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I stopped advertising and nothing happened (theantistartup.com)
590 points by deeeej 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 388 comments



These articles typically come in the form of, I was paying for my brand name when I was number one on organic search. I wasn't validating any of my other ad spend, I stopped and didn't see any negative impact, therefore advertising doesn't work/is a scam.

As someone who's worked in the industry a while, I agree that it's a sad state of affairs generally but when people extrapolate that this means all advertising is bs it's just not true. Fundamentally business orders should track results from their ads the same way they look at impact anywhere else in their business.


Someone who runs a startup here. Marketing has become so congested on the same platforms that most people are becoming “sign blind” to all of it. Anything squeezing my boarders on my mobile or desktop sites just causes my eyes to look for the “X” button. Older clients I work with in large industries don’t trust or click on any of it, and their company blue coat filters stop you if you accidentally do.

Marketing isn’t all bad. But if your answer to spreading the word about you product comes down to spending money on banner ads, pop ups, or anything else that would annoy you away from looking at your own product…


I used to work in airfare marketing systems, one of our biggest sellers was Instagram ads with prices inserted into the ad graphic hourly. I have no clue what kind of person sees an ad for "cheap flights to {destination}" and then clicks the ad and impulse-buys their tickets, but they exist. A surprisingly high number of them.


Mentally ill people do it. Manic episodes in particular lead to lots of impulsive buying of things like plane tickets. Algorithms can target their ads at people with mental illnesses and exploit them while giving companies plausible deniability. Algorithms can even predict when a manic episode is coming on.

If they have enough data on a person, data brokers can easily classify people by mental illness and deliver their information to those looking to target people with specific conditions like dementia. Not nearly enough oversight or regulation on this stuff.


I've never heard this theory before. I wonder how much prepper grear -- survival food, weapons, etc. -- was sold to people who were algorithmically detected to be clinically paranoid.


I knew a guy who would serially impulse buy things off Instagram. I don't know about plane tickets, but his apartment was full of random shit he bought off his feed. Just alone he was probably covering the bandwidth cost of his entire town.


> I knew a guy who would serially impulse buy things off Instagram.

No lie, Insta knows what I want to buy before I know, and it’s very scary. I’m not an impulse buyer by any stretch of the imagination, but their advertising is some of the best I’ve ever seen anywhere on the internet.


Instagram knows nothing about me, i saw the ads for the Canadian metal top the other day.

They are the modern version of home shopping network. They make a fortune out of lonely people buying random shit.


That should not be surprising considering who owns them and how much data they have on us.


If you could find a few of these people, being a middle man for advertising campaigns targeting them would be one sleazy side business.


This is already a thing.

To be honest, any of the advertising schemes being dreamed up here in the comments section of HN are already a thing.


It's people like me who had it on their to-do list and it was a reminder to do it later.


Yeah but you didn't do it via the ad if I understand correctly. I would never ever do that, regardless of the price or any other fact. As mentioned above, I never click on them by principle, same as I never watch TV programs full of ads. Firefox with ublock origin blocks 95% of ads, for the rest I see if there is quick X to remove them or ignore them hard. If its too annoying I leave the page and go for competition.

The best ad could theoretically achieve with person like me is that I would go to ie skyscanner and check current situation.


You’re not the general public. Most people don’t even use ad blockers. Those of us on HN are a different breed in that regard.

Also, even clicking it and then returning later works for the advertisers.


Half of men aged 16-24 use ad blockers, so it’s not uncommon either.


I couldn't believe this, but then I did some Googling. I found this PR post: https://backlinko.com/ad-blockers-users

I'm not sure how accurate are these figures (it is an obvious "SEO" booster PR post acting like a blog post), but they are way higher than I expected. Even if it was even 25%, I would be shocked. It seems pretty sophisticated for the average user to install an ad blocker. I wonder how they distinguish men and women.

When I watch average people "swipe" on the metro, I am always shocked by the amount of adverts on their screen. How can they see or do anything? And some of the apps like Instagram (with doom-scrolling auto-enabled) continuously interrupt users to show them video ads that cannot be skipped. (I see the same for "free" games.) Ugh. Who are these people/zombies!?


If you end up buying a ticket you found in skyscanner on the same device then they'll (often) attribute, or partially attribute, that sale to the ad view even if you didn't click (obviously only if you aren't adblocking or if they're getting around your blocking).


But I think people at HN are the exception to how ads are used.


Offer me a great price to anywhere warm in winter and I'd be one of those impulse buys.


If this was part of a retargeting campaign it would probably be a good audience too.


I think I have clicked that kind of ad. The situation would have been, I was thinking of booking tickets to X, I don't want to pay more than Y, sure I'll click and see if your tickets are as cheap as you say.


In europe casually flying somewhere is fun, cheap and very accessible if one works remote (or one can just go for a weekend). Not everyone plans things in advance.


More likely is misattribution.


Nope, we only did attribution if you clicked the ad and purchased on a device with the same facebook cookie within 24 hours. Our other ad services probably had misattribution errors and the instagram stuff still outperformed them by like 10x.


Law of shitty click through rates. https://www.google.com/amp/s/andrewchen.com/the-law-of-shitt...

The best marketing comes from strong value props in an area people are open to hearing them. The magic of Facebook (and Google although now less so) is the ads are extremely relevant, to people who are open to hearing them.

The backlash against ads is because they work, when done properly.


> most people are becoming “sign blind”

It's to the point now that I sometime miss content that I skipped over because I thought it was an ad. The worst case of this is opening a news article about something that happened on video and all I want to do is watch the video. Is it the top video? Rarely, I scroll right past that and look for something in the body. More than half the time it's a video that's in a tweet (thankfully easy enough to pick out) but sometimes I have to look closer at what I dismissed as an ad to find out if it's what I'm looking for. What's infuriating is when I go back to the top video, hit play, sit through an ad, then I get some generic news or computer-generated-type reading/text of the article in video form.


> Older clients I work with in large industries don’t trust or click on any of it, and their company blue coat filters stop you if you accidentally do.

A small but significant proportion do click on any of it.


It also sounds like this person's startup is B2B, which has an entirely different set of advertising strategies than something consumer focused.

Anything that involves clicks (display, search, social) are typically not the most effective advertising tactics when your buying decision makers number so few, but that doesn't rule out other advertising activities.


B2B early stage companies selling a high ticket service/product need to be focused on sales activity.

Ads are a distraction. It's the seemingly easy way out but there's no way out of selling early stage.


You use ads in B2B to build leads, then you follow up with marketing/sales. Certainly you wont get a conversion with display ads, but on certain providers they can help feed into the start of your funnel.


Maybe. I’ve seen some pretty sophisticated campaigns targeting my employer, from local NPR underwriting to print and event sponsorship, all targeting a half dozen individuals.

End of the day, the salesman and his relationships closed it. The marketing consultant made a lot of cash though.


That sort of account-based marketing is a different kettle of fish. It's only worthwhile if you're targeting big prospects who will spend enough money to offset the costs.

That said, ABM is increasingly popular for businesses where it makes sense. Why waste time and money filling the marketing funnel when you can identify preferred customers and invest in building a relationship with them.


I'm sure it can help in conjunction with sales. Of course it can augment other activity.


Agree in general but you can also construct a quick Account-Based Marketing approach using the input data that you use to construct a prospect list. Outsource the actual campaign and you can have that run in parallel to your sales work.


Agreed. The more SMB your product is the closer the chance ads will work, but further up the size and ACV scale and you are simply wasting your time until you become a brand name in your domain.


If that's your business plan, you should take a long hard look in the mirror though.


would you say so called "influencer" / "creator" marketing is more valuable nowadays as a result? Getting people behind you who have a trusted audience seems like the only way to combat this problem, I just don't know that its a serviceable business per se?


I think that depends a lot on how that marketing is actually done. Just having an influencer read an ad text or insert a prerecorded segment feels just as annoying as regular ads, sometimes even more as there is no Skip-button or adBlock that can make it go away quickly.

Actual products reviews, even when they are not all positiv, on the other side I find extremely effective. Same for behind-the-scenes video that show you how a product is made and tested. As what an ad should ideally do is really just show me that the product exist and what it can do. That's all I care about and that's what most regular ads completely fail at.

Even if I go hunting for the actual websites of a product, they never contain the information I am looking for. I find it completely ridiculous how bad most ads are in that regard. I don't even expect much, size, photos from all angles, photos of stuff that's in the box. Really basic stuff. Most Youtuber's will include that in their unboxing and product reviews, companies very rarely do.

Trust is important, but you don't just gain that by having popular influencer read your lies, you gain that by not lying in the first place. Few companies seem to realize that.

That said, I am a sample size of one and other people will make purchase decisions differently.


> there is no Skip-button or adBlock that can make [sponsorship segments] go away quickly.

There is! https://sponsor.ajay.app/


>Even if I go hunting for the actual websites of a product, they never contain the information I am looking for. I find it completely ridiculous how bad most ads are in that regard. I don't even expect much, size, photos from all angles, photos of stuff that's in the box. Really basic stuff. Most Youtuber's will include that in their unboxing and product reviews, companies very rarely do.

This! It's all about the basics!


Trust is the biggest thing missing from most forms of advertisement. I know I will gladly check out a product that a YouTuber I enjoy recommends, but banner ads/prerolls/TV ads/etc feel like a scam reel.


This is huge. There's a YouTuber I've been following for a stupidly long time, and if he recommends something, or even is sponsored by someone, I'll check them out. Same thing with acoup.blog - if there's a book recommendation there, I'll check it out in a heartbeat. Why? Because they've spent a long time developing trust with their audience. The YouTuber has been absolutely brutal about products, and has been extremely open about how people have tried to influence him one way or another when he's doing reviews. The author of acoup.blog has similarly put a lot of work in establishing his bonafides, so when he says a work is good or important, I know what he means by that.


I trust YouTubers (or whatever celebrity) even less than banner ads.

I know a pharmacist on Instagram that quit being a pharmacist and started hawking health supplements in between semi useful posts, mixing bullshit with truth and trashing the credibility of their qualifications.


I'll trust a product that a youtuber I like organically recommends. But I'd still not trust anything they "recommend" in a sponsored ad slot.

The only way you can (legally) pay for the former as a business is indirectly, via investing money into making a decent product rather than advertising.


There's a fun model I built once upon the level of monetization versus trust building activities a given YouTuber/influencer should do maximize monetization over any given time period. You can model the decay in audience trust per monetization.


I have clicked on more banner ads (though few) about products I didn't know about, than I would ever be swayed by an "influencer", which is the new term for celebrity shill.

Pop ups, however, have made me NOT buy products I would have otherwise be interested in, lol. But I'm a spiteful person.

EDIT: I take some of that back, maybe. I do look at car experts on YouTube, and listen to their opinion. I guess they might be considered "Influencers". I was wrong.


It depends. I play MTG Arena. There's a slew of overlay apps that give you access to extraneous information. Best advertising dollars I've seen spent are Jim Davis's plugs of Untapped.gg. Not only is he using the app himself, he raves about it all the time. He's worth every penny they pay him. Tossing money blindly at influencers just because they have a following is not a good strategy, you still have to validate that it's a proper way of getting the right eyeballs on your product.


I still can't wrap my head around the fact that people are actually "influenced" by influencers. I have never trusted anyone and anything. When it comes to spend MY MONEY I do my own research, period.


I genuinely can't tell if this is satire or not. Assuming it's not, unless your "own research" consists of actually buying a wide swath of competing products and testing them against each other, then at some point you are indeed relying on "influencers", whether those influencers are Consumer Reports, Amazon reviews, your parents/neighbors/friends, etc.


I might trust Consumer Reports, parents/neighbors/friends but not some random dude on youtube...


When you watch people for cumulative hours, you get an idea of who they are. You get a feel for who is a normal Joe that gained an audience because of their passion for a topic and who is just someone following trends trying to gain follower just to gain followers. You also get an idea of whether or not they really know what a vpn is.

If I see a product I've never heard of before advertised to me by someone I trust to some degree, I'll check it out. I almost never buy because I have years of shields built up to stop myself from buying crap at the drop if a hat, but there are occasions where I will buy if I like the product enough after researching it. Those times are rare, though.

I don't watch videos from most people who could be described as "influencers", though. Mostly small creators who have an interesting take on something and are passionate about it.


When you watch people for cumulative hours, you get an idea of who they are.

And you get an idea of their tastes & whether or not you share the same tastes. Back in the day, if Siskel & Ebert gave a film two thumbs up, I would probably go see it. Not because they were on the TV, not because of some credentials they may or may not have had, but because over time, I've found out that I generally liked the films they gave two thumbs up, and life is too short to "do my own research" on all the movies playing this weekend.

Of course, this doesn't mean I would go out and buy a car if they were in the commercial for it, but I might have thought about getting a movie related product they hawked (microwavable popcorn? Special edition VHS/DVD? I dunno...).


What does your research consist of? When Steve from GamersNexus posts a video of him benchmarking a bunch of different cases with temperature gauges and the exact same internal hardware and workloads to tell me which one cools the best, I can try to independently reproduce those results myself, but that requires purchasing all of the cases, so there is no gain there. If he turns out to have been lying, I lost the money anyway.


>I have never trusted anyone and anything. When it comes to spend MY MONEY I do my own research, period.

...so you're "influenced" by whatever sources you research, which means, having reached any conclusion at all, you trust at least some of them.


I trust my judgement based on all the information I have gathered. Then I check with friends and people that I trust, certainly not the random dude on youtube that ads the best blender 2022.


Thats a wonderful thing but I think you know its quite rare.

Influencing is nothing new though the medium change has allowed for a preponderance of people to become influencers to smaller and smaller networks, we've always relied on proxy information if only on where to start research.

