back to article Those online ads driving you bonkers are virtually 'worthless for brands'

One dollar of online display advertising will buy you approximately $0.03 worth of actual ads seen by real people, according to Bob Hoffman, a partner in media consultancy Type A Group. Hoffman, who used to run the Hoffman/Lewis Advertising agency, is well known for his skepticism of online ads, a view that has found some …

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  1. Stuart 22

    Get Rich Quick

    Well not rich but making a decent income as both a Adwords & Adsense. That was years ago when Google served ads based on the content of the page not on the profile of the punter.

    Which meant they could be crafted discreetly into the page with a symbiotic effect. Once they broke that it became an aberration and to have any effect it was flashy banners. Unsuprisingly our revenues dropped - but then Google had an ever growing number of websites to fling more ads so while the revenue per page was dropping, the number inflation kept their revenues growing.

    On placing ads we found we were being to be outbid by the majors who just buying the market. So now we are a post-ad company. But I did get a t-shirt!

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "The difficulty of assessing the value of advertising is a longstanding problem."

    It should be getting easier. If Mr Wannamaker were still with us he'd probably have the perspicacity to realise that ad-blockers were telling him something he wanted to know. He seems to have been an exception amongst advertisers, however.

    1. Paul Shirley

      Even when I whitelist pages or sites in the adblocker I rarely see add anyway, the various security and privacy blockers get in the way. However the adblocker detection notices do vanish. So they still can't even tell if adds are being blocked and stand no chance of measuring effectiveness.

  3. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Puzzled

    I am out of my depth here. I just don't understand this.

    The ad flingers object to us using ad-blockers. But if we use ad-blockers we are presumably not going to be willing viewers of their stuff. In fact, if they prevent ad blocking we are likely to be down right hostile. So why do they think it sensible to persist in sending us nasty, invasive ads or using anti-ad blockers?

    I used to allow ads, when they were still civilised. Just as I sometimes sit through them when I watch ITV. I even used to click on some ads just to feed the content providers. But these days I sit behind half-a-dozen add-ons to hold back all the flashing, floating, video playing, intrusive, time-wasting and annoying ads that infest web pages.

    1. David 132 Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Puzzled

      You ask why the ad-flingers persist. Tempting though it is to simply say "it's because they're morons", I think the truth is a little more nuanced.

      You say: "why do you persist in showing me adverts that annoy me?".

      They say: "Ah, but at a subliminal level you remember the adverts, and that will influence your purchasing decisions!"

      You say: "But if it's influencing me at all, it's doing so negatively"

      They say: "No no, the mind doesn't work like that, you remember Brand X, but you forget that you remember Brand X because it infuriated you with an obnoxious full-screen auto-playing video ad"

      You say: "Bollocks. I'm a human, not a goldfish. I remember - and have blacklisted - the pub where the staff were too busy chatting to bother to take my lunch order until it was after last orders anyway, and that was FIVE WHOLE YEARS AGO*, and I sure as hell do the same to brands online that get in my face and annoy me"

      They say: "Errr... whatever. Here! Have some adverts!!!11!!!"

      Short version: It's because they're morons.

      *(shout-out to the Carpenters Arms in Fulbrook, by the way... I bear grudges for a long time)

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Puzzled

        I remember - and have blacklisted - the pub where the staff were too busy chatting to bother to take my lunch order until it was after last orders anyway, and that was FIVE WHOLE YEARS AGO*

        +1. How much of a moron you have to be to fail to see that imprinting into potential customers subliminal feelings of annoyance is counterproductive... Even if we assume that the consumer is the proverbial Pavlov's dog, Pavlov (and his followers) tried negative stimulus experiments as well as positive - negative reinforcement proving fairly effective too.

      2. Captain DaFt

        Re: Puzzled

        "You ask why the ad-flingers persist."

        No. I don't. It's obvious.

        They get paid by companies trying to get their brand to the masses, and will promise those companies the Sun and Moon to get their ad dollars.

        Then they blast the ads at the public, who doesn't want them, for pennies on the dollars they take in.

        Public loses through degraded, dangerously malware filled "advertising".

        Companies lose. Both financially and reputationaly for using the ad-flingers.

        Ad-flingers rake it in from the real morons, the Companies that pay them.

        That's why they persist.

      3. Johan Bastiaansen

        Re: Puzzled

        You say that, but.

        They're morons who are making lots of money behaving like morons. So not so stupid after all.

        The real morons are the companies who give them their money to piss of their customers.

        Are these the same morons who explain to us that the reason the economy is in a slump because our wages are too expensive?

