Welcome to the lemon market

It's time for us to remember that 99 out of 100 websites are absolutely worthless.

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

What’s new here? A few updates from our end:

Have you heard this bonkers Chase Bank story?

It has been a little over three years since Chase Bank first discovered that they could cull down their ad campaigns from 400,000 websites to 5,000 — with no change in ROI.

It’s a wild story that you may not have heard: In early 2017, Chase checked on their ads and found they were appearing by default on 400,000 websites. They then swapped in a manual whitelist of 5,000 and their performance... stayed the same. Really, who among us hasn’t spent years advertising on 395,000 websites that are totally worthless? (Chase spent 2.2 billion dollars on advertising in 2017, so you can imagine the dollar amount we’re talking about here.)

There has been no meaningful change in ad tech since then. Certainly there’s been no overhaul to the systems we depend on to buy and sell our ads. Maybe the fact that Chase Bank is a multinational corporation that can absorb the costs of throwing 98.75% of their ad placements into the wind numbed the blow of that story, because it didn’t seem to change anything. 

Today, we are all Chase Bank, cluelessly buying ads and hoping that not too many of them are lemons. That’s because we are operating in a market for lemons - a market where there is information asymmetry between buyers and sellers. 

As we face the paring down of our marketing budgets for pandemic times, it’s time to start reconsidering what our limit is for buying ads that add no value to our marketing goals, have no ROI, and are sitting in corners of the web that could harm our brands. 

We’d like to show you a way out of the lemon market.

The citrus content is high in adtech 🍋

Adtech is a lemon market if we’ve ever seen one. We’ve found that sellers work to keep CPMs low by stocking their inventory with a limited number of quality sites and a lot of garbage sites (lemons). Together, the price averages out into what feels like a good deal. Only the seller knows how many lemons they sold you - there’s a reason they don’t encourage you to check your ads.  

Sure, some of you may still be in a place where you can afford to throw 98.75% of your ad placements into the wind. But for the rest of us tasked with bringing down our customer acquisition costs, we need our ads to work for us.

So where should we be spending our money? Well, let’s remember the basics of advertising — specifically the two main reasons we advertise in the first place:

  1. We want conversions (immediate $$) 

  2. We want to develop brand awareness and equity (future $$)

At a time like this, when every dollar counts, having a bag full of lemons - that is, impressions that no one sees or notices - doesn’t get you closer to either of these things.

You should be angling to get in front of the most engaged audiences for something called “attention.”

Follow the attention 👀

It’s hard to find out whether our ad placements caught our audience’s attention. Our advertising dashboards only give us metrics like CPMs, impressions and click-through rates to evaluate campaign success. Technically, that only tells us that our ads are being served.

But how do we know if they’re holding anybody’s attention, which is what we really need to build a brand?

One research group has an answer: the eye-tracking specialists at Lumen claim to be able to predict which ad placements will garner the most attention by looking at what they call “dwell time.”

Adelaide, an analytics company, recently took Lumen’s methodology a step further and designed an “attention index.” They took a long look at sites to find things like how big an ad is on the page, how cluttered the page is, and where the ad is placed on the page to predict which ads will lead to conversions. 

According to Adelaide’s Attention Leaderboard, the top fifteen places where readers will pay attention to your ad are:

  1. USA Today

  2. Axios

  3. Financial Times

  4. The Economist

  5. The New York Times

  6. Bloomberg

  7. The Food Network

  8. Huffington Post

  9. The Washington Post

  10. BBC

  11. NY Post

  12. Teen Vogue

  13. AP News

  14. The Atlantic

  15. Ars Technica 

We’re not surprised that of those top 15 sites, 14 are news. People engage with the news differently than they do with clickbait, games and all the other stuff on the internet. For one, they actually read the news, which means they are more likely to notice our ads, more likely to recall our brands, and click through to our sites. (They’re also more likely to be human, but that’s a different story.) 

In these trusted environments, our ads will actually be seen.

We’ve talked about the ROI of advertising on the news before. Ad sellers have confirmed that the ROI of news is higher than other environments. Marketing Week reported that Consumers ‘pay more attention’ to ads next to coronavirus news content.

But, we also know that placing ads strategically is easier said than done. So, we’re going to talk about the very first step of getting your ads on the right sites in the next issue. 

Next BRANDED: How to check your ads

In the next BRANDED, we’re going to dive into a real-life example. We’ll be using a real direct-to-consumer brand, look through their site lists, and give you details about what works and what doesn’t for their campaign. 

Until then!

Nandini and Claire 

P.S. Here are our MUST READS of the week.

CNBC’s Meg Graham made her own plagiarized site as an experiment and found she was quickly approved for ads by leading adtech companies. It’s an eye-opening, and you better believe she names names. (READ: To show how easy it is for plagiarized news sites to get ad revenue, I made my own)

Joshua Lowcock told it like it is in his recent Beet.TV interview.

“Brand suitability doesn’t mean positive or negative content… [it] shouldn’t be used to avoid certain categories of content. News is categorically a brand safe environment to be.”

Thank you to Joshua for his continued leadership on this topic! (WATCH: News Is Brand-Safe)


Did you like this issue? Then why not share! Please send tips, compliments and complaints to @nandoodles and @catthekin.