It applied to the clothes we choose, the movies of which we might consume the trailers and then reject, the research we do. The universe of awesomeness and crap which we create as a species is multitudes larger than any person could just navigate via pure first order research.

We all need signposts. While I abhor marketing and think hard about how to avoid or reduce its impact on me, its just not fully avoidable.


Have you never read something on here, then checked it out? What if paul graham recommends it?

I guarantee people have influence over you, just not the hipster influencers you are thinking of.


Your time and mental effort are limited. And your own research is not that effective in areas you have little working experience.

In my experience a lot of older people (40+) increasingly rely on advice/influencers to drive their product decisions.


Regarding doing own research I think this approach works for many products that are cheap to purchase. But, this approach fails badly when you have to purchase items that are expensive and one time purchase. How do I pick good washing machine? I can only purchase washing machine, or chimney, or smart TV only 1 time, so I can't do research unless I am determined to burn money.

I do agree with influences. These guys can sway people and make people to purchase ersatz product and has ability to do shenanigans.I think people should be cognizant while watching "influencers".


Yeah but if you like Shaq and he tweets “hey this basketball is the best one I tried” then some fraction of his followers will just trust Shaq on the theory he wouldn’t hurt his reputation. Why not buy the Shaq ball?


Because he hasn't played in years and whatever ball he used was the official nba ball at the time. Most people would buy the official ball not a random ball.

If you are talking shoes then people will buy to be associated with that player.


because his last 80 products were kind of shit


Because he ads that basketball because he is being payed to do so.


Where do you do your research?


That's because you have the antibodies. The people who closely follow influencers and who do not realize what the influencers are doing to them, lack those antibodies. This is a sad time to be a person who browses the internet without any jadedness or paranoia.


Absolutely. I still subconsciously reach for NordVPN because of how good internet historian is at plugging it. https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLiccjfD_3pHAp-f3aNlf94BXW...


Internet Historian made better content for his Nord ads than many creators make for their main content.


Channel fit is a huge thing, if you are trying to sell a large ticket item like web servers via banners you are wasting your money, if you are trying to sell dog beds with banner ads on a pet forum you will be very profitable.


I was looking up vintage race car prices recently (like the kind I'd only dream of affording) and saw a banner ad for an individual selling a collection of his. I clicked the ad thinking it would lead me to a website and it was just a phone number that my phone asked if I wanted to call! No info on what cars he had for sale, just his personal phone number. I wonder if he's ever made a sale through those ads. I considered calling to see what would happen but it was 3am


I actually don’t remember in my 25+ years on the internet to have ever clicked one of those ads. Now they are more invasive, as they appears masked as legit content - reddit, fb, instagram, and video games they force me to see ads.

I was so disappointed when apps added ads on the iPhone to ger money! Such a scam.


Exactly, all this does is prove they never knew how to run ads to begin with.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people/businesses have no idea what performance advertising is.


> they never knew how to run ads to begin with

This feels like a no true scotsman. I have doubts that the vast majority of digital advertising platforms do anything other than clutter websites, waste bandwidth, annoy people, and pay a small slice of tech employees. I'm open to seeing research on the topic (and I am pretty sure there is some), but what I've read is that most advertising has insufficient statistical power, thus confidence of advertising outcomes being anything but random flukes is low.


It's funny to me that everyone has a "take" on advertising, and yet 99% of the successful B2C brands, including multi billion dollar international ones, continue to advertise. Every platform that starts as ad-free gets pressured to allow ads and most of them acquiesce.

It's not that these companies love throwing their money away. Maybe there's just something they know that you don't?

Maybe it's that getting your product in front of the right people at the right time has immense value. And many platforms have opened up spaces for you to attempt to do that if you pay them for the space. Maybe paying for the wrong space at the wrong time is a waste of money.

Maybe determining the right place and time to get in front of people is a skill as well as an entire profession. Maybe that entire profession can't be reduced to an absolute binary of does it work or doesn't it.

Just some thoughts.


I'm very curious if you work in advertising/adtech, otherwise your "take" is no different than the ones you're criticizing.

I have worked on the data side of a pretty wide range of roles across the marketing/adtech spectrum for over a decade and think their is a lot of good reason to be skeptical of the claims of the advertising world.

Tim Hwang is also an insider in this industry and wrote an entire book (The Subprime Attention Crisis) on the issues with the current state of advertising. I work in a very different area from Tim (he's legal) but I can tell you that book almost bored me with how obvious all of his complaints where.

> It's not that these companies love throwing their money away. Maybe there's just something they know that you don't?

I've seen the data that many of these companies don't. As many others have said, simply dismissing advertising as a "scam" is too extreme, however there are a lot of really big issues in the industry and extreme skepticism of the advertising industry is well warranted.

The reasoning of "if the system is fundamentally broken, then why are so many people participating in it?" is easily dismissed with any of the major financial crises we've seen. This same logic could be falsely applied to the pre-2008 financial crisis "if these ratings are so wrong then why are so many experts putting so much money in them?"

Personally I don't know anyone who works on the "how the sausage is made" side of advertising that isn't at least somewhat skeptical of the whole system.


I work in advertising and know how the sausage is made. However I don't have equity in an ad agency, I don't profit off of promoting advertising. I participate in these conversations to help people understand. Also because they often piss me off.

> The reasoning of "if the system is fundamentally broken, then why are so many people participating in it?" is easily dismissed with any of the major financial crises we've seen.

The financial crisis was about companies making money, which they love to do. Advertising ad spend is about companies spending money, which they hate to do. Unless someone can explain why everyone wants to subsidize advertising agencies and ad platforms.

> Personally I don't know anyone who works on the "how the sausage is made" side of advertising that isn't at least somewhat skeptical of the whole system.

Skeptical of what, exactly? If you use 3rd party impression and click tracking tools, attribution modeling software, and statistically significant testing, I am genuinely confused as to what there is to be skeptical of.

I think the people who say they know "how the sausage is made" and still hold skepticism of "the whole system" are maybe not as knowledgeable as they may think.

In good faith, I am definitely skeptical of a few things. Whether ad platforms are really trying to prevent spam. How 3rd party DSP audiences are built and why they think people are ok with using them having no idea how they are made. Whether or not apps and devices really are spying on people. Whether people are aware of what "privacy" means from an advertising perspective.

But I'm not skeptical about the users that come to my site or which marketing efforts are working or not working.


> The financial crisis was about companies making money, which they love to do. Advertising ad spend is about companies spending money, which they hate to do. Unless someone can explain why everyone wants to subsidize advertising agencies and ad platforms.

Advertising is certainly in the interest of the ad agencies, and the employees of companies whose job is to either manage outside advertising or develop/execute advertising in-house. It's possible there could be a company with a lean team of advertisers, doing just the type of work that makes sense. But within any organization, leaders want to have larger teams because it is seen as a marker of respect. It also allows a leader to command a higher salary.

I don't know if these forces are sufficient to have spun the entire advertising industry out of nothing. But I do know that there are significant forces looking to build up advertising both inside and outside of companies.


I have no idea whether advertising works or not, but I see this "successful businesses do it, therefore it it works" argument applied to so many different things and it always baffles me. Besides not having much substance beyond an appeal to authority, I don't think I've ever seen an example of a company that doesn't engage in some number of financially wasteful behaviors with dubious or at least unquantifiable value.


The vast majority of successful B2C brands are owned by companies like Unilever, or are Apple, etc. I don't think there's an easy comparison between the ad goals and spending of these companies and those of smaller B2Cs trying to get off the ground. Maybe your own justification is comparing Apples to oranges, pun intended, and besides the point.


> 'It's not that these companies love throwing their money away. Maybe there's just something they know that you don't?'

Those companies that have a Sign-up for our email and get 10% off your first order pop-up, you mean?

Those companies paying for clicks to 404 pages or 'this item is out of stock', etc?

Those companies that ask you if you have a discount coupon just before you enter your card details for something you are already buying?

I get your point but I wouldn't assume big companies always know what the are doing when it comes to advertising. Sometimes they employ lots of people and some of those people don't actually have a clue what they are doing.


I agree with your broader point that you shouldn't just assume large brands always know what they're doing but other than the 404 example I'm not sure these are actually indications of companies not knowing what they're doing.

> Those companies that have a Sign-up for our email and get 10% off your first order pop-up, you mean?

I get that this can be annoying but plenty of companies do A/B tests and find that it works for them. I suppose it could mean they're just following some fad and don't know what's going on, but it doesn't have to mean that. This is especially true for companies that have long sales cycles or are in categories where lots of comparison shopping is common. Getting someone into your email funnel can be more important than anything else.

> Those companies that ask you if you have a discount coupon just before you enter your card details for something you are already buying?

Where else in the funnel would you have them apply their coupon? Maybe my perspective is different because we do a lot of offline advertising, but if someone comes into the site off of a print coupon they're going to expect to be able to put it in somewhere and get their discount. If we don't put it in the order flow they're either going to not purchase or we're going to get a lot of customer service calls from people trying to redeem their coupons.


Fair comment. I think we can agree there are case where such things can be used to great effect but that there also are businesses throwing money around and hoping something sticks.

One big mistake businesses make is seeing another business doing something and assuming it must be working. Which is one of the points the OP was making.


> Those companies that have a Sign-up for our email and get 10% off your first order pop-up, you mean?

I've seen this type of thing improve conversion immensely at a startup I worked at, and it sets up the starts of a drip marketing campaign.

Many of these are the natural results of A/B testing and experimentation, which is why many companies arrive at the same result.


What is the opposite of argumentum ad populum? No one likes this thing because I do not like this thing.


Bandwagon.


I'm sure the executives at these big corporations would love to see stock prices go up if they could find a few extra million dollars per quarter in useless revenue negative activity that they could easily cut while having no impact on sales.


Many of these business go bust - so yes, maybe they should do just that?


To be fair, many of the most expansively marketed companies pretty much exist for the sake of marketing, it seems.


What is the benefit of them funding an entire industry of marketers if none of it works?


Depends what you mean by "doesn't work."

Though, I suppose it often matters what you think of as marketing. Is it marketing for Coke to license their image to shirts and other products?


I appreciate your thoughtful criticism of this.

The reason I say this though, is because if they knew how to run ads properly they would have been tracking their results from the start, and would have known much earlier whether they were getting a return on their investment.

If your only way of measuring advertising results is to "turn it off", you're just flying blind, and one can't expect success with a (lack of) strategy like that.

That said, you are not wrong that a meaningful percentage of advertising is being run with similarly insufficient statistical power, and to that I would say those businesses are also incorrect, for the most part. I delineate because at some point, say when you're Apple or Microsoft, you are so big that "brand awareness" advertising takes over performance advertising. For the most part though, I'd say those aren't the types of businesses we are discussing in a context like this one.


Tracking advertising effectiveness is ridiculously difficult and multiple people inside and outside your company are incentivized to overstate impact.

Statistical power for example assumes independence which can be very difficult. Great you spend X million to convince people to buy an AC in March, did you actually benefit or would those same customers want an AC as soon as the first heat wave hit? Spreading demand can be useful, but it’s also really easy to to draw false conclusions from statistics if you don’t understand the domain.

And that’s just one of the many pitfalls involved.


You hit the nail on the head, for the record. Thank you!


How do you know any strategy is attributable to success or failure without testing it?

Pre/post analysis may be temporally correlated but this isn't proof because you haven't captured a baseline comparison.

A/B and MAB testing are helpful but not magic bullets.

Shapley values (marginal impact) is a nice mathematical outcome to have for multitouch attribution but as usually implemented is only a single statistic and can be a fluke without additional testing.


> The reason I say this though, is because if they knew how to run ads properly they would have been tracking their results from the start

Part of the problem is your brand keywords will typically show up as being one of your best converting keywords.


A phenomenon which reminds me of the canonical survivorship bias story. In WWII they conducted studies to determine where the bullet holes where on aircraft which returned from bombing sorties, in order to determine which parts of the aircraft required armour. It took a statistician to point out that they actual needed to armour those places where they rarely saw damage on returning aircraft, as those parts are most likely the parts where being hit caused the aircraft to not return at all.

Sometimes it requires a bit of a leap of imagination in order to resolve these things.


Causal inference has made a lot of improvements since WWII, and "if" the advertising company knows what they are doing they run effective A/B or MAB testing; that said, statistical power is typically low because of insufficient sample size for individual companies.

You could pool all ads together, but since each advertising company is independent you get into all kinds of weird path dependencies.

While I wouldn't claim to be an adtech practitioner, I did at one point help a few F500 work through conceptual models of multitouch attribution and other statistical issues. These are very nontrivial issues -- proving advertising effectiveness is very difficult!


A problem in what sense?


It's a problem in that those keywords are some of the places where you are at least likely to be generating counterfactual conversions: most of that traffic was probably coming to anyway.


>This feels like a no true scotsman.

It's not though.

Appealing to effeciency is not an appeal to purity, which is what a no-true scotsman is.

A no true scotsman in this regard would be more along the lines of redefining advertising to not include any activities that OP described, i.e. OP wasn't doing true advertising. GP is not doing that here, because GP is acknowledging that OP is doing advertising, but doing it poorly.


It felt like one because the original comment puts anyone who doesn't willingly support advertising claims as not knowing how advertising works. The classification creates a false dichotomy whose classification is "only a group that does not know advertising would do X."

These are hallmarks of a no-true scotsman.


I like that this comment has no-true-scotsman'd the idea of no-true scotsman.


If you spoke to any growth marketer worth their salt at any D2C company they will have incrementality testing and split tested traffic to prove without a shadow of a doubt that advertising works. The real challenge is scaling without losing efficiency.


>It never ceases to amaze me how many people/businesses have no idea what performance advertising is.

Yikes, that's incredibly unfair and arrogant.

