Bob Hoffman: “We don’t need adtech”

Submitted by: Ulbe Jelluma 03/05/2017

Bob Hoffman is a well-known speaker and author on marketing and advertising. He has some controversial and much-discussed articles on his blog The ad contrarian. As a former head of agency and copywriter at various advertising agencies he has an outspoken view on different matters of the industry. One of his recent articles is very interesting in the context of the current discussions about effectiveness, online tracking, personalisation and privacy.

I’m sharing the entire article with you as the content discusses the essence of technology overtaking the human interaction.

I’m a copywriter.
I don’t know very much about technology. I also don’t know very much about media buying or selling.
So why am I shooting my mouth off about ad tech?
Because although I don’t know much about software or media, I think I know a little something about bullshit.
I spent 41 years in the agency business. You think you’re full of shit? I have a lifetime achievement award.
And I think a bunch of software people and some global agency people have gotten together and sold us a bunch of dangerous bullshit known as ad tech.
But we’ll get to that in minute.

First, I believe that on the whole we advertising and marketing people are good people. We are hard-working and well-meaning.
We want to help our brands and our clients succeed. We want to make good products for consumers and provide them with good service.
If the realisation came to us that something we’re doing might be marginally beneficial to our company but was clearly harmful to consumers, clearly harmful to our industry, and clearly harmful to society, I would hope we would have the integrity to give it some serious scrutiny.
I’m afraid that is the situation we find ourselves in today.
It is hard for us to imagine that a technology we are using – that began with the simple and benign purpose of delivering online ads to websites – has morphed into a monster.

We never intended it to be so. But it’s time to face reality, ad tech – as it is currently practiced – is a menace.

It is powered by tracking – which is just a more pleasant word for surveillance – and it has lead to all kinds of dangerous mischief.
It is subverting our industry’s relationship with the public.
It has enabled a cesspool of corruption and an ocean of fraud.
It places personal and private information about us within the reach of criminals, governments, and other potential malefactors.
It has devalued the work of legitimate online publishers.
It is degrading our news media and journalism.
It is distrusted by marketers.
It is despised by the public.
Other than that, it’s fucking great.

Let’s do a little data-driven review of the facts.
- First, over 600 million web-connected devices are now armed with ad blockers. According to Doc Searls author of The Intention Economy, this is the largest boycott of anything in the history of humanity.
- Second, according to this organisation, about 90 per cent of you are going to review your programmatic relationships this year. I cannot imagine a more unambiguous vote of no-confidence for the ad tech industry.
- Ad tech has enabled a massive transfer of money – billions of dollars – from you to middlemen. About 60 per cent of your programmatic ad budget is being scraped by ad tech middlemen.
- Ad tech drives money to the lowest quality publishers. Ad tech’s value proposition is this: we will find you the highest quality eyeballs at the shittiest possible locations. This has resulted in the struggle for existence among quality publishers and the brand safety crisis we are currently in the midst of.
- Dollars not driven to the shittiest possible locations are driven to Facebook and Google which some marketers think of as safe havens but are, in fact, an arrogant duopoly who have refused to abide by widely-accepted standards of openness and transparency.
- And what has ad tech given us in return? An overall engagement rate that is usually reported at about 6 clicks per 10,000 ads served. Solve Media says a consumer is more likely to complete Navy Seal training than click on a banner ad.
- Ad tech is also the economic engine behind fake news. One of its most pernicious effects is the corruption of journalism and the scourge of click bait.
- And then, of course, there’s fraud. Within eight years online ad fraud, enabled substantially by ad tech, may become the second largest source of criminal income in the world.
- Finally, everything the ad tech industry has ever told us about privacy and security has, in the fullness of time, turned out to be complete horseshit. They are incompetent, irresponsible, and dangerous.
Technology is a trial and error endeavour. Nobody gets technology right the first time. The Wright brothers didn’t, Thomas Edison didn’t, Steve Jobs didn’t. And guess what? We didn’t either.

We don’t need ad tech as it is currently configured.
We can do online advertising better, more successfully, and more profitably without spying on the public, destroying our credibility, enriching criminals, degrading our news media, and endangering our freedoms.

We are dealing with a very clear risk-reward situation here. The rewards of ad tech, if any, have been quite low. The risks have become enormous.
Why are 600 million devices now armed with ad blockers? It’s not a mystery. It is because ad blockers are currently our only defence against a technology that started benignly and has morphed into a monster.

Bob Hoffman -The Ad contrarian