        Yes, but they only only do that because they think we're even bigger morons.

        How stupid do you have to be to think that we're morons?

        Pretty stupid indeed.

        You say that, but.

        These morons are also making lots of money.

        So who's the moron now?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Puzzled

          I think it's easy to summarise.

          Ad people have gone from people that had the job of simply telling me about a product/service so that I might buy it to manipulative shits that have no problem with ideas like pester power where they advertise to kids so that they pester us into buying. They see no ethical problem with using the way humans work against them, and often do that for sh*t that no person in their right mind would buy, even when dead drunk. They see no problem with using technical tricks that have opened the door to malvertising - which again meant that the technically competent switched it off.

          Or even shorter: if they kept it decent they would still have a market, but instead they rip off advertisers for ads that nobody wants to see and try to subvert our tech and steal our bandwidth to force us despite clear evidence that we. do. not. want. that. shit.

          It is easy to see that it can be done better, but the scum that we filter against can't be asked. There are few people who do not recall the beautiful and clever Guinness ads. The specsavers ads were funny and worth watching. The very fact that these come into mind when I think about ads I enjoyed and which made me recall the brand is evidence that it can be done without manipulation, without deep psycho babble which only half works, without tricks that are so far into unethical territory that the dividing line is not even visible anymore.

          But somehow the scumbags seem to have made the money, probably because they're so good in marketing that they conned the advertisers into believing that they would deliver and have so far rebuffed any demand for metrics that prove they do.

          And now this has caught up with them, IMHO not a moment too soon.

          I am quite willing to disable adblocking for websites that gather their own advertisers or put at least some measures in place that ensure privacy isn't violated and ads are just ads instead of packages of malware either serving some crooks or some advertisers (but I repeat myself). Otherwise sorry, but I'm not going to take the risk.

      4. Mark 85 Silver badge

        @David 132 Re: Puzzled

        They say: "Ah, but at a subliminal level you remember the adverts, and that will influence your purchasing decisions!"

        I think this is a holdover from when all we had were radios and TV's. People ignored the commercials as best they could and often didn't have remotes to mute the sound so they heard the brand mentioned repeatedly. There were some studies that showed that it was subliminal and when people went shopping they bought the brand because they remembered it.

        Now the morons are parroting it and believing that if the ads on the computer flash and scream at you, you'll do the same thing. Ad blockers, killing off Flash and even muting the sound makes their crap even more ineffectual and they fail to understand it.

      5. itzman

        Re: Puzzled

        I have observed two people buying products that are heavily advertised 'because they are better'

        I am afraid it works.

        In my case, I try never to buy anything that is heavily advertised.

        I sometimes wonder if i am in fact simply failing to remember stuff I have been bombarded with.

        I feel proud that no website I have ever built features adverts, or even cookies unless needed for transactions of some sort.

        1. Adam 52 Silver badge

          Re: Puzzled

          You buy branded products because the producer has invested in that brand. If there's a problem with the product then the brand reputation suffers. So that brand is less likely to have problems and more likely to want to resolve them when they do happen.

          So yes, as a gross generalisation, advertised products are more likely to work better.

          1. Dabooka Silver badge

            Re: Puzzled

            @Adam

            That's the theory at least, but it's not the reality.

            Take VW for example (no, not the emissions scandal). Remember the old tagline 'If only everything was as reliable as a Golf'? Well that's been FAR from reality for years now, but the perception is still there that somehow they're robust and reliable. And when they do bork, VW don't want to know and leave the consumer high and dry.

            Other car companies with a perceived high quality are just as guilty, and no I'm not a bitter and twisted ex employee / owner either, I just happen to be using VW as a vehicle to highlight the point.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Puzzled

              Take VW for example (no, not the emissions scandal). Remember the old tagline 'If only everything was as reliable as a Golf'? Well that's been FAR from reality for years now, but the perception is still there that somehow they're robust and reliable. And when they do bork, VW don't want to know and leave the consumer high and dry.

              That depends a bit on the dealer. Where I live, the one nearest is a pure bred ripoff merchant, but the one 10 km further is decent and doesn't try to rip people off. No guessing for who gets my business.

              Now you mention VW you reminded me of another very funny ad - it wasn't officially claimed as theirs but its dark humour made it go virial pretty quickly anyway. I am, of course, talking about the VW Polo terrorist ad. Enjoy :)

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Puzzled

                Completely off topic, but rant mode on.

                Even if I was inclined to buy a VW, the only dealer in town here in Darwin is run by the biggest bunch of crooks it has ever been my misfortune to have to deal with (we bought a KIA and they are also the only dealer for them). I will no longer touch any vehicle brand they deal with. The next nearest VW dealer is 1500kms away in Alice Springs.