It's amazing to you that, because most people don't have to actually employ performance advertising, they don't know what it is? That someone whose passion is cooking, and decides to open a restaurant, might not have that advertising knowledge? That someone - in the case of the OP - whose focus is writing software that helps research an automotive vehicle's life history, might not know everything you do about advertising?

C'mon now.


No you're right, as someone who takes these things seriously, I should hold myself to a higher standard than to paint in such broad strokes. Thanks for checking me there.

Allow me to rephrase from a more compassionate perspective:

I don't expect any of these people to devote the type of effort that I have into this knowledge.

But I do wish they knew this stuff, because with even a little bit of this knowledge, they could have the power to make their own restaurant/software shop/insert_small_business more successful than it otherwise could have been... which may even be the difference between them successfully running said business vs. having to take a job they don't like.

Ultimately, it's a be the change you wish to see situation, I suppose.


Fair, and I appreciate your honest response! Life needs to see more positive discourse like this. :)


>It never ceases to amaze me

This comes across as an arrogant view point. Would you know how to take off the heads of the engine in your car and rebuild it? No? Wow! I'm amazed that you'd have no idea how to do something that isn't your direct line of work.

People running small businesses that are so wanting for ad buys to work for them don't spend years honing their performance advertising skills. They don't even spend time looking it up to know it's a thing (first time I've heard this phrase myself). They see all of the advertisng they are subjected to about why buying ads is important, and so they start where they can.

Instead of making fun of people for not knowing something that they shouldn't need to know about, why not corner the market by providing non-insulting services to get them the results they need? Or at the least, be able to point people in the direction of where to get those services?

Condescension for the sake of patting yourself on the back is just gross.


You are totally correct, thank you— I addressed this to jjulius above, since they pointed out the same thing. Sometimes one must be reminded not to be flippant on the internet, it's all too easy, and I don't want to be that person.

>Instead of making fun of people for not knowing something that they shouldn't need to know about, why not corner the market by providing non-insulting services to get them the results they need? Or at the least, be able to point people in the direction of where to get those services?

You're right. We all know the value of the person who makes complaints without offering solutions.

If anyone reads this and would like some honest help in this area, send and email to the address in the 'about' on my profile, and I'll try to point you in the right direction (It only looks sketchy because it's a forwarding address, I'm sure you understand.)


> why not corner the market by providing non-insulting services to get them the results they need?

That market doesn't exist because it requires buy in from the business, businesses that see the value in targeted and performance driven advertising do it in house because its so valuable, other businesses just don't do it because they see no value in it and they see no value in it because they don't do it.

Advertising works when its targeted but most businesses see advertising as just trying to shout as loud as possible. They take this theory and shout at every one they meet hoping this will convert them to a customer and are amazed when shouting at people has the effect of driving them away rather than pulling them in.

They come to the conclusion that advertising doesn't work not that its there technique, they shouted so loud and at every one how could anyone possibly shout louder or at more people? and when they stopped shouting sales went up! obviously advertising doesn't work.


>That market doesn't exist because it requires buy in from the business, businesses that see the value in targeted and performance driven advertising do it in house because its so valuable, other businesses just don't do it because they see no value in it and they see no value in it because they don't do it.

That goes against the entire concept of the advertising agency though. If advertising is so important, why staff it out to a 3rd party when you could do it in house? If this in house thing was the way to go, why is Maddison Ave so powerful?


Most businesses that take advertising seriously will have someone in house and then out source the specifics to specialists but the larger strategy is done in house. In the UK generalist agencies like av browne have been hurting bad the smaller agencies have been closing.


>That market doesn't exist because it requires buy in from the business, businesses that see the value in targeted and performance driven advertising do it in house because its so valuable, other businesses just don't do it because they see no value in it and they see no value in it because they don't do it.

All that sounds like to me is that the company providing OP's posited "non-insulting services" would just need to make sure they're marketing their product correctly and demonstrating value properly.


Advertising is definitely a lot more complex than simply: spend more money on it -> sales go up.

When tobacco ads were banned, tobacco companies started making more profit, because they had to spend less on advertising. Turned out their advertising was mostly to steal customers from each other, and didn't really lure in new users. So the ban actually helped them.


Short-term, yes. Long-term, I think no? Tobacco advertising typically focused on making smoking cigarettes seem cool and glamorous, and banning the ads may well have been a large component of why it no longer seems so.


> Tobacco advertising typically focused on making smoking cigarettes seem cool and glamorous, and banning the ads may well have been a large component of why it no longer seems so

That's one hypothesis. Another is that we've known for ages that tobacco smoke causes disease[0] since[1]

> Lung cancer was once a very rare disease, so rare that doctors took special notice when confronted with a case, thinking it a once-in-a-lifetime oddity. Mechanisation and mass marketing towards the end of the 19th century popularised the cigarette habit, however, causing a global lung cancer epidemic. Cigarettes were recognised as the cause of the epidemic in the 1940s and 1950s, with the confluence of studies from epidemiology, animal experiments, cellular pathology and chemical analytics. Cigarette manufacturers disputed this evidence, as part of an orchestrated conspiracy to salvage cigarette sales. Propagandising the public proved successful, judging from secret tobacco industry measurements of the impact of denialist propaganda. As late as 1960 only one-third of all US doctors believed that the case against cigarettes had been established. The cigarette is the deadliest artefact in the history of human civilisation. Cigarettes cause about 1 lung cancer death per 3 or 4 million smoked, which explains why the scale of the epidemic is so large today. Cigarettes cause about 1.5 million deaths from lung cancer per year

and the world finally woke up to that.

[0] https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/health_effects... [1] https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/21/2/87


As someone who has run ads across a variety of mediums, online and offline, some products benefit from being in the public consciousness, others dont. Identify which products or services benefit from certain types of advertising will help enormously otherwise its just throwing good money after bad.

The OP's point 1 fails to recognise the filter bubble though, I think some SEO companies capitalise on this, but it simply works like this, if you keep googling your website, Google will eventually make it one of the top links in the result for YOU, not anyone else and for some website owners/companies, thats enough for them, and it doesnt bring in any more sales or revenue.


I would love to see solid evidence that advertising for an established product is meaningfully effective at increasing revenue beyond the cost to produce it.


Oh, don't worry, those of us with a stats/research background know just how sloppy the data and arguments are.


Yeah... I hate advertising for a few reasons, including aesthetics and warped incentives. But one of the big ones is that it works. It works on me. Even when I know I'm being manipulated, I can't entirely stop it.


Surely this is only occasional.

I recall precisely one ad that caught my eye. I did not buy the product, but I liked it. It was for a men's watch after discussing with my spouse how I might need a watch at some point (Facebook is creepy that way, almost certainly monitoring microphone at the time, if not continually).


Well, I don't know about you specifically, but I think the average person is more affected by advertising than they realize.


So folks assert.


When I think of online ads the first thing that comes to mind is patio11 and his blogs on Bingo Card Creator. If the profit from conversions is above the cost per click the you are printing money hats.

The difficulty is that to get there you have to carefully steward your own little flock of PPC campaigns in the same way that someone might pick stocks or a professional gambler picks a horse.


I run analytics company and (off the record) we detect roughly 75% of paid traffic as bots, w 50% of the remaining in iframes


What's your analytics company?


"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."

- John Wanamaker


John Wanamaker died in 1922 long before the age of internet advertising where it became much easier to figure out which half it is.


The pertinent question is what percentage of advertising is "BS".

We are still in the infancy of the internet and its one dominant usage, the www. It is possible people are overspending on, e.g., www and "in app" advertising because no one is sure what methods or amounts of spending are truly necessary, as "e-commerce" accelerates.

It is a similarly sad state of affairs when people extrapolate the success of some companies engaging in www advertising as a business to mean that current trends towards purchasing www advertising are all backed by objective, empirical evidence and will persist indefinitely. Looking at what has been revealed through litigation against Google and Facebook,1 it appears there is a substantial amount of opaqueness (non-transparency) required for these internet advertising companies to remain successful.

1 Not to mention what will be disclosed in the future.


Internet ads are garbage.. I would pay attention to a well-made radio or tv ad, but online ads just the scum of earth!! My eyes skip over embedded text ads and I don't have the patience to see a video ad.. Ad blockers take care of most of that!!! I don't know how this scam "industry" keeps getting away with robbing businesspeople who are supposed to be smarter than the rest of us!!! The only form of advertising I am kinda OK with and believe might work is those sponsored ads by youtubers or affiliate links and the like..


The line between "You are an expert. If you pay for something useless, it's your problem, not mine" and an outright scam is blurry. If someone says that the industry scams their customers, I wouldn't say he is wrong. But of course it's not in the industry's interest to tell their customers to stop paying.


No, it's because all advertising really IS bs... Advertising is nothing but psychological seduction and manipulation. "You're Satan's little helper, kill yourself."


I probably hate ads more than most people but when I hear or see an ad, it kills my willingness to engage with a business. I mean, this isn't entirely conscious. I was thinking about whether my kid would like those creative boxes from KiwiCo that I heard good things about organically. Then, I heard an ad for them on a podcast, and I noticed a new extra resistance and hesitation to buy anything from them.

I don't want to be a sucker for ads. I don't want to support businesses that support our ad-polluted world. With my limited capacity to donate directly to creative work (which I'd incidentally rather do as part of a coordinated general public than just unilaterally), I favor donating to those who forgo ads rather than reward or support anything that accepts ads.

Now, I've hated ads for a long time. But I was still surprised how much I no longer feel fine considering KiwiCo. Now that I heard their ad, I feel like I don't want to be one of those people who is seen as following ads, and I don't want to support them. I imagine there's other products that don't budget as much for ads that I should go out of my way to seek out instead.

So for anyone like me, if you do paid ads, you just harmed your credibility with me.


Ads work subconsciously. By the time you're looking for a new X and go shopping, you'll recognize company A making an X and it will register as a viable option, only because you heard about it somewhere--having forgotten that you saw their ad and vowed never to buy something from such a money-grubbing corporation. Also, basically everyone has to advertise these days, so good luck finding an X made by a company who doesn't advertise. If you do, in a year or two you'll be extolling the virtues of this wonderful product that you can no longer buy because the company went out of business.


At least it's not hard to find companies which don't advertise too much. I don't get angry by one poster on a tram, but I get really upset when an entire site is flashing with the ad, when the ad is an outright lie, ... And I'm certain I remember (at least some of) those. I hope I'm not alone, voting with wallet seems to be our only way out of ad-ridden world :/


Yeah, I can imagine that non-intrusive advertising works on me, via subconscious and brand name reinforcement. But if I notice the advertising, I'd rather buy a cheaper and better product from a competitor who spends their money on product quality or discounts than a company that spends heavily on advertising. One of the evils of manipulative advertising is that consumers end up paying for it, and once you recognize this you start sticking with the less well known brands.


I don’t believe the “ads work subconsciously” bs. Whenever I plan to buy something I a) look it up beforehand or b) (if it’s a routine purchase like groceries or household essentials) follow some method like brand name, second cheapest, iterate between different brands, etc.. b could be influenced by subconscious advertising but i just don’t think so, and anyways, most of the things that are heavily advertised (car insurance, expensive stuff, apps) are things I’m going to research before buying.

I do think advertising works, it works because there are unaware people who do impulse buy expensive things and buy whatever they see. Lots of people probably aren’t going to research what olive oil or smart TV is the best, they just want to get their shopping done. And, kind of like how IAPs work because some people will spend thousands of dollars on them, some people spend thousands of dollars on impulse buys.


> I don’t believe the “ads work subconsciously” bs.

A long time ago now, but when I left my parents house to go to another city to study, when I bought laundry detergent for the very first time in my life I ended up with the brand stuff - and I only noticed what I had done at the cash register. I had skipped the cheaper no-name products even though that would have been much more appropriate for my financial situation. Instead, I picked the brand I subconsciously remembered as brand, the one that always had the most annoying TV ads. The one where as a teenager I had wondered, why is anyone so stupid to make such annoying ads? Anyone seeing them would avoid that product! Turned out those annoying housewife ads did work as intended on me.


The problem is now, when you "look it up beforehand", your going to be reading a ton of organic advertising (paid or not). It's just not a flashing banner ad so it flies under your radar.


Maybe you didn't read me clearly.

I get the subconscious thing, sure. I subconsciously find brands REPELLENT if I think they are familiar options likely because they are popular with ad-susceptible people.

What happens in practice for me is that I don't buy a lot of stuff besides core needs in general. But when I do, I'm super resistant, I have a defensive posture as a consumer. And the one time I let my guard down a bit is when I have the impression of some product just being good quality stuff that is advertised only in organic ways.

I mean, put another way: I don't have bias against searching for a class of products, finding a website of product X, and reading from the company about the virtues of it. I'm not as open to that as if a trusted friend recommends it, but I'm not opposed to it. But if I find out that the company paid for Facebook ads or whatever, it pushes it into a subconscious category in my head which is something like "this product is out to trick me into buying it", and I have a gut-level mistrust from that point on.


Is there a way to search for products without falling for ads or marketing in general?

Even if I use an ad blocker, all the results are dominated by SEO spam. You can go and search Reddit to try and find honest recommendations, but companies are starting to spam that as well.

Searching directly on Amazon is pointless because they prioritise their margins above all else and show you the crappiest products that make them the most money.

For electronics I use a https://geizhals.at -- it's theoretically a price comparison site, but it has a great parametric search which is the best for finding electronics.

But for general purpose stuff I'm really struggling.


Have to disagree with the idea that you have to advertise. Word of mouth still dominates in many industries. Restaurants generally don't need to run ads, and even some chains like Krispy Kreme don't bother.


> I heard good things about organically...

The problem is that even if ads don't affect you personally, they affect people around you, and the people who "organically" tell you about stuff just tell you about things they saw in ads.


Yes, and I'm aware of that. So, I'm skeptical of recommends ALSO, but I don't reduce the standing of a product in my mind because it's recommended, I'm just wary still.

