by  Bob Hoffman (@adcontrarian), San Francisco Bay I have to admit that I get a great deal of deliciously perverse pleasure from reading reports that online ad hustlers are picking the pockets of marketing morons and their clueless but oh-so-fashionable agencies.

Apparently there’s a lot of hanky-panky going on in the “murky” world of online ad exchanges. An article in Adweek last week had this to say…

“Indeed, while the Web has never been short of tricksters…a new breed of cheat is fast becoming a plague in the exchange world: the ghost publisher…very little of these sites’ audiences are real people. Yet big name advertisers are spending millions trying to reach engaged users on these properties.”

How wonderfully delicious is that? Here are some examples they give:

Adweek points out a site called Sounds fascinating doesn’t it? It’s part of a group that also includes No, I’m not kidding.

According to Adweek, these sites “typically offer 20 million to 25 million impressions via ad exchanges.” Yeah, sounds about right to me. Who wouldn’t want to read about tooth brushing or baby powder? But that doesn’t stop dimwit advertisers like Mercedes and JetBlue from winding up on these sites.

Adweek quotes one online buyer.

“These sites have hundreds of millions of bogus impressions, and those illegitimate sites are regularly in the top 10 by volume for major SSP’s,”

Another example, given by Adweek,  is of a company called Alphabird:

“Alphabird’s properties are consistently among the top suppliers of inventory within exchanges and SSPs…according to multiple sources, a large number of Alphabird’s sites are rife with traffic produced by bots… In fact, among the Alphabird sites frequented by bots rather than people, 75 percent of the audience is overlaps. In other words, a huge proportion of the audience for also visits”

Yup. I know the first thing I do after reading football news is click around to get some fashion updates. Major advertisers on Alphabird sites include Budget, BMW, Virgin, JetBlue, and Pillsbury.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit here that I don’t know a damn thing about ad exchanges, bogus or otherwise. I’m just taking Adweek‘s word for all this. As for the sites in question, they claim that they are not the source of all the phony traffic and, in fact, they are the victims here. Colour me officially sceptical.

Either way, it is very satisfying to meditate on the knowledge that someone is screwing the gullible chuckleheads who, driven by agency nitwits, dive willy-nilly into the hideous joke that is online advertising.

Adweek sums it up well:

“…you might come away wondering why any major brand even bothers with online advertising.

Not only are banners dull and clickthrough rates low, but all the technology flooding the industry promising perfect targeting perfection can’t even deliver real human audiences much of the time.”

Hmmm, I seem to recall reading exactly that sentiment somewhere around here for the last five years.

– The Ad Contrarian is Bob Hoffman, ceo of Hoffman/Lewis advertising in San Francisco and St. Louis. Hoffman is the author of The Ad Contrarian and 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising. Reprinted from his blog The Ad Contrarian.

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