Russian "Methbots" show we need to ditch our digital advertising addiction

Joe Wade
Follow Joe
Chaos Computer Club Annual Congress
Methobots generate an army of automated web browsers to fake views of as many as 300m video ads per day (Source: Getty)

The advertising industry had a serious problem in 2016.

In recent years, the rise of digital advertising has gone from a new and welcome thrill for marketers, to a full-on addiction that has left brands robbed of money, and the reality of what has been going on behind their backs.

It was only a matter of time before we saw something on the scale of the "Russian Methbots" scandal that hit in December – a massive online scam that employs an army of automated web browsers to fake views of as many as 300m video ads per day, tricking media companies and brand-name advertisers into paying millions for online ad placements that were never seen by humans.

While the industry has been getting high on programmatic advertising and automated media spend, it turns out that we have cooked up a truly toxic concoction of ad fraud, fake views and no real engagement.

In the US, a study by the Association of National Advertisers estimated that advertisers could waste almost £6bn this year on ads that people will never see. And it is a global problem.

It is damaging to brands and businesses, and a serious wake-up call for advertisers.

Media agencies are addicted to racking up fake views peddled by the likes of Google’s TrueView, and dodgy video view counts (30 seconds for YouTube, 3 seconds for Facebook) that the tech media companies have been implicit in promoting to brands.

Getting viewed has never been easier. But a view doesn’t mean anyone has paid any attention, engaged with or enjoyed the content. Marketers need to base results around engagement rates such as likes, comments and shares to ensure.

To do this, marketers need to invest in content that people actually give a damn about. Not online ads they will block, because they are interruptive or just plain rubbish.

The key to making content that really engages people is not just about making it excellent and compelling. It is about adding in hooks to the creative that will appeal to different audiences as well as knowing what is going to trend and making it work on the day.

2017 needs to be the year that the industry gets clean of its poor choices. Leave the Methbots and the quick high of media spend-reliant strategies behind.

Hold the likes of Facebook and Google to account on measurement metrics. Hold agencies to account for actual results through levels of engagement.

New Year’s resolution: ditch the digital advertising addiction.

Get business-healthy.

Joe Wade is managing director and co-founder of Don’t Panic

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

Related articles