If I know that product X exists, and someone tells me they like it, it's a wary slight-increase in trust. Unless the person is someone I can identify as being into corporate advertised crap.

If I know that product X exists, and I then see an ad for it, it reduces my inclination to consider buying it.

If I can find out that the "organic" recommendation was a paid influencer situation, that's the worst.

To be clear, the ad concern doesn't apply to companies advertising their own products. I don't feel awful about going to a restaurant and at the restaurant they are advertising a new dish.


No, nobody has told me about stuff they saw in ads. Almost all the things I have ever paid for, have been found one of these ways:

• Randomly: I don’t care what toothpaste or soap etc. I get, I just grab the closest/cheapest thing off the shelf.

• While manually searching for specific traits, ingredients or features.

• Habit/Lack of choice: Coke and Pepsi are the only colas of their type available in most places.

• Via word-of-mouth by people who found them the same ways. This includes asking for recommendations on online forums etc.


Personal experience with KiwiCo: They were absolutely wonderful for a while, especially during pandemic lockdowns. Unfortunately, they've gone significantly downhill in recent months, with kits just not being of the same quality, so we cancelled our subscription. Maybe we'll try them again in a couple of years, maybe not.


Wow! Fits my suspicions perfectly. Like, starts as creative good product (though I have misgivings about maybe they purposely make kits that discourage second-hand redistribution and thus add excessive waste to the world? Dunno, just a worry)… grows and thrives, gets enough budget to hire some new marketing and growth folks, works to maximize profit by reducing quality and underfunding the product to make lowest possible costs, focuses more on advertising to reach wider market, eventually becomes mediocre shell of the original high-quality business.

Something like that maybe… just guessing


When you notice a product being advertised, it means that part of the price of that product/service is being redirected from focusing on quality to manipulation.

The amount something advertised is inversely correlated with value.


Everyone thinks they're immune to ads.



That's the OPPOSITE of what I'm saying. I'm affected by ads. I think EVERYONE is somewhat affected by SOME ads. I've built up such a defensive posture to ads (thanks maybe to MAD magazine in my youth and use of Adblocking etc), I remain *sensitive* to them in a style where they trigger my defenses.

That's not a claim of immunity.


Though only in a single industry and an n=1 case, we got to see what would happen if a movie went into wide release with no advertising. Would enough people see the movie poster or listing for what's playing at the theater and be curious enough to see the movie? Or would the lack of advertising doom it?

'Delgo' was released to theaters on over 2000 screens with an all-star cast in December of 2008 and virtually no marketing budget. It averaged roughly two paying customers per showing. More people saw Conan O'Brien making jokes about it on his show than saw it in the theaters. Though critically panned as derivative and several years out of date with its CGI, movies with far worse reviews have done much better. The real difference seems to be that no one knew that it existed.

That said, a new Star Wars movie with no advertising likely would still end up with plenty of ticket buyers. Existing brands can much more easily get away with taking their foot off the media buying accelerator but how long could they do it before a slow-down occurred? Seems like Marvel and DC still purchase lots of advertising for their well-known and currently popular franchises. What would happen if they stopped? Not sure if we'll ever know since they're unlikely to take that risk.


That seems like a very specific case, though.

Looking at wikipedia for this movie (which I'd never heard of), the all-star cast was: Freddie Prinze Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, Anne Bancroft, Chris Kattan, Louis Gossett Jr., Val Kilmer, and Malcolm McDowell.

Apparently development started in 1999 (so the cast makes sense), and animation started in 2001... 2001 -> 2008 is pretty bad timing I think, both in terms of just raw number of years, and also in terms of... I mean those were pretty busy years in terms of CG, right?

I bet whoever owned MGM in 2008 found it in their stack of stinkers and figured "why not shovel it out the door?" Movies seem like a bad example for this sort of thing as a result -- big investment, want to recoup some of it, but sometimes a failure is pretty obvious, so why invest further in a big (and one-off) ad campaign?


> The real difference seems to be that no one knew that it existed.

It was pulled after one week, hardly enough time to build word of mouth. And more than half of the all star cast were people who won awards over half a century prior. Other than Freddie Prince Jr or Jennifer Love Hewitt, would modern audiences know any of those people (not that I think name brand actors are important.)

Without interesting story, graphics or actors people are excited to see, I'm not sure why you think it would do well regardless of the advertising budget?


Advertising is pretty important for commodities. When you can 10,000 movies, advertising can have a huge lift to nudge you. Same with food. If there’s a dozen kinds of sour cream at the store, an ad might lift one brand hugely.

Probably less valuable for industries with less competition. Like do I really need to see an Apple ad? Is not seeing one gonna make me go Android?


Presumably, they didn't spend on ads because they knew it was going to flop though right?

Movies effectively get "free advertising" from reviews, actor interviews, and things like your example of Conan making fun of it. I'd assume vastly more people heard of the film than saw it, they just heard it was terrible.


The authors of that HBR article along with a few others [0][1] should be ashamed of themselves. They keep perpetuating a false narrative that really hurts our community's know-how in how to build and scale businesses.

Why is it a false narrative? The basic premise is simple: company X spends money on ads, then turns those ads off and finds that the revenue does not change. Then the conclusion is made that ads don't work. On the surface, it seems like sound logic, and that's why articles like that do find their way into reputable publishers.

But allow me to make an analogy that will hopefully highlight how absurdly oversimplified that takeaway is:

Company X decides to switch from PHP to Go, and in the process ends up with all sorts of bugs due to how the new garbage collector works. This costs the company a lot of money, and the conclusion is made that Go is a shitty programming language.

What both of these cases have in common is that neither takes into the account the proficiency level of the operator. It's somehow intuitively obvious that as you trade programming abstractions for performance, you will require a higher level of developer proficiency to extract that performance. But nobody makes that connection in the marketing world. The often quoted examples of marketing calamities, Ebay and Uber, have marketing budgets in the 100s of millions, which can be only deployed using multi-channel strategies. In other words, you might give 10% of that to Pinterest, and might be delighted to see that Pinterest reports a 300% ROAS. But it turns out that Pinterest will also report on a much longer lookback window than other platforms, and will use a different attribution model than, say, Facebook or Google. If you turn off your Pinterest spend and discover that the reported 300% ROAS was not accurate, it doesn't mean that ads don't work - it means that Pinterest had bad incrementality, and that it was some other platform that deserves all the credit. In short, in the days, weeks and sometimes months that it takes for a customer to convert, Pinterest had some impact, but much less than its in-platform figures indicated. You can measure incrementality using 3rd party vendors like Measured.com. The fact that Ebay's and Uber's marketing teams were apparently not doing that is inexcusable.

In some cases, the lack of ad performance is not just channel-specific, but true across most channels and sometimes even across the board. For example, some purchases are triggered by emergencies, and that's where search channels outperform TV and social. And in other cases, your customers just cannot be reached by ads at all - eg: military contracts. I am sure we can come up with many more examples that seem to show that ads don't work. But what those examples really show is that there's a certain amount of minimum qualification to make ads work, and a lot of people simply lack those qualifications.

That's alright, a lot of people also lack experience in Golang, but at least they think twice before making all sorts of assertions about the viability of that programming language. Not so much when it comes to marketing topics - somehow there's this belief that if a certain ad channel didn't work for you with your specific value prop and your specific expertise in this field, this is somehow relevant to everyone else. I can see how newbies can make that mistake. But for Rand Fishkin or the CMOs of Ebay and Uber to fall into that trap... blows my mind.

[0] https://www.forbes.com/sites/augustinefou/2021/01/02/when-bi... [1] https://sparktoro.com/blog/something-is-rotten-in-online-adv...


>And in other cases, your customers just cannot be reached by ads at all - eg: military contracts.

Overall I agree with what you wrote but I just to highlight that you can absolutely target military contracts with ads. If you visit Washington, DC you will see ads for fighter jets, missiles and random obscure military systems by Raytheon and other contracts at bus stops. Guess what - military planners and decision makers live in DC and use public transport. While conversion rate is minuscule, you need only one multi-billion military contract to pay for a lot of ads.

Digitally you can target by geo location (Pentagon/military bases/installations) or even for example microtarget places where key senators live. Lots of options.


This is exactly right. I saw one ad tech company advertising the ability to target Congressional staff members at their homes. I wondered how they did this and read my ISP's privacy policy. I hadn't realized they sold my personal information and IP address for targeting purposes.


> The basic premise is simple: company X spends money on ads, then turns those ads off and finds that the revenue does not change. Then the conclusion is made that ads don't work. On the surface, it seems like sound logic

It is sound logic.

OP repeatedly clarifies that not all ad spend is bad, that it's just for his specific case.


The logical conclusion is that THOSE ads don’t work, not that ads don’t work in general.

I am no fan of digital advertising, but there is a lot of variation on ad platform, targeting, ad content, ad space etc that will make a massive difference in effectiveness of the dollars spent.


It could be that those ads created some sort of brand awareness and that the downside might not be realized for quite some time. I'm not saying that that is the case here, but it could be another interesting thing to investigate, although it wouldn't really be easy to objectively measure.


Indeed, brand advertising is a thing - specifically to reenforce and make that brand "brighter" or have more strength in the person's psyche, so it stays familiar. The concept of advertising at its foundation is often taught that you must distribute the value of the spend over say 10 months, e.g. you're primed for that long and/or may act on the ad you saw 10 months prior.


Patek Philippe knows a thing or two about this. It's been years since I've seen their ads, but I still remember them.

https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/untold-story-patek-philipp...


>The logical conclusion is that THOSE ads don’t work, not that ads don’t work in general.

Did you get to the second sentence of my two sentence post? Because it is literally exactly what you're saying.


My take is that advertising may work globally, in that if any advertising occurs it may have an effect, but each player is a fringe in the advertising market and may have their tide lifted simply by domain awareness of advertiser topics.

Ad effectiveness for specific brands may be complete bunk. But advertising effectiveness for a product space may do well to raise awareness.


There are several companies I am a regular customer of which I found via advertisements. If they stopped their ad spend, their revenue might not go down (I know I would keep buying), but if they never had ads to begin with, I wouldn't have spent hundreds of dollars on their products, nor would I have recommended their products to my friends. One ad click generated several repeat customers and thousands in revenue over the span of three years - that's a good return on investment, one your analytics probably doesn't capture, and one which you certainly wouldn't notice if you stopped your ad spend.

And that's the rub, isn't it? Advertising absolutely can work, but the numbers can be very deceiving, to the point that I'd bet most companies cannot say with any degree of certainty that their advertisements drives new sales, much less provide hard numbers on how effective their ad spend is.


The proficiency level of the operator is critical, and why I think this article is very valid. The small startup being discussed certainly found they do not have the skills to make their marketing efforts even cover costs. Bringing in someone with the necessary skills means having to fund their wages in addition, which in the case of a small business or startup can be a huge cut of revenue. Hiring someone skilled or knowledgeable enough could well tank your business, as you could well need to doubling or tripling your marketing budget. This is completely different to a situation where the affordable marketing budget is seven figures and the responsible thing to do is to bring in someone knowledgeable to manage that spend. And it is is always a gamble, since you can't know if the marketing has worked until after the money has been spent.


Even then you may not know if you had a positive return from your ad campaign. I've worked with many professional ad buyers who couldn't prove that their campaigns have had good returns.


> company X spends money on ads, then turns those ads off and finds that the revenue does not change. Then the conclusion is made that ads don't work.

Did you even read the article?

They said this in point 1 (!), the one of their first points of their conclusions was that advertisement is adviced for start-up companies.

They explicitly said their conclusion wasn't that ads didn't work. I find it hard to believe you read the article and somehow not read that part.


> Did you even read the article?

Please don't do that. It goes directly against the HN guidelines[1] and makes the site less pleasant for everybody.

Please don't comment on whether someone read an article. "Did you even read the article? It mentions that" can be shortened to "The article mentions that."

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


It seems like a disproportionate amount of ad spend is protection money to avoid the Don't Be Evil mob from selling your trademark to your competitors. A search for Total Car Check should not return competitors above the website itself.


I get that impression sometimes too. I had a comment a couple years ago on this site about how dumb it is that when I search for "TeamViewer" the first result is an ad for TeamViewer... why are they paying to advertise above their own page?

But someone pointed it out, if they aren't paying for that ad spot, then RealVNC, or LogMeIn, whoever else is competing will. Seems ridiculous.


It's also not necessarily guaranteed that it is in fact TeamViewer running the ad for TeamViewer.

It's a pretty common marketing practice to arbitrage referral benefits so that you might sign up for a product that offers cash referral bonuses of (let's say) $5 per signup. An affiliate marketer may take some petty cash and run some experiments, determine that ~5% of the people will sign up to an ad with highly effective copy, so then now they can run ads, potentially pay higher rates per click than TeamViewer does, and make a little passive income on the side.


To add to this, this is usually explicitly forbidden by most affiliate programs.


I'm pretty sure they do this because sometimes google returns the right sites seemingly by complete accident. Have you ever submitted a search, and there's a result for the right site, but it's to an irrelevant subdomain or archive section? Sometimes google gets me into parts of a website that users aren't supposed to be able to navigate to. Google has exposed weird personal files to me that were stored on commercial web sites multiple times, yet it couldn't return the actual intended entry point for those exact same websites. I have no choice but to assume malice over stupidity here.


Google has figured out a "legal" way to monetize one company's trademark to that company's competitors. Really makes a mockery of the trademark system.

I'd imagine if google didn't have such well financed lobbyists and lawyers, there would have been legal concessions years ago to eliminate this practice.


There's also an arms race thing going on if others start buying ads for things you'd rank highly for


This both enriches Google, impoverishes name-brands, and allows new entrants to compete.


Why not? It's a free market. Compete on product, not obscurity.


IP isn't free & ad spend doesn't scale with quality.


