumer (of content and goods) was left behind, dropped into the background of the conversation, what was their experience - who cares. It is like a cruel cycle of content creators willing to sell more ad space for incremental revenue and marketers willing to buy it for incremental views (revenue, clicks, conversions).

I think the ability to measure the effectiveness (likely low, very low) impact of digital advertising dollars will add a balance to the equation. Right now, it is two parties moving in cyclical unison towards higher expenditure and worse user experiences. A third party is required to reset expectations and show a more realistic impact of digital advertising.

- Currently, working in ad tech, I find marketers have lofty goals in terms of revenue or leads generated by digital advertising...

I am not easily offended by ads, but there are a few techniques that can infuriate me. The overlay with near impossible close option which usually is a X so small you spend valuable time hunting it down or just going back to the previous site. The second of course are automatic playing videos accompanied by obnoxious sound or volume.

Really they need to move to a standard side bar or bottom bar and have everyone get on board or just be blocked.

> obnoxious sound or volume.

I have the speakers turned off on my machine. They are only on if I run a youtube video or Skype.

A lot of us listen to music.

I use a separate machine to play the music, as I don't like the bleeps and bloops Windows normally generates, either.

I have some TV shows I recorded in the 1980s. Ironically, the shows today are far less interesting than the advertisements that were inadvertantly captured.

I've observed the same on some of my old tapes. I think ad's by their nature always try to speak directly the zeitgeist, which creates more interest when viewed from the future than shows themselves.

I have a collection of several dozen Scientific American magazines from the 1970s, they're the same way (although most of the articles are pretty interesting too). The ads are just so dense with information. For example, the Kodak ads will have a full page interview with an engineer describing some arcane chemical process. Now it's usually just a photo and a slogan.

I think the future of advertising is where the experience is the ad - kind of like showrooms are. You actually drive the car, or sit on the couch.

Twitter kind of started this by making their ads just another tweet, but even then it's still very generalizable and the experience you get is not with the product but with a depiction of it.

So that's what we are doing with our company by virtualizing the showroom experience in Augmented Reality.

You mean "Native advertising": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_advertising

Do you really want to read half of an article just to find out you wasted your time because it turns into an sponsored article (advertisement of a product)? People hate blog spam here on HN. And often as well other forms of "native advertising" like the slightly yellow colored sponsored search results on Google or your example of sponsored feed posts on Facebook and Twitter. What you probably mean with "experience is the ad" is more what is called product placement in movies, games and theme park rides.

Not just native, because that implies it is similar in function. I mean the whole point of going into the platform is because you are looking to buy or be sold to.

The lack of any kind of introspection is painful. Sure, new tech will be abused for anything, but no industry has so completely and totally unethically abused tech as the advertising industry.

The only other field that has been so utterly unencumbered by any ethical concerns has been state intelligence, and at least they have had enough sense of shame to do it in secret, and can claim they do it "for the greater good".

Ad tech has exposed the utter moral void of the advertising industry.

So true. And it correlates with this article: http://idlewords.com/2015/11/the_advertising_bubble.htm

It's time to go back to 2004 style ads, before or around when Google Adsense disrupted the advertisement world. Dumb plain advertisement based on jpeg, animated gif or formatted text.

The way I remember it is that, before Adsense, lots of websites used terrible ad networks based on popovers, popunders, impossible to ignore flashing animations, etc. etc.

The situation greatly improved AFTER Adsense made it more remunerative for most legitimate websites to run what were originally text-only, non-invasive ads. Yes, with tracking, but much less annoying.

My impression is that falling CPM revenues are bringing us back to how it was before Adsense.

Initially, AdSense "served ads that related contextually to the content on a web page". (text-only, non-invasive ads, fair revenue)

What you nowadays mean with AdSense, the ads that follow you around (tracking, little revenue) started in 2009/10: "Google AdSense started using search history in contextual matching to offer more relevant ads". [my pov: this started a new Ad Tech boom which is now again on a tipping point and waiting for another disruption - because site owners get little revenue and it sucks for end users (crash browsers, drain batteries, too invasive, already own advertised the products)]


AdSense gave the opportunity to many small-to-medium sites to earn a decent living. If you take that away you could break the very fabric of the web, which in my opinion is content generated by hobbyists and dedicated communities. Bigger corporations won’t have a problem because eventually they all run their own advertising platforms.

In the same context, I don’t see how advertisers could trust any web site to run their ads. Who’s to check if the content is consumed by real humans or a botnet some small publisher has set-up as a side project? Even today with all the technology available at least a quarter of ad traffic is fraudulent. Imagine what would happen if there were no third party agencies to validate traffic.

> AdSense gave the opportunity to many small-to-medium sites to earn a decent living. If you take that away you could break the very fabric of the web, which in my opinion is content generated by hobbyists and dedicated communities.

It's easier and cheaper than ever to run your own website or community forum - and the vast majority of these that exist are not significantly funded by advertisements. Ads don't make money on a small scale, as every mobile game developer will happily explain. I think that it's very unlikely the web would lose significant value through losing third-party ad companies.

Removing Google Adsense would "destroy the fabric of the web"??

Honest question: Do you really believe this is what's going to happen?

Whatever happened to LinkExchange?

Sold to Microsoft for $265 million dollars and the founder went on to create Zappos (Tony Hsieh).


...churches to religions and Java to programming..)

Effective programmatic advertising is arguably the best thing that ever happened to advertising.

To expand:

Programmatic advertising is the notion that an ad isn't sold until it's requested. Lazy ad buying. Rather than bulk buy ads for a flat rate, each ad opportunity has its own individual cost.

Being able to find market value for an ad opportunity has completely turned the advertising industry upside down. When a few phone calls and a dense Rolodex were previously the secret to effective use of advertising money, today ad opportunities are sold in a fairly open auction in real time. That is a big deal. Sure it has caused its own problems, such as those cited in the article, but Ad Tech has disrupted traditional advertising and made it arguably more efficient economically.

Would your provide some more detail or reasoning here?

Presumably, statement (emphasis on effective) was based on the inference that content would be more relevant given additional AIO/behavior parameters. But programatic opponents could cite URL masking and other fraudulent practices that are rampant across ad-tech.

See my follow-up. It's about more than just relevance.

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