Under the hood of a Criteo ad campaign PLUS announcing Check My Ads

We took an ad campaign from $1200/day to $40/day. Surprise! No change in performance.

Welcome back to BRANDED, the newsletter exploring how marketers broke society (and how we can fix it).

Here’s what new with us this week:

  • TOMORROW, THURSDAY JUNE 11: Claire will be making her debut as an adtech expert with Joshua Lowcock, Dr. Augustine Fou, Louis-David Mangin, and DoubleVerify’s Roy Rosenfeld. Sign up HERE for the entertainment. 

  • AdRoll has confirmed they are no longer serving The Gateway Pundit.

  • Rubicon Project has also confirmed with us that they have dropped The Gateway Pundit from their inventory.


Every week since we started BRANDED, we’ve had one big call-to-action: check your ads. It’s likely you’re funding racism and disinformation, and you’re probably overspending too.

We reached out recently to Andrew Lissimore, CEO of Vancouver-based e-commerce company Headphones.com, to alert him that we’d seen his ads on EpochTimes.com, a conspiracy theory site. 

Headphones.com is the destination for high-end headphones. Andrew’s team has built a strong brand by investing in their community of audiophiles and by selling high-quality products backed by a 365-day return policy. Andrew told us his company invests a small portion of their budget for retargeting, using one vendor: Criteo. Criteo had given him the impression he could “set it and forget it.” Our message caught him by surprise. 

Andrew showed us his Criteo dashboard. In this newsletter, we’re going to show you what Criteo tells brands, and what we found under the hood. 

What they tell you

Here’s what brands hear from Criteo.

Criteo is: 

...an ad retargeting company

You should hire them to follow prospective customers around the web to keep your brand top of mind.  

...keeping your brand safe

Criteo tells you that you can trust them to place your ads in brand safe environments. In 2016, they announced that they partnered with Integral Ad Science, and said:

“The quality of the sites on which our ads are displayed is of paramount concern to both Criteo and our clients. Our new partnership with Integral Ad Science allows our clients across the globe to be confident that their consumers receive the best, most personalized and relevant ad experience possible. We’re pleased to partner with Integral Ad Science as we continue to meet industry and client standards when it comes to brand safety.”

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm

The reality 

It’s hard to know which sites are driving sales

Andrew’s default dashboard showed impressive aggregate impression, click-through, and conversion rates (BIG NUMBERS!). But, there was no way to tell which individual sites were responsible for driving sales. He reached out to his Criteo rep for site-by-site conversion rates, but didn’t hear back.

Criteo doesn’t have a handle on their inventory

We started by combing through for bad faith publishers. On the list, we found about two dozen websites promoting racism, COVID-19 disinformation, and extreme hate speech. (Including The Gateway Pundit, which Criteo dropped just last week after a Bloomberg reporter’s inquiry.)

95% of the sites were useless

Most of the remaining sites in Criteo’s list are what you’d call “long tail” and racked up less than a couple dozen impressions without any clicks, contributing questionable value to the campaign. There were also random Android apps and a LOT of websites from Latin America even though Headphones.com doesn’t ship outside the U.S. and Canada. 

Andrew’s spend went from $1200/day to $40/day

After speaking with us, Andrew made three simple changes:

  1. He blocked the bad faith publishers we flagged

  2. He blocked those random Android apps

  3. He blocked websites outside of the U.S. and Canada

After checking his ads, Andrew’s ad spend with Criteo dropped from $1,200 per day to $40-50 per day without any change in performance. 

We’ve said this before… if you like to blow money, DM us for our Venmos and we’ll be happy to take it off your hands!

In all seriousness though, as marketers we would consider…

  • Giving away a pair of headphones to reviewers every day

  • Hiring several people for your marketing team 

  • Reinvesting in our company

How would you spend $1100 per day to grow your company?

SOME PERSONAL NEWS: We’re launching Check My Ads

It’s clear that the way we’re buying ads right now is bad for society and bad for our wallets. So, we are staging an intervention. 

For years, we’ve watched brands struggle to avoid funding hate, bigotry, and disinformation. Now, we’re offering to help. You can be intentional about what you support, who you associate with, and how much you spend. 

Being proactive and strategic feels a lot better than playing whack-a-mole. With Check My Ads, we are guiding a new generation of marketers towards safe and sustainable advertising practices.

At Check My Ads, we will

  • Review your ad placements for you 

  • Help you invest in sustainable marketing practices, and

  • Help you advertise in line with your values

Visit our new website! We’re taking clients. You can reach out to us at hello@checkmyads.org

And, if you want to support us, share this tweet:


We’ll tell you more next week. 🙂 See you soon!

Claire and Nandini

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