Yeah, if I search for "Sephora" and the first result is titled "Top quality makeup" and links to a no-name site with knockoff products, that's not competing on product.


Some of the best products don't need advertising at all. Raspberry Pis for example, I actually cannot recall ever seeing an ad for a Raspberry Pi. Word of mouth, seeing examples of it in use - now you might call a Youtube video on how to set up a Pi as a headless server on your local network 'guerrilla marketing' or something, but I rather doubt that was paid for, people just like showing off their little Pi projects.


Devil's Advocate; Raspberry Pis don't use traditional advertising, but they advertise a whole lot. Your example of the YouTube video -- while yes the channel may have gone out and purchased the device based on word of mouth because it was cool, there's an equally likely chance that the Ras Pi foundation sent out devices to traditionally "smaller" channels since they want to create that word-of-mouth advertising feeling, despite spending a whole lot of money on advertising.

This could be because they know that their demographic is precisely the type to avoid traditional advertising, be it because they run ad-blockers, or don't consume media with built in advertising like television, etc. Or maybe it's because they know that those smaller channels have significant viewer overlap with their target demographic, so why bother with trying to find these customers yourself when someone else already has them (for lack of a better term) captive?

I've personally seen Ras Pi's mentioned in "niche" magazines a few times, usually when a new generation of the device comes out. That's 100% advertising, although I prefer it to a generic "buy our thing" ad, because at least they go into detail showing me what exactly it can do for me.


There's the idea in the business world that you can just throw money at programmatic advertising and trust the ad tech to put your message in front of the right audience at the right time. Your example shows that there's a lot of value in carefully crafting your message and putting thought into where to find your audience. Programmatic has its place, but its capabilities are massively overstated.


rasppi is a niche product. There will never be mass consumer appeal. Just like how you don't see advertisement for Ergodox keyboards. Even if they spent money on ad campaign, it will likely not move the revenue needle


Maybe we need more products that don't target mass consumer appeal.


I think it's relatively uncontroversial that advertising is a "strategy" for either low quality, not needed, or undifferentiated offerings, and that when looking at how a company goes to market, there is a choice of putting $ into advertising or into a better product.

I generally use advertising as a proxy for inverse utility. It would definitely be better to have more products that targeted being good, as opposed to ones that target influencing people to buy them.


>I think it's relatively uncontroversial that advertising is a "strategy" for either low quality, not needed, or undifferentiated offerings, and that when looking at how a company goes to market, there is a choice of putting $ into advertising or into a better product.

You mean like iPhones? Because Apple certainly advertises.

I'm not sure your statement applies broadly to automobile advertising either.


Why? Can you explain that thought process? i.e. everything should be niche? Like toothpaste for devops engineers who want their teeth to grow in the dark when they are around 2 or more wifi networks?


> i.e. everything should be niche?

This is not what I said.

My thought process is that I personally would like to see more products with a higher focus on being good for a smaller group of people, rather than cheaper and /or worse but aimed at a huge audience. [0]

Focusing on delivering a good product to a smaller audience allows you to have tighter feedback loops and create more useful iterations because of that. You can also usually charge more. Personally, there are a lot of product spaces that I currently prefer or would prefer spending more for higher quality. But I don't always get that option due to the obsession with casting a wide net, as it were.

Do I expect this to happen organically? No, market forces seem to heavily incentivize races to the bottom.

[0]: NB my use of relative statements and not absolutes. Going from one extreme to the other likely won't produce a net positive.


I mean, I would buy that.


ah crap, i just raised a 4 million angel round due to your response :)


what does your point got to do with my argument - How the cited example of rasp-pi is not a strong argument for usefulness of ads


I think you and I are in agreement. By not focusing on mass market appeal, raspi isn't reliant on massive (traditional) ad campaigns.

I see this as a feature, not a bug.


No one advertises on the modern web, to "mass appeal".

If they are, they're doing it wrong. Ads are far more targeted than that.


Funnily enough I purchased an Ergodox EZ after clicking through an ad for it. I actually see this a lot with "niche" products (audio equipment, home automation, keyboards, etc) where I will have never seen an ad for anything in that product category but once I start going to the hobbyist and store pages for such products I get inundated with ads for one specific offering in that category for a week or two before all of my ads go back to what the usually are.


The Pi is a hobbyist device, so yeah. But something like the Ergodox could definitely become popular if video game streamers used it, if there were displays in computer stores, etc. It's an interesting product but many people (like me) simply haven't heard of it.


I absolutely see ads for the ErgoDox EZ.

Granted, I bought one and have put another in the shopping cart multiple times, so they probably have good reason to advertise to me. They know I'm a paying customer who's flirting with paying more.


>I actually cannot recall ever seeing an ad for a Raspberry Pi

You hear about them in the media all the time, though. I'd be shocked if they didn't have a solid in-house PR team.


To be fair, they have had a whole slew of "submarine" news releases on them. That tends to be a form of "earned content" advertising.


Aren't pis in a constant state of shortage? I remember when I bought mine I could only get two at a time. I wonder if there's any value at all in advertising in that state.


>In the end I decided the only real way to tell if what we were doing was working, was to turn it all off, for several months to see if there was a measurable difference.

What?

If this person genuinely thinks that there is no way to measure an ad's performance while it is running, they are either too ignorant to be in business, or they hired someone who lied to them.


If you’re full e-commerce the only metric that really matters is conversions. How do you know your ads aren’t just taking credit for customers who were going to buy anyway?

You can get great CTR and conversion rate running ads against your brand name. But if your SEO is sound you’re pretty much just canibalizing your organic traffic.

I’m not aware of a way to determine whether an ad just claimed credit for a customer it didn’t earn. I’m interested to learn though.


> How do you know your ads aren’t just taking credit for customers who were going to buy anyway?

The word for this in the business is "incrementality", and there are several ways of measuring it. The simplest conceptually, is that you run two ads to two random groups of users: one for the product and one for something irrelevant like a charity. Then you compare conversions between the two groups.

(There are fancier ways to do it that don't require you to spend half your budget on an irrelevant ad, but that's the basic idea.)


The article suggests that they are comparing between two placements: the organic search placement and the paid placement (ad). I don't see any explanation why that is invalid. Indeed the literal meaning of incrementality would suggest a comparison of f(A) and f(A,B). Not quite "sampling with replacement", but if that's heresy to you you're welcome to quit reading now.

The protocol for doing so would involve studying what happens when the ad is present versus when it is not. The goal is conversion, scrupulously defined as people who click one or the other and subsequently purchase. Total conversion could go up, down, or stay the same. The only way the ad "wins" is total conversion increases, and even then maybe. If organic conversions went up when the ad was present you'd have a research problem! (The effect could be time-based, i.e. "awareness", or it could be a confounding externality.)

The protocol you suggest would seem to be removing the organic placement when the ad is present, that is: one or the other. On its face this sounds more "researchy" to me. Putting feasibility aside, it would plausibly be attractive to an advertising professional, but I would espect the customer to ask "why?" and I don't see the answer to that question. What's the motivation for this approach? I can see that it makes the advertising professional's contribution crystal clear, but why should the customer pay for it?

But hey I don't have 30 years of advertising experience, nor do I consider myself a statistician or machine learning expert. I do however have over 30 years of experience as an internet plumber and (more importantly here) data sous chef, so I've tasted a lot of ingredients in a lotta stews and have a solid grasp of experiment design and causality.

You work for the customer: consider that some avuncular advice.


The problem with the approach in the article is that there are lots of reasons conversions can vary over time that are unrelated to what you're trying to study. If you have to use time to distinguish treatments, your best option is to alternate time periods (ex: one day on, one day off). But you can almost always run your two groups simultaneously, giving them different treatments, which allows you to eliminate the effect of timing noise.


Yes. Modulation not moderation. ;-)

That is what you're talking about, how slicing up your signal before transmission impacts your ability to receive it. Here's a Jupyter Notebook which will maybe make your head explode... I mean if you like math.

http://athena.m3047.net/pub/python/wiener-functions.ipynb


I work in ads. You appear to be one of the few people on this thread who actually knows what they're talking about.

+1 to everything you've said.


> is that you show two ads: one for the product and one for something irrelevant like a charity.

This is would be another experiment that does not test what you need to in order to demonstrate some sort of causality.


Why doesn't that demonstrate causality? It is a randomized controlled trial.


The control would be to not show ads. This was tried in the article, with time as the variable to partition the control groups.


Unless you control the ad platform, you can't make a 'no ads' control group; if you want to track the user, you've got to show them some ad; so an unrelated PSA is an ok option.


Time doesn't work very well. There are lots of reasons why you will see different behavior at different times, so it really only works if you are trying to check something with a very large effect size.

Much better is to run your control group and experiment group in parallel, like I described above.

Is your objection that showing ads for something irrelevant could affect whether the user converts?


Here's a question I have about this experiment.

So the experimental setup is: you create an ad for your product, you create an ad for your charity, then you compare the populations of people who click on your ad for your product with the population of people who click on your ad for the charity and see if there is any difference in conversion rates between the two populations.

How do you ensure that the people who see/click on your product ad aren't already a population more likely to convert to your product than the population of people who see/click on your charity ad? Sure, you can target the same groups of people - but that only goes so far, the ML algorithms backing the ad selection process will still preferentially show your charity ad to people likely to click on charity ads and show your product ad to people likely to click on your product ad.

I am unfamiliar with how these experiments work on the advertiser side. Incrementality is easy to measure on the platform side if advertisers report conversion metrics to you.


ML messing with you is an important consideration when you are trying to run this sort of experiment on a platform that you don't understand very well. The most simplest reliable way to run this experiment is to give the ad network an HTML creative that looks like:

    <script>
    var treatment = readTreatmentFromCookie();
    if (!treatment) {
      treatment = Math.random() < 0.5 ? CONTROL : EXPERIMENT;
      writeTreatmentToCookie(treatment);
    }

    if (treatment === EXPERIMENT) {
      showAd(PRODUCT);
    } else {
      showAd(CHARITY);
    }
    </script>
The creative is opaque to the network, which means it's not going to be able to do anything fancy like you're describing.

Many networks offer the ability to run a fully supported incrementality study, where they effectively use one company's ads as a control for another's, but this is a version of an experiment that you can run even if you don't trust the ad network at all.


People's behavior changes drastically with time. Showing no ad for your product seems like a sufficient control?


But then you have no control measure in most platforms, as you cannot track them?


Attribution is not my area of expertise. But could you not track them to see if they convert? This is possible both on the advertiser side and the platform side, provided the advertiser reports conversions to the platform.


You'd want to flag whether and how you captured them.

If you have offline channels directing you to a website as well, like television or print, it can get messy unless architected properly.


Thank you. I wasn’t aware of this, it makes perfect sense.


Thanks for adding this— I definitely failed in my explanation by not talking about how one runs such tests.


> one for the product and one for something irrelevant like a charity.

Those are extremely different, how does that prove anything?


If you chose "not to show ads" to the control group, all the slots of the control group where you would have shown ads will have ads you don't control, including your competitors' ads.

If you show a neutral ad, you know exactly how much seeing your brand in ad drives revenue compared to seeing an irrelevant ad.


Hey Jefftk, this is a human dimension I wasn't acknowledging elsewhere. Theory is one thing and money is another. ("whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting over" or something like that -- Samuel Clemens)

So in the real world I bet this is what you're talking about: "but there are clickmonkeys out there" or words to that effect.

[edit:] But to be honest, I'm not sure it directly answers the question about entanglements between ad and no ad.


The goal in showing an ad for something irrelevant is to have a control group: one where it is very unlikely that your interaction is going to affect their purchasing your product.


Yaye for A/B testing!


I agree that only conversions matter, but you should be able to track whether a customer originated from an ad click vs. SEO, whether they clicked one ad and had 4 sessions since, etc.

While it's not a perfect system, you should know with a reasonable degree of accuracy how many dollars you get back for every dollar you put in to ad spend.

As far as the SEO traffic issue, this can also be accounted for once you have scaled your ads beyond the levels of what SEO could yield. At low budgets this can be more of an issue, at high budgets much less so.


I don’t know how counting sessions or source of click matters. You still don’t know whether the customer would have ultimately found you without the ad.

Put another way, the only way to tell if a customer will still find you without the ad is to not run the ad.

If you have sufficient traffic you might be able to measure this by turning your ad spend down rather than off and measure the bottom line impact. But other than gross spend changes there’s no way of telling for sure that the ads do anything.


This is like the paid search results that come up when you search for a specific company name. The company's site is just below those paid results, but often the same site is in the paid results but they are further up so are more likely to be clicked.


> You still don’t know whether the customer would have ultimately found you without the ad.

Sure, maybe 100 customers would eventually find you. But if you buy the traffic, you can make them all find you on the same day.

> But other than gross spend changes there’s no way of telling for sure that the ads do anything.

I'll use the most fundamental example:

If someone clicks your ad and buys the product during that session, you know the ad worked. If you keep increasing your ad budget every day, and you are consistently returning $2 for every $1 you spend, you know it's working. Turn off the ads, and the revenue goes away. You'd be surprised how many people make their living doing this.


>If someone clicks your ad and buys the product during that session, you know the ad worked

This is not as clear as you make it seem. Let's say there's a hypothetical product that a consumer only buys once every 5 years. If someone clicks your ad and then immediately buys the product... what if they would have bought it anyway, tomorrow, or 5 minutes from now, without the ad? How can you test that counterfactual?

If I buy cat litter online once a month every month for 5 years by going to example.org/catlitter -- but then they decide to start advertising on facebook, so now I click the facebook ad once a month to buy cat litter from the same site, are the ads "working"?


The idea is because it's happening at scale. If you're getting hundreds or thousands of customers per day, the likelihood of this happening gets lower by some statistical proportion, especially if you don't have the organic exposure.

