The Confessions: A marketer, influencer and publisher reveal hidden truths about media and marketing

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

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Confessions of a programmatic marketer

As told to Seb Joseph

Advertisers don’t want to do the heavy lifting of looking at and verifying what they are buying in fear that their investments are funding this problem. There needs to be an education revelation, and brands need to understand that they need to know what they are buying as that will be the thing that helps them grow as an organization.

Marketers would rather use excuses like partner conflicts and tech problems to avoid understanding exactly where they are investing money, which eventually compounds into a larger problem — fraud. Ignorance is bliss pretty much sums up the view on the buy-side right now.

Agencies also need to change their models and adapt to their brands because they won’t be able to succeed continuing as they are. I am a strong believer in media auditing, as much the agency as the brand, and I think that brings out the real truth of the media buying space between an agency and their clients.

Confessions of an influencer 

As told to Seb Joseph

I feel under pressure to buy fake followers due to some brands pushing unrealistic numbers on me when I’m already having to work harder to catch-up to those influencers that have bought followers. While there’s a lot more talk about influencer fraud, some of the brands I work with don’t really understand how unrealistic targets and unexpected changes to algorithms put pressure on me to meet their demands at a time when competition for contracts is tough. When I started creating videos for YouTube 10 years ago, brands were more interested in what an influencer produced and who they were as a creator. Influencer marketing has become such a big industry now that brands aren’t as attentive. There’s so much focus on the numbers at the expense of the creative. They treat us like a media buy and want us to hit a certain number of views without really considering what we actually do or say.

That said, I think it’s the platforms that need to do more to fix how easy it is to buy fake followers, not the influencers or the brands. It can’t be that hard for a platform to identify people that are buying fake followers when it’s easy enough to do so.


Confessions of a publisher on the state of transparency in digital advertising 

As told to Jessica Davies

The digital advertising supply chain will never be 100 percent transparent. Publishers as a whole have educated ourselves about what’s happening with ad tech vendors, and we’re pretty pissed off with the way we’ve been treated. There are these cash cows — the exchanges — that sit in the middle between the buy and the sell side, and have built their own algorithms. We don’t know how those algorithms work. Even when we walk out of a meeting with our own ad tech partners we trust to a certain degree, we’re cynical about what they tell us. They send their sales people in to do a job, and that job is to sell and earn commission, so they’ll say anything to get a contract over the line.

The ad tech vendors are absolutely reticent about handing over log-file data that shows auction dynamics to publishers. When we ask for this, they give us vague answers or tell us it will come at a big cost increase, or they can only release one percent of the data. If we can’t see that data, we can’t see how much of the marketer’s money is coming to us. It’s ridiculous. At least let us investigate it. And when vendors don’t communicate about changes they’ve made to their auction dynamics, whether it’s first-price auction switchovers or methods like bid caching, it creates unnecessary friction between buyers and the sellers, because we don’t know what’s causing price fluctuations. It’s the idiots in the middle causing it.

CON2: Confessions of a publishing executive on the love-hate relationship with platforms

As told to Jessica Davies

It’s a perpetual state of frustration. In terms of relationships with publishers they all have the same operating structures, but we have better relationships with some than others. They always seem to be publicly partnering with publishers, but in reality it’s more of a customer relationship they have with us. It’s not just Facebook and Google; Snap is notoriously hard to work with. All of them are the ringmaster in control of the tent. If you come in as a trapeze artist one day, they’ll tell you the next day they no longer want trapeze artists — you have to find a new act fast or do it alone, and there isn’t much demand for solo trapeze artists. They manage the supply chain, and as a publisher you have to be part of that supply chain to sell products.

There is a lack of communication individually with publishers. You rely on bulletin updates to figure out what is happening. That’s heightened in Europe. European publishers only get a chance to get under the hood when they go to San Francisco. It’s also difficult because they launch their products here much later. When Facebook turned off the tap at the end of last year, we had to wait over six months for the next monetization product. A company can go out of business in that time if they haven’t diversified enough. There will be casualties of Facebook’s product strategy. The charm offensives happen when they need something.

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