by Bob Hoffman (@adcontrarian), San Francisco Bay  In journalism there is a phenomenon called “burying the lead.” It happens when an incompetent reporter doesn’t understand the essential point of a story, and buries it beneath secondary points.

In the advertising business, we also bury the lead. But mostly, we do it intentionally.

adcontra“Our click rate was .042% which is about 22% above the category norm of .035%. Our re-targeting really helped with a .7% rate. By using behavioral scoring we achieved… and our optimization matrix…this lead to an uplift rate of… and a year-over-year ROI increase of almost 33%.”

I have been at a few too many of these “bury the lead” meetings.

The meeting will continue on to discuss how the re-targeting was implemented and how we optimized and what behavioural elements were included in our plan and how we can continue to increase our year-over-year ROI, and will never get around to the real story.

The real story is this: For every 10 000 ads that were delivered we got 4 clicks. And we don’t know how many of those clicks were fraudulent and how many were accidental.

The era of “big data” is quickly becoming the era of “big bullshit” — bullshit on a grander scale than ever before. We’ve always had ability to bullshit with words. Now we have the ability to bullshit with math. We’ve always had bullshit artists. Now we have bullshit scientists.

For a wonderful analysis of how we are raising irrelevancy and obfuscation to new heights, I highly recommend this post by Doc Searls. Doc is a brilliant guy who was one of the writers of The Cluetrain Manifesto, one of the foundational documents of the digital era. I have, at times, poked fun at it. But I have great regard for Doc and his intellect. Here’s a snippet from his post:

When I was doing research for The Intention Economy, the most important input I got came from Doug Rauch, the retired president of Trader Joe’s. One big reason for Trader Joe’s success, he told me, is…that it minimizes marketing bullshit. It has no loyalty program, no coupons, no discounts and none of the expenses any of those involve, including the cost of running a big data mill. …By avoiding this kind of thing, Trader Joe’s spares itself the cognitive overhead required to rationalize complicating the living shit out of everything, which is what marketing tends to do—and does now, more than ever, with Big Data.

Here’s a pretty good rule of thumb for understanding what’s really going on at the next online advertising presentation you attend: The deeper the dive, the more calculatedly they’re burying the lead.

The Ad Contrarian is Bob Hoffman (@adcontrarian), the author of The Ad Contrarian and 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising. Reprinted from his blog The Ad Contrarian.


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