Also, definition of working: You make more than you spend, and if you stop the ads, you stop making as much.

That said, I'm not arguing for 100% accuracy either. It's certainly not. Simply that it's possible to be more accurate than not, which leads to profitability.

One more also- a comment above about how I failed to mention I'm not talking about paid search ads so much as other types like FB, YouTube, banners, etc.


> [...] Turn off the ads, and the revenue goes away.

This is the experiment from the article. It showed that ads did not affect revenue.


> I agree that only conversions matter, but you should be able to track whether a customer originated from an ad click vs. SEO, whether they clicked one ad and had 4 sessions since, etc.

An ad-click could have been an organic click if the ad wasn't there though, which is where the complexity is.

The ad might have great conversion, but if the customer would have clicked an organic link that navigated to your site anyway then the ad is taking credit for an organic sale.


While you're not necessarily wrong, the distinction lies in how many people see you organically.

If I get 100 organic impressions/day, and then spend $N to get 500/day, I'm speeding the process up, and nearly guaranteeing to get in front of people who would never see me organically.

*Note: I'm largely not talking about paid search ads. Those are definitely an area where you can end up competing with yourself. Sorry to anyone who I replied to earlier, and wasn't clear enough on this with.


> you should be able to track whether a customer originated from an ad click vs. SEO

That's easy to track, but answers the wrong question. It answers whether the person clicked on the ad or the organic link. What we actually want to know is whether this person would convert even without seeing an ad. The only way to answer whether a person would still convert without seeing an ad is to make sure that they don't see an ad.


My major failure in this thread was not specifying from that start that I'm not so much talking about paid search ads (google ads), as much as I mean FB, YouTube, etc. That's the arena where you've really gotta question if you're competing with yourself.

On the flip side of that, most of HN seems to think purely in terms of paid search ads, when there are many other types of online advertising that exist, and that don't have this issue baked into them.

Such is the nature of internet dialogue, I guess lol.


That's a good point. It's a lot harder to cannibalize organic traffic with non-search ads.


Are you conflating a call to action on a channel you already control with advertising? Because in that case you might try f(A), f(A,B) and also f(B): could be a synergistic effect, or they could just click on anything.


> whether they clicked one ad and had 4 sessions since, etc.

That's not trivial to do, both from a technical point of view (browsers - rightfully - fight these kinds of tracking attempts) but also legal (GDPR mandates that the customer opts into this kind of tracking but they have no incentive to do so).


You're right, this is actually a lot harder to recently, with the iOS updates that occurred a year or so ago. It's a space that evolves very quickly.

But this is a good place to point out that, yes - there is nuance to all of this - and I didn't really mean to turn it into a thesis on online advertising (lol) so much as to say:

It's still easy to be more accurate than "Turn it off and see what happens".

Even a semi-sophisticated media buyer is going in with a plan, and some method of measurement.


GDPR doesn't stop me from having ad1.example.com and ad2.example.com landing pages. Aspirationally perhaps, but technically no. I think this is different from fonts.gstatic.com in that it doesn't need to follow people around the internet and it's also not info necessarily going to a third party.


> How do you know your ads aren’t just taking credit for customers who were going to buy anyway?

If you are doing advertising right you build a funnel from awareness through to conversion and track every part of it so you then a/b test your adverts and channels.

Getting advert channel fit is the key to success and can only be done by testing and measuring your adverts. The fact that op couldn't measure the effectiveness of their adverts shows they weren't doing this and their bad outcome should be 100% expected.

If you are just buying adverts in the hope you get more conversions then you are putting those adverts out to die. Burn your money you will probably get more eyes for doing that than untested adverts.


This is now impossible to do on iOS devices.


How is it impossible on iOS?


Click attribution is basically not possible due to new Apple policy on tracking, unless you opt-in.


> How do you know your ads aren’t just taking credit for customers who were going to buy anyway?

If you can't answer that question, then you're not running a proper advertising campaign. You're just throwing money around blindly. Plenty of people do have good answers to that question, though. Unfortunately, plenty of people don't.


> If you can't answer that question, then you're not running a proper advertising campaign.

What is this proper advertising campaign? Does it include turning off ads for terms that rank organically high anyway?


> What is this proper advertising campaign

Well, for our business, proper advertising campaigns have opened new channels for growth, allowing us to reach new people, and build our email list significantly, with a predictable ROI. It's pretty easy to tell if an ad is working when you turn it on, and your email list growth rate instantly doubles -- and all the traffic is coming from a new traffic source. (Obviously, if we were to run Google ads on search traffic, we would check whether our organic search traffic dropped when we turned the ads on, but that's a different point.)


> It's pretty easy to tell if an ad is working when you turn it on, and your email list growth rate instantly doubles -- and all the traffic is coming from a new traffic source.

Maybe for a real tight definition of instantly, but generally this is not true. Imagine the following scenario:

1. You run an ad for ComapnyName.

2. An enthusiastic customer promotes your business in a local bar.

3. The bar attendees search for CompanyName and click on the first result.

Because you ran an ad for CompanyName, the first result is going to be your ad. You will see very nice ROI on that ad. What you won't see in any stats, is that these people would have probably found the organic link anyway, because they were already motivated and searching for CompanyName in particular.

> Obviously, if we were to run Google ads on search traffic, we would check whether our organic search traffic dropped when we turned the ads on, but that's a different point

That wouldn't help either in this imaginary scenario, because these bar attendees are a spike in traffic. Plus if the ad has been running for a longer period, then you won't have accurate organic search traffic stats anymore either, because it's already cannibalized.


> Imagine the following scenario

"Imagination" is the core of the problem here. Plenty of people are imagining various scenarios, whereas people with successful advertising campaigns are just raking in the money -- no need for imagination.

I've turned off plenty of ads when they stopped working. I didn't need to turn them off to discover they stopped working.

Sure, you can imagine a dozen scenarios where an ad campaign doesn't work. Fortunately, I've managed to learn how to focus on the reality of the situation -- and have reaped the rewards in the process.

> you won't have accurate organic search traffic stats anymore either, because it's already cannibalized.

That' not true for us -- as I said before, a successful campaign for us brings in new sources of traffic from new marketing channels. One of the early lessons I learned was to not cannibalize what's already working. For example, we grew our Facebook Page (and email list) from scratch, when we had no Facebook traffic, by using Facebook advertising.

Operating under different brands -- even just for testing purposes, is a one another of the way we deal with this. Of course you can continue to imagine scenarios where we might be making mistakes. I do that as well -- it's called planning. Though, none of that really matters until money is spent (and made or lost).


First let me say that ads in general definitely work, I'm definitely not arguing against that.

What I'm talking about in specific is search ads where the ad is for a term that ranks organically high anyway.

It's not just imaginary either, I've done a lot of over-the-shoulder customer observing. Just recently I saw a friend search for "dropbox" and then click on the first result in Google, which is a paid ad by dropbox for dropbox. They rank #1 anyway!

Now in dropbox's case it might be worth it, because they have enough competitors who would like to steal that ad spot. However for most businesses that's not the case for their top terms.


One problem is the ad industry is quite good at finding ways to take credit for conversions that would have happened regardless, and analytics are all systematically biased in a way that conveniently maximizes the ability to do so.

The idea to simply turn off ads and see the effect is born of a healthy distrust of ad analytics industry bluster.


> One problem is the ad industry is quite good at finding ways to take credit for conversions that would have happened regardless

This is a great counter-point when someone mentions "use conversion tracking!" Conversion tracking is great, but not if they store a cookie for 7/15/30 days and "award" the conversion to the ad, when the customer took a different and varying path to purchase. Sure the ad contributed "some" to the conversion, but not 100%.


I strongly suspect they sometimes show the ad and credit it for the conversion after the user shows initial interest in some specific product, i.e. when the user was already highly likely to buy before seeing the ad. This would explain why you're often flooded with ads for something after you search for it, go to its website, or purchase something there. (We've all had that experience of buying something and then being tailed by ads for that thing for weeks afterwards, even though no sane person would think we were going to buy that thing again in such a short time frame.)

A story to illustrate: there was once a pizza store that had two guys go out into the city to distribute promotional coupons. The coupons had codes on them so the business could attribute sales to each coupon distributor. John went out into the city and tried his best to drum up new business. Chad stood next to the door of the pizza place and handed a coupon to anyone who was walking in. After a month, 98% of the coupons used were from Chad. Chad got a big bonus and John was let go.


Companies that sell ads will do everything they can to convince you there is a measurable difference, but often while the metrics presented to the client are real, they do not always translate to real world impact.

There is no easy way to determine whether this is the case without just comparing when the ads are on and off and somehow dealing with the confounding variables, which isn't easy.


Well that works in some ways, but it can also be very hard to disentangle the actual causal impact of an ad campaign! Absent running an experiment, you don't really know if people would or would not have bought through some other channel without your campaign.

The most striking example is probably the experiment Tadelis convinced eBay to run on their brand-name ads, though the subtlety applies to less obvious cases of questionable ad spend too — https://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/stadelis/Tadelis.pdf


I'll just reference my other replies to the first part here, but thank you for that link too. I'll have to give it a read when I have more time later today


> If this person genuinely thinks that there is no way to measure an ad's performance while it is running, they are either too ignorant to be in business, or they hired someone who lied to them.

Doing a blackout month is a legitimate technique.

I've deeply studied ad performance metrics and they are NOT as conclusive as people might think. If they were, you could just keep increasing the amount of $ spent and the conversions would go up. Ok, not exactly, there is usually a diminishing returns aspect, but you get the point.

A great example of why this requires more analysis is branded vs non-branded search terms on AdWords. Let's say you spend $10k/month on the brand "Mattel" (aka branded) and $10k/month on "toys" (aka non-branded). Mattel likely gets you like a 20x ROAS because people are probably searching for a specific Mattel toy. It's also potentially likely that if you completely turned off branded search you would net the same results.

Ad attribution is NOTORIOUSLY difficult: https://www.optimizesmart.com/what-is-attribution-problem-in... so to pretend like "this guy is an idiot, he doesn't know what he's doing" is disingenuous.


> this person genuinely thinks that there is no way to measure an ad's performance while

This is the case in many situations. The time between initial visit to site to conversion can be weeks, months, or years. Meanwhile, customers will visit site from various platforms. There is no way of attributing value to a single click, it needs to be approximated as an aggregate.


Don't pretend attribution is simple or solved. If that were true there wouldn't be dozens of attribution products, who are still far from perfect.

The Dunning Kruger effect is strong in marketing. The more you learn about marketing the more reason you have to be unsure.


_How would you measure this:_

Does this ad improve conversion compared to not having the ad at all?


Person who isn’t an expert in advertising and doesn’t know how to run tests makes conclusions about advertising by not doing proper testing.

Exciting stuff. This is why you hire an electrician rather than doing your own electrical work. They actually know what they’re doing.


The point you’re trying to make is valid, but it sounds very condescending and not very constructive.

Perhaps you could share how you would have set up the tests instead, and how the OP could improve his?


It's hard to reason from his post, but it seems like he's spending money on branded search terms. E.g. queries that include his website in its name. The effectiveness of branded search terms is absolutely worth discussing, and it's pretty easy to run a small scale test on if it works by comparing organic and paid traffic after the fact.

But the issue is that this article doesn't differentiate between branded and non-branded search terms. Did he run campaigns on non-branded searches like "Registration checker UK" to get build awareness of his service for new customers doing broad searches? Did he compare his organic non-branded search engine presence with his results when running paid ads?

Also, his service doesn't seem like a great match for the advertising channel either. It's hard to turn a profit when your service costs £8. The product - channel fit [0] doesn't seem right. So all in all, not such a great experiment.

https://brianbalfour.com/essays/product-channel-fit-for-grow...


Not them, but this is the info we have;

    I was paying for in-search adverts across multiple search engines, I was commissioning custom made adverts to place in online used car market places. I was spending time optimising the 'bid' in automated advertising system, trying to get the best bang for buck
My questions,

* custom made for whom?

* How did they select them?

* When did they show up?

* How were those terms selected?

* What terms did they select and which performed better?

* Did they track visits using different ones to see which had the best conversions?

* Optimizing can be most impressions or for quality. Basically show to as many people as possible vs fewer but better conversion. We don't know here, but I see most people doing most impressions.


Knowing experts exist, and that test methods exist, does not the parent an expert make.

Why would parent be able to share test methods?


Seems like an expert in advertisement would have a vested interest in the outcome of the experiment.


You can use 3rd party tools to conduct tests so they are not affected by the outcome.


The tools are irrelevant when the person using them has an interest in demonstrating a particular outcome.


The person running the test wants to spend their money effectively, not find out that their advertising is working. Running a test and finding something isn’t working is a positive result - it means you can move your money elsewhere and drive more sales.


Right, but the experiment in this case is to find out whether the job of the person running the test actually makes the difference. Basically, whether they are a scam artist or not.


This may be one of those famous last words, but friend, I do my own electrical work.


Well, the engineering panels around here believe I'm qualified to do my own electrical work, but I wouldn't get on the bureaucracy of convincing my local power company.

Anyway, home wiring is not hard, and many people do it for a living with a ridiculously low amount of qualification (and competence). If you are not touching the public wires, the safety rules are very simple and the odds are good that you can give them more care than somebody that has been doing the work every day for a decade.

(But well, if you don't know how to do it safely, or if you won't be bothered to follow them, you shouldn't be doing it.)


My dad did as well... my job for many years as a child was to stand there with a broom in case it went bad. Be careful!!!


There's a difference between "doing your own electrical work" and "working on live electrical wires"!

Although sometimes the latter happens.

Rubber-soled shoes, one hand in back pocket at all times, non-conducting tools, and a helper with a wooden broom handle who knows mouth-to-mouth resuscitation ... these are all good recommendations. :)


Is "one hand in back pocket at all times" to avoid a circuit across your heart? And what is the wooden broom handle for?


