It’s all an illusion

Every ad seller will state beyond a shadow of a doubt that digital ads are both more measurable and more effective than other forms of commercial persuasion.

Why? Well, first off their livelihood depends on it. And second, we’re talking numbers here and numbers are never wrong. (What’s unsaid is that persuasion used to be the purviews of artists and creatives. And having gained the upper hand without a shred of creativity, these salesmen aren’t about to hand that power back.)

But the surety of digital advertising is an illusion. A mass hallucination dosed by Google upon an entire industry.

Yes, it’s all pretty charts and twinkling colors. Lots of numbers and columns and arrows and percentage signs that give the impression of measured self-determination. And yes, Google’s analytics dashboard projected in presentations are great theater.

But it’s a fraud, a hoax, a swindle. You’re more likely to get your leg bitten off in a shark attack than click a banner ad.

Even worse, online ads tend to appeal to exisiting customers. Most businesses and brands are spending increasing amounts of money to advertise to people who would have purchased anyway.

Every data scientist outside Google (and most inside Google) knows the accumulation of attention for sale on the internet is haphazard, unmeasurable and probably fake. At last count, around 40 percent of web traffic was bots. Bits of code slithering all over each other to juice up the numbers and the spend. It’s disgusting.

Mistaking correlation for causation has given ad buyers and sellers a wildly exaggerated sense of their ability to persuade.

There are only three rules in advertising.

And nobody knows what they are.

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