It’s a sad truism of the human state that no sooner do we create some amazing advancement of technology then someone comes along and develops an antidote to the benefit. Think computers followed by viruses, think credit card followed by cloning and identity theft; almost anything we’ve ever done has been compromised by the tendency for evil to follow good around like some kind of parasitic pariah.

Take real time bidding and advertising exchanges for example. Within one hundred milliseconds of someone accessing a web page, the system has identified their browsing habits, along with demographic and preference data, put the target up for auction and sold the ad space to an interested party for immediate exposure to that user.

Even if the thought of the real-you being so easily sold on is a little discomforting, you have to admit that the very fact that we can do that, in the mere blink of an eye, is pretty incredible. For the advertiser such targeting pushes up the click-through rate substantially, compared to more random exposure, which in turn has pushed up the pay-per-click rates to reflect the benefit. 

Except that, with our traditional negative innovation tendency, it’s almost impossible to tell whether that click-through was a human being, who might buy something from you, or a robot, who definitely won’t. Criminal gangs have developed the robotic algorithms that allow them to penetrate the automated planning, bidding and buying exchanges set up by the publishers and advertisers, pulling in the ads (and revenue) but never seen by human eyes.

How big is this scam? Well, one leading ad verifier has estimated that 1.6 billion ads have been billed as seen, but in fact have only ever been viewed by ‘bots’. Some have estimated that around 20% of click-through stats are very dubious indeed, but that’s probably a rather dubious stat in itself. The fact is that, with this stuff happening at light speed, the percentage of non-people viewing could be anything.

The only beneficiary from all of this has been the essentially people-centric native advertising movement. Because the qualitative nature of the people-publisher-advertiser chemistry is what makes native such a powerful way of communicating and creating relationships, it is way out of the reach of quantitative robotic click fraud.

Advertisers have always been torn between being driven by statistically justifiable ‘opportunity to see’ type of media planning strategies, and the longer term relationship building strategies that are so much harder to empirically justify in a short marketing budget cycle.

However, if the apparently simpler approach of leaping for the latest automated technology turns out to be completely compromised by robotic infection, then those fundamental strategies of actually building relationships with consumers by providing them with native content that provides intrinsic value, start to make a lot more sense.

Native advertising is founded on trust and respect holding the publisher-consumer-advertiser triangle together; but neither trust nor respect are usually in the language of robots.

Author Adam Rock

More posts by Adam Rock

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