                We asked them to quote on finance as they claim to deal with numerous companies and would find the cheapest deal. All we wanted was a quote. We got a phone call asking us to come in, they would not quote us over the phone. When we arrived, they stuck papers in front of us and said sign here.

                The quote was from the finance company which happened to have a big sticker on the wall. The loan was for the whole amount at a ruinous interest rate. Without asking they had added numerous stuff like gap insurance, paint protection, window tinting and other crap.

                They were very surprised when I said no and that we would look elsewhere. We ended up getting a very good loan rate from a credit union. While we were sorting this out, we started getting very aggressive calls from them as they obviously wanted the sale on the books before the end of the month. On top of this, after sales service has been shocking, with them even dragging their feet over warranty issues. They charged my wife to replace some blown headlight bulbs. They blew again shortly after. This was being caused by an electrical fault which was fixed under warranty. When asked for a refund on the initial bulb replacement as they only blew due to a warranty fault they denied all knowledge of it and said they had no record of ever doing the work.

                In contrast, we bought a Hyundai and the local dealer for them are excellent. When we bought the car we had some issues getting the money transferred from overseas, so they lent us a loan car at no cost untile we had sorted this out. The one warranty issue I had with the car was resolved with no fuss and again they provided a no cost loan car.

                In summary, never buy any vehicle from a dealer named after a fish.

          2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Puzzled

            Exactly. Buy a TV from a major brand, and if it goes TITSUP, the major brand is motivated (maybe) to help you get it repaired so their reputation doesn't suffer by bad reviews and they can sell more of them.

            Buy a no-name Chinese knock-off and nobody cares if it works or (more likely) not, because the "brand" is a throw-away and there's no company behind it.

            1. nijam Silver badge

              Re: Puzzled

              > ... the major brand is motivated to help you get it repaired so their reputation doesn't suffer ...

              A-ha! I spy an optimist.

        2. Tikimon Silver badge
          WTF?

          Re: Puzzled - A Case Study

          I sorrowfully agree that people abosrb a product being heavily advertised everywhere, and then go buy it without really thinking about it. Even if you convincingly suggest a better one!

          Here in the American South, we have these delightful creatures known as Fire Ants. More like red-hot poker ants, who ferociously defend the area around their nest. You really don't want them in your yard! There's a product called Amdro that's advertised everywhere - billboard, TV, radio. Supposedly you scatter the stuff around and within TWO WEEKS or so they'll feed it to the queen and the nest will die out. It's not very effective, and slow as dirt even when it is.

          I found a competing (but less advertised) product called Orthene. Sprinkle a little powder on the nest and they are every last one dead within 12 hours. Not exaggerating. I have spread this knowledge to everyone I know, emphasizing the quick and effective kill. Aaaaand most of them go buy yet another bag of Amdro since the last bag didn't do the job! I ask them why they ignored my advice and they can't provide a good answer. Most days I'm the prized and encyclopedic info source, but ubiquitous ads somehow override that. Go figure.

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Puzzled - A Case Study

            Surely though there's a difference between familiar brand ads that are spread around the town/TV and the sort of stuff that infuriates web users. Case in point. I was watching someone, this evening, browsing the web. All the time there was a noisy video playing to advertise some idiot get-rich-quick scheme, with exhortations to click into the ad. But whatever it was for it won't have done more than annoy the person. There wasn't a brand to recall, as such. Do enough suckers click on that sort of thing to make it all worthwhile? If so they're the ones to blame. I just hope the money they lose is enough punishment.

          2. keithpeter
            Windows

            Re: Puzzled - A Case Study

            "Sprinkle a little powder on the nest and they are every last one dead within 12 hours."

            @Tikimon: business opportunity. Set up as a Fire Ant Disposal Expert. Charge a fee just smaller than several bags of the branded product to apply your more effective alternative (in special plain red bags). Profit.

            Tramp: UK, so glad we have a temperate climate and non-invasive fauna.

            1. Dagg
              Devil

              Re: Puzzled - A Case Study

              Tramp: UK, so glad we have a temperate climate and non-invasive fauna.

              What about the greater british CHAV...

      6. Lodgie

        Re: Puzzled

        Subliminal ads do not work as desired. They just annoy the crap out of anybody with half a brain.

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Puzzled

          "Subliminal ads do not work as desired. They just annoy the crap out of anybody with half a brain."

          I'm at the point I don't even *SEE* the banner ads, whether or