Advertisers call it click fraud. According to CMO Keith Weed in an interview in the Times of London, bots soak up $6-to-10-billion in ad dollars that support messages never seen by a real, live person [http://thetim.es/1MaS9pN]. For Weed, whose firm spends $5-billion on ads annually, that could mean as much as a billion-and-a half of his ad spend never connects with a pair of consumer eyes for such brands as Dove, Lipton, or Axe!
For a longtime student of advertising, this story is reminiscent of the recurrent question first made famous by Philadelphia furniture merchant John Wanamaker who decried: half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half! That claim was made a hundred years ago! And, here we are today—despite all the technology and analytics—with one of the largest advertisers of the day concerned over ad waste.
But, it is quite different today. Weed is much more informed than Wanamaker who seemed to be working on a hunch. Weed’s web savvy is apparent not only in what he says, but the way his firm uses the web to understand and woo customers. Take a minute and visit the Unilever site [http://bit.ly/1HK6ID4]. It is quite well done and begs involvement and the opinion of users in a clever and engaging way. On my visit I agreed to take a survey of my experience and found this clever interactive “coin drop” mechanism that made it fun for me to express the reason for my visit by spending my coins to demonstrate interests [see inset]. This widget performed two functions: it gauged my interests and proved I was indeed a real human avoiding the need for an irritating CAPTCHA test.
This tells me Weed demands more from his web communication, not the least of which is the quality of the numbers. He believes that more than half of all web traffic is bots and this demands more attention to the issue of audience engagement—an ongoing concern of advertisers from the inception of the ad business.
I am not going to be so Neanderthal as to suggest back in the day I wouldn't cringe a bit when I saw a TV signal illuminating an empty room, or a newspaper on the bottom of the birdcage. All I could think was, "my ads are being seen or read by no one!" Of course, back then, we operated much more on the proxies of audience engagement (e.g. Nielsen, Arbitron, ABC), than on verifiable engagement. After all, today we have web analytics, and Mr. Weed is making full use by calling the bot issue forward.
By the way, he’s not just concerned about bots, as he also believes two other problems loom for content providers: viewability and ad-blocking software. With viewability, Weed believes the lack of audio support (like when Facebook x-outs the audio) detracts from impact when viewers must choose to turn. As for ad-blocking, it seems consumers have more choices than ever to filter their media experiences. This, however, is the topic of a much deeper discussion for another day. For now, suffice to say, bots be with you! Deal with it!