Yes -- one hand does the work and is more likely to come into contact with energized wires or rails. If the other hand is supporting your lean against the conduit or enclosure (grounded), the path is through your heart. We're conditioned to use both hands for everything, so it's extremely easy to "forget" or "cheat just for this step" and use the other hand to balance, or hold, etc. Having your hand firmly in your back pocket is unfamiliar enough that we remember, and far enough that a quick instinctive response is interrupted.

Wooden broom handle is a non-conducting lever that a helper can use to separate you from the energized equipment. The current can cause your hand muscles to spasm in a "gripped" position, so the broom handle might need to be applied with some force. This is a last-resort catastrophic situation response.


The way that electricity flows through a conductive medium, it doesn't matter if the circuit appears to "crosses your heart", because some portion of it will still flow through your heart regardless.

Or, to put another way, you'll still see current at the heart even if it only flows through two fingers on the same hand. And even if it's a really small portion of the current, it doesn't take much to stop a heart.

Plus, there are a virtually unlimited number of proven tools for seeing if the circuit is live (even if there's no current flowing) to rely on such dodgy methods.


Agreed that electrical potential is present in all points of a uniform conductor. And that it takes only a tiny amount of current to interrupt a beating heart (as low as 60mA).

However it is not correct that the path of the current is not important.

Current will not flow between two points of equal electrical potential. There are some complications in the modelling (skin is a better insulator than internal bits, bags of salty moist flesh and bones are not resistively consistent, etc), but you're still in a much better situation to reduce potential difference across your heart, if the external potential difference occurs between two fingers on the same hand, vs two fingers on opposite hands.

OSHA says:

> The currents that pass through the heart or nervous system are the most dangerous. ... If a hand comes in contact with an electrical component with current (and at the same time the other side of your body makes a path to the ground), this will make the current pass through your chest and possibly produce injuries to the heart and lungs.

https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/2019-04/Basic_Elect...


> However it is not correct that the path of the current is not important.

I never claimed this. I claimed that even with the "safest" path through your body, the chance of your heart stopping is still there.

My point is that it's never "safe" to do, and as a homeowner (and even for a vast majority of non-lineman electricians) you never have to do it.


> I never claimed this.

You absolutely did. You said it doesn't matter. It matters.

And I never said anyone would have to work on live wires. And I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

Nevertheless, it does sometimes happen, and being a bit smart about it is a good idea.


The wording from the post that started this discussion is:

> Is "one hand in back pocket at all times" to avoid a circuit across your heart?

To which I responded:

> it doesn't matter if the circuit appears to "crosses your heart", because some portion of it will still flow through your heart regardless.

Which, as we have by now agreed, is the case.

The dispute is about whether that 'portion' is enough to kill you, which I avoided making concrete statements on. I didn't take a stance because the answer is "it depends". The variables that make up the answer are vast, and many folks have survived lightning strikes and died to static discharges thanks to those variables.

> being a bit smart about it

I will still contend that working on live wires with bare skin at all is the opposite of "being a bit smart about it".

If your really being smart about it, and can't avoid it, use tools and protective gear created explicitly for working with live electricity. Or call someone with that gear.


> Plus, there are a virtually unlimited number of proven tools for seeing if the circuit is live (even if there's no current flowing) to rely on such dodgy methods.

Yes. Use those. But this discussion is about when you are working on live wires, and you know you are working on live wires.


A homeowner will never have to do this. And an electrician has the ability to ensure they too don't have to ever work on live wires (despite many's insistence in doing so, something about machismo, etc.).


We agree on this.

I have however had jobs where I really did have to work on energized equipment. Sometimes 480VAC 3-phase, but more commonly single-phase 230/240 VAC 50/60Hz or 120VAC 60Hz. I was appropriately trained for this work.

Some homeowners are too stubborn to do the proper thing when handling electrical equipment. You're not going to change their minds!

The precautions I mentioned previously were some of the more convenient and generally applicable rules that are taught to people who have to work with equipment that is less safe. If followed by stubborn homeowners, they will also be safer. That was my whole point.


The pros seem to give less of a shit about live wires than I do, from what I've seen. And I already give fewer shits than I probably should.


You’re literally risking her life on those things, to save some money ?


I have no idea what you are talking about. I'm risking no one's anything.

At worst, I'm acknowledging reality. Some people sometimes end up working on live wires. If you can't be talked out of this decision (or if it's legitimately not possible to avoid), a dose of caution is important.

Asking an untrained non-adult to be ready with a broom is a fantastically bad idea though. In the worst case, the kid lives with the memory of uselessly smacking their parent's corpse with a broom while the air fills with the smell of ozone and burnt flesh.


I'm interested in how such testing works. What is wrong with his method of advertising-cold-turkey?


The author doesn’t provide and data or specific info on what they did, but a few general points:

1. Seasonality. It sounds like they’re comparing a few months on to a few months off, which likely is affected more by the time of year than anything else. Year over year data would be a better comparison.

2. Attribution windows. If I serve you an ad, then “turn off my advertising”, then you convert, depending on how you look at the data my ad either did drive the conversion or did not. Likely he’s just looking at google analytics with default settings, so he’s missing post-view data and assists.

3. It’s not that difficult to run an actual test, and most advertising platforms give you tools and documentation on how to do so.

4. The author doesn’t understand advertising from a technical perspective and most likely is not doing the analysis correctly. The big red flag is when talking about buying a display ad and it only driving 2 conversions. It sounds like a prospecting ad, which is top of funnel and is not supposed to drive post click conversions. I highly doubt they had an impression tracker on the ad and looked at post view data with different attribution models. Or even multichannel funnel reports in ga. Those would show the actual impact of the banner, not just 2 post click conversions.

I don’t mean to bash the guy but this post is rehashed all the time here and I end up reposting the same stuff.


Thanks for the detailed reply. I didn't interpret the parent as bashing, I think that it's good to be critical of these kinds of posts especially when the analysis is shallow and lacks data.


My experience is similar. I tried on and off for several years to get some traction on adwords to suppliment my organic. I learned everything I could, tweaked campaigns over time. Nothing.

I then hired a reputable certified adwords company. Again, nothing. Literally almost zero conversions over a good period of time. I really wanted it to work, but had to stop the losses after many months of trying.

It could just be my industry though, I know some people do make it work for their business. So I guess try it, but watch for results and don't fool yourself for too long if nothing is working.


> My experience is similar. I tried on and off for several years to get some traction on adwords to suppliment my organic. I learned everything I could, tweaked campaigns over time. Nothing.

When I was running my hyper-local startup, my best conversion rate was through reddit ads on the city subreddits.

Super targeted Facebook ads also worked.

I didn't even try adwords, wrong ad product for the job.

IIRC email sign ups were costing me like ~20-25 cents each. Reddit ads were obscenely effective.


This is fantasticality fortuitous. I was just discussing this very thing with somebody close to me.

He's worked for many years to become the number one in his field — let's say he's a performer of sorts. He's a _very_ hard worker and it's all paid off for him, he's the top hit for when you search for what he does. So naturally, he's frustrated at paying what he says is about 10% of his income to advertising.

I said he could probably get rid of the ads now, if he's already at the top, but then we began to wonder. I wouldn't put it past Google to start pushing his results down, just to get him to spend again.

I'm well aware all the negative terrible things Google has been doing in the last years has likely just left me a little paranoid, but what do you guys think?


the answer here is about the competitive space that he's in and whether his competitor is buying brand terms around his area. if not, he's probably fine and he can use his organic strength to stay tops.


Google ads, at scale, gradually transform into a protection racket.


I don't understand why this has been upvoted. If you read the article in its entirety, there's no point whatsoever.


The author made an excellent point in TFA:

If you do your SEO right and use advertising to build up some brand recognition, you reach the point where your web site appears on the first page of search results alongside your paid ad for your web site.

However, Google has designed their search results to encourage clicking on the ads, so many users who actually find you with search will click the ad you are paying for instead of the search result for your site.

The author presents empirical evidence that not paying for ads doesn't reduce traffic, because users will click the site in the search results, instead of clicking the ad.

That is very much a point, and one that can save people a lot of money if they test it and find their site adn advertising have the same dynamics.


Until your competitors start buying ads under your name. And you have to buy ads back to counter-attack. And Google laughs all the way to the bank.


Do you mean your competitors buying ads for their product, but using your product's name as keywords?

Or do you literally mean your competitors buying ads that deceive the public into thinking they're clicking on your ad which will lead to your site, but it actually goes to their site?

Those are two very different scenarios.


The fighting is most fierce near communization, those edge cases where a brand name is becoming a common name for the item (think Kleenex).

I suspect it's not actually as bad as people may think (if someone searches "Dominos" are they looking for any pizza place, or that particular one), but it does happen.


Both can be done.

First one is more common. Second one depends on your industry and who your competitor is (sleaziness)


Is there a smart counter attack to this?


Branded search terms cost way more for competitors for reasons I can't be bothered getting into, most likely they are losing money by doing it. You can counter it by bidding yourself - which on branded search terms is usually dirt cheap. But ultimately, the only real counter is delivering a better service.


Place ads for their brand that links to a negative review about them?


Try to drum up public outrage to get them to stop? Maybe if they use your trademark there's cause to sue? Otherwise good luck.


People hate advertising and upvote anything that implies it is useless.

Whilst most of HN is employed by advertising companies and their offshoots ...


I did not read this as suggesting advertising is useless, the author says outright that it can help build up a critical mass of brand recognition.

But the author's point is that once you reach that critical mass, advertising may begin to cannibalize your organic search results because users click on your ad instead of clicking on your site in the search results.

I own a copy of "Ogilvy on Advertising" I bought in the 1980s. In it, David Ogilvy basically says, "test, test, test." That's the message here. Test. The advertising you're doing could be useless.

I'm not sure I agree that when you reach a certain point, ALL advertising is useless. Maybe when you reach the point where most of your advertising has no ROI and is cannibalizing your organic SEO, you need to change your spend and try to find ways to get your ads onto search results that don't feature your site.

If you find that works, you can then adjust your SEO and see if you can make that advertising go to zero ROI too. Lather, rinse, repeat.


'Whilst most of HN is employed by advertising companies and their offshoots ...'

If a man knowingly supports a cause that is against his financial interest, thats worth paying attention to


It's not useless, it's predatory, deceiving, and outright hostile. I literally have to screen my entire network to avoid being tracked by it within my own home. I don't answer phone calls because of it. I have to screen media for my children so they're not manipulated by it.


Sounds like you're heavily manipulated by it already.


I think you're intentionally being flippant at my expense, but it's impossible to live in society and avoid advertising's influence.

Facebook and Twitter will adjust who you see content from to increase your likelihood of interacting with advertisement. As more and more social interaction happens online, this can influence who your friends are if you're not careful.

I see no reason to deride someone trying to wrest back some control.


His point is right at the top:

I was spending time optimising the 'bid' in automated advertising system, trying to get the best bang for buck.

Why was I doing it? Everyone else seemed to be doing it.

This was a terrible reason to do it.


Ya but a better lesson would be to do what has ROI. Ads work great, but you have to measure them, and you don't pay for traffic you get for free (such as your brand name).


Discussing the pointlessness of fields like marketing and advertising is catnip on HN.


I think society has been somewhat brainwashed into the importance of online marketing. I like scientific approaches that refute that. For example, I don’t think that people should be following their dentists and plumbers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


> I like scientific approaches that refute that.

No doubt, but this is as far away from scientific as it can get.

"I stopped advertising. My sales rose at the same time. Advertising doesn't work" is basically the thesis, but his only "evidence" is an unreasoned assumption that the two things are casually linked instead of just correlated by the timing.


Agreed. I was being somewhat tangential to the article at hand and responding more to the catnip comparison. I can only recall a few articles that were particularly well-reasoned.


I think it's hard for people to appreciate just how much human behavior is driven by those fields.


What do you mean there's no point? No point in ads - yeah. No point in article - they stated that ads are not universally working. Sometimes you don't need groundbreaking results to make an interesting article.


Er... sure there is. There's a whole 'lessons learned' section with a list of points.


Sure there is. A healthy business' best assets are its customers, and happy customers will tell their friends about your business when it comes up appropriately. Word of mouth is worth far more than web advertising ever will be.


I agree, the post itself is borderline useless, but hopefully it will spawn an interesting discussion here.


People don't read anymore


That title thought


One thing that this article doesn't mention and I'm curious about: while the author didn't see it in this case, if you are in a much more competitive niche, if you completely stop ad pay, what is stopping google from then displaying a competitor who is still paying them for ad space at the top of a search result related to your brand/market niche where you are otherwise the first non-ad result?


Hi, original author here. Great point. In fact other firms seems to be able to get away with even using your brand-name in their advertising. Simply put, nothing stops this, and it will happen. It comes down to how confident the customer is looking specifically for you and not anyone else. In competitive niches, this could be tricky, but if they searched on your brand name, there is a high chance they'll dig to find your website.


The nonexistence of a competitor in many cases. But yes you’ve hit the dirty secret of search ads — they are often a highway toll to receive the traffic you would probably already receive barring fierce competition


Nothing, which is why you may get to the point where you're advertising to protect your brand rather than advertising to build your business.


I find it completely plausible that advertising is a zero sum game for the reason above, and a negative sum game when you consider the externalities and the money spent on it.


IIRC, Google had a rule that you cannot bid on trademark names. Not sure if that changed lately.


These posts are always useless without relevant information. Convince me that you know *how* to advertise and then tell me that it "didn't work" and we can have an actual conversation about it. Author didn't even show the actual ads! Targeting, timing, copy, creative, landing pages, retargeting, follow-up... Give us something to work with here.


It's a nice anecdote saying that people should validate their assumptions before continuing. In this case, the author proved that advertisement doesn't work for him, and that he can turn it off, at no loss.

One point though, this business seems well established. At that point, turning off advertising may not be so damaging. What would be interesting to know is, would he reach his current profitability if he didn't start with advertising, and depending on the organic search from the get go?


Another conclusion could be that he was doing bad advertising, and should have improved it.


Probably the best case for no advertising is Tesla: they still did loads of marketing, just not any direct web/tv/etc advertising.


>and depending on the organic search from the get go?

You don't even need search, as some businesses to which search and ads are essentially useless haven proven. Think of closed/invite-only community platforms: they will have little value to anyone who just gets there via an ad or search, since they have no entryway to any community.


The author says right in the article that paid search is valuable for bootstrapping when you have no or few users, which suggests that the author does not think they would have reached their current profitability without some paid search early on.


What I missed from the article was the question if the author measured the goal performance of their advertising. Also the ROI. Additionally it is (or should be) common knowledge to check if you are canabalizing your SEO results because in your niche you are not working against other organic search results or advertising of your competitors.

Because this would have potentially shown from the get go if advertising in this case was unnecessary or if it supported the business until SEO had cached up.


> The chart above shows our average conversion per cost over the lifetime of our adverts. The average was 3.25, meaning we were being told for every £1 we spend, a user spent £3.25. Sounds amazing right? Just spend more money on adverts, surely. Nope. We turned off all adverts. Sales increased.

This isn't really valuable without more and better information. The post is almost totally devoid of data.

For all I, and maybe he, knows, sales might have increased more if he kept advertising.


You can't do an statistically correct test on everything. At some point you have to just assume something (yeah, even when doing a formal test).

Here he assumed that, given there was no new fact on the short period he analyzed, he could expect short term trend to stay the same if he did nothing. It's a perfectly reasonable assumption.


Recently, I was using facebook ads for awhile. The CPC was inexpensive, I had many signups to my site.

However after 2 days, 0% of the facebook signups stayed on the site vs 50% of the Google Ads signups. Even if your metrics look good for the ad, make sure you add additional tracking.


Honestly, this genre of "Look! We don't do X!" topics on HN recently have been a little absurd. Advertising has it's place. If you're buying ads on your own brand name then yes, you're wasting your time, but since advertising is quite expensive I would've thought you would put some effort into doing it well. It's the same thing for the unit testing article and the article about staging environments. Yes, if you do something badly, it's probably going to be worse/more expensive/slower than not doing it at all. But the whole genre could be concisely summarised as "Be concious of where you are focusing your efforts".


If you don’t buy ads in your brand name your competitor might and May encourage users to try them instead. Even if you lose 5% each time, that can build up.

Companies do this all the time. Even for something like App Store submissions. People use their competitor name as a keyword to increase their top of funnel.


I'm sure it happens, but you've got to be looking at that as a pure cost. You're not generating any revenue from people searching your brand, and you're paying significant sums for click through on people who already had the intention to come to you. In some ways I could see the normal position being "We only advertise on our competitors brands" because atleast that way you are picking off your competition, not bidding up people who already wanted to come to you.


“Last year, a study by the UK’s ISBA found that almost half of every advertising dollar spent on tracking-based programmatic advertising is eaten by the adtech ecosystem before it reaches a publisher”

https://www.euractiv.com/section/digital/opinion/advertising...

https://www.isba.org.uk/knowledge/executive-summary-programm...


I’ve only ever seen defense of advertising by the people working in the advertisement industry or those exploiting ads, as seen by the comments here.

Every other human on this planet is fucking annoyed by ads, or has evolved a blind spot for them and ignores them.

When was the last time anyone in your social circle said, “I saw an ad for it, let’s buy that!”?

The ads racket employs some of the worst of societal ills: Manipulation, deception, greed, vandalism of public spaces, wasting people’s time without their consent, all to advocate a cycle of endless consumption… not to mention how some ads systems are just a front for spying.

If an individual displayed these behaviors, he or she would be considered extremely creepy and disgustingly clingy (SIT HERE and PAY ATTENTION to me for 30 seconds!) but the ads industry literally selects for and rewards these traits on a massive scale.

Please, stop this guessing game of violating people’s privacy trying to figure out what they want to see and when it should be forced upon them, and just develop better search/filter/discovery/consensual recommendation systems: Let us TELL YOU what we want, dammit.

But of course that would only benefit the product creators and service providers and consumers, not the ads people whose livelihood depends on flattering the naked emperor for his non-existent clothes, so here we must suffer.


It's pretty obvious why this site didn't need advertising. It had good SEO, and SEO is what matters for this kind of website. Someone in the UK who wants to check a car will Google it and they will find this website.

Other channels are probably much less impactful. I care about checking a car when I want to check a car, and at that time I will search for that service. I don't care about checking a car when ad guys want me to care about checking a car. I'm not going to subliminally remember to use TotalCarCheck when I buy a car because I saw an ad weeks ago. I'm going to Google it and I'm going to go to the top result.

And yet the ad people in these comments are getting all their hackles up that anyone would dare question the value of advertising in each and every and all possible situations. Obviously if it's not working for you, you just aren't doing it right and you need to pay top dollar for some Ad Professionals to get in there and fix it for you.

Seems a little insecure to me. Is it so hard to admit that some businesses just don't benefit that much from certain kinds of advertising?

Or maybe because the ad industry is a Paperclip Maximizer, and admitting something like that might fail to maximize the paperclips, it cannot be admitted?


A lot of comments, probably from marketers with a vested interest in the status quo, seem to make the argument "better marketers would achieve better results." But I haven't seen a single citation arguing that 1) advertising works at all or 2) differential impacts from different marketers.


90%+ of marketers are bad at their job, but since everyone else is, too, it doesn't seem to matter.

New/incremental sales (think brand agnostic, high funnel terms with intent like boston electrician or cleveland mortgages) are out there, but their costs typically approach the lead's intrisnic value. If you are paying $10/click and converting 10% of clicks to leads, you're at $100 for a lead. Of those leads, if you close 25%, you're at $400 acquisition cost. Maybe great for a SaaS or insurance company with a high LTV, but awful for a plumber with an average call of $250. At this point, paid ads are basically a game of trying to out-optimize your click to lead and lead to sale funnels relative to your competitors unless you want to give all of your margin to an ad network.


No matter how much the internet gets "sanitized" or "civilized" it's embedded in my DNA to never trust any online ad. The first thing my brain does on a new page/screen is separate the real parts from the junk, and I don't even perceive the junk anymore. It's become an instinct that causes me to skip or miss sections in text books because if they get cute with the formatting it can trigger the same reflexes. If I were to break this habit completely (not that I want to) I don't think I have it in me to ever believe a product or company in an online ad is even real, let alone legitimate. That's just how I see online ads. I don't trust any ads but if it's on TV or a billboard I at least believe it's a real if scum sucking company.


Oh man! I remember reading awhile back that the same thing happened at eBay. eBay actually performed the same experiment and found that people were not finding eBay through ads. At least not enough to matter. If anyone has a source for this, let me know. I can't find the link I had on it.


Can anyone here remember an add they saw yesterday or one they clicked on this year? I can't...


I just don't understand, why this text got so much attention.

In Russian this usually named Captain Obviousness.

- Ineffective ads are extremely typical thing on established highly concurrent markets, even if we assume, effectiveness where measured with extremely high accuracy.

I believe, author will create another post, with much more details, on how he become to his conclusions.

I mean, how measured ad effectiveness, how made a-b testing and/or marketing researches; how many tests where made with changing ad details (color, shape, time to run ad, targeting, etc), to make most effective ads.


Especially in online advertising measuring your success is rather simple. So at any point in time you should be able to have numbers to show for your efforts.

While the article sounds promising the lack of data really makes it useless.


I stopped eating for a day and nothing happened. Therefore, food is useless.


> Over 85% of our organic search traffic comes from users typing in our brand name - Total Car Check. If they see an advert at the top of the organic search results, for the user, its just a shortcut to get to the site, especially since Google started putting organic search results below the fold in many search results, except it would cost us money to buy a user who was going to find us anyway.

Sure, but you wouldn't want your competitor to effectively rank #1 for your brand. I've always viewed this like an extortion racket.


Absolutely! I remember Basecamp's CEO tweeting about this https://twitter.com/jasonfried/status/1168986962704982016

In the replies Google says: "we don’t restrict trademarked terms as keywords. We do restrict trademarked terms in ad text if the trademark owner files a complaint"

It's a gamble on the strength of your brand to not buy that ad. I think it makes sense that eBay can do away with it, because people typing "eBay" in Google will scroll down for eBay, they won't click on "Company X - Best eBay alternative." Most brands aren't that strong...


freakanomics podcast has two part episode touching upon all the debates / arguments going on in this thread

https://freakonomics.com/podcast/does-advertising-actually-w...

https://freakonomics.com/podcast/does-advertising-actually-w...


Good advertising works, good advertising is hard so hard that even advertising agencies are not able to produce it most of the time. It's more a question of time and space I always go for opportunistic advertising is there something in the aether or is there a trend coming up which my product perfectly fits? That's the time to ramp up ad spending. There just is no need to have campaigns running just to produce background noise. Nobody cares about it most of the time not even yourself.


I had the EXACT experience with both adwords and facebook budgets. I kept remarketing on but cut the other campaigns and our growth rates didn't change, and our CAC dropped like a rock. The key word rates in our industry are ridiculous because we have overfunded competitors throwing away money trying to funnel customers into higher margin products. We were literally throwing money away competing for keywords with companies that have different cost structures.


I think major brands in particular are wasting a lot of money on ads. For example searching Macbook in google returns an ad for apple.com as the first result and the same exact link as the first non promoted link. Why on earth is Apple paying for an ad in this case? It's literally wasted money. I can't imagine that having an ad link above the real link gives them any revenue delta


Could there be a more perfect storm than the confluence of advertising and medicine in the United States of America?

Medicine in this country has been characterized as a "confuseopoly" where the consumer is "enabled" to choose, but not on price or quality. Banks are much the same. Does this have some bearing on the abdication of basic services and constant churn of add-ons?


When I do a search for a site that I know will come up first in results and I see an ad up too for that same site, I feel sad. And I scroll past the ad and click on the non-ad link and I think about why this is a thing. As long as google rules the browser and keeps pouring money into being the default search this will be a thing. It’s tragic.


Great article with a REALLY great summary about fixing problems by subtracting and not always just by adding. Thanks for the share!


> In the end I decided the only real way to tell if what we were doing was working, was to turn it all off, for several months to see if there was a measurable difference.

This is how he should have started. It’s called incrementality. You have a control group with no ads and you compare against a group shown ads. Then you can measure lift.

This is Marketing 101.


ITT: ad spend koolaid drinkers that the online ad industry depends upon to attempt ad spend for every half baked idea


Seems like a good reminder that invalidating a hypothesis is sometimes easier than validating it.


long ago ran a little computer game company. early on I'd spend <awkwardly-large-amount> on Google advertising, and that channel resulted in say a <= $100 revenue over company lifetime

I'd then go spend say $200 to attend a game convention, with my own private little display booth, and... it resulted in >$200 in revenue from game sales. (forget numbers exactly but it was far better return than buying Google search ads ever was.)

granted it might have been because my Google ad placement/messaging was not tuned ideally -- who knows. But I always value concrete results over theory or might-have-beens. and so its effected my views on advertising ever since


This reminds me of this article I read last year:

https://www.nutshell.com/blog/facebook-spend-experiment


I am blown away that online ads work at all. I just assume every ad is a scam.


Summary:

I ran online advertising myself with no knowledge or experience and it did not go well.

How surprising!

For context, for over a decade across thousands, maybe tens of thousands of campaigns, a 30% increase in sales and leads has been a low benchmark that is easily achieved within 60 days of acquiring a client with few exceptions. As the space has become more congested, it has not become more congested with capable people, actively identifying lower competition mid to end funnel terms has remained a very stable and reliable method. You'll also find that so few digital advertisers are actively modifying and testing landing pages and expanding that inventory of landing pages based on what their conversions teach about their audience.

The language of the article makes it clear he never should have added a credit card to an ad account.


To summarize the article: "I paid to show up both in the paid (SEA) and organic (SEO) search results. I switched off the first and the other one is still there!"

For some unknown reason he seems to be surprised by that.


These optimizations are great if you’re selling things people are looking for. However, when you’re selling something people want but don’t yet know it even exists, the problem is thornier.


Couldn't this really be a case of, they're so well known now that they don't need to advertise? If the did this when they started, probably things would be different.


The best way is always putting right efforts. Ads and paid campaigns are never long lasting for any business. The genuine ways may take time but the best for long term business.


Traditional advertising is becoming less and less effective. The brands that are having the most success right now use TikTok. They don't necessarily advertise, but instead create content on the platform. It comes off a lot more genuine. For example, Duolingo and their creepy giant stuffed owl stalking people who didn't do their Spanish lessons: https://digiday.com/marketing/how-duolingo-is-using-its-unhi...


Duolingo also interacts with the community in the comments under random videos


This article is basically an advertisement! However, not everyone can get promoted to front page of HN. Just wondering how the OP get his story upvoted so much.


Use Adguard or uBlock Origin to get rid of pesky ads. I wonder if there is a ROI on digital ads. Does it always correlate with the sales?


advertising arms race. if you're a startup with millions in ad spend and a mandate to spend it in a couple years, how do you spend these millions? the same way all the other startups do, by dumping into google, instagram (fb), amazon.

makes me wonder how many of these same VC's also own large positions in said advertising companies?


Very glad to see this article on a used car startup included the phrase "your mileage will vary."


TLDR seems to be, advertising might be helpful when you are starting out, but once you are established it is probably a waste of money.


Why not excluding the brand name as negative phrase keyword?


Hush now, this is supposed to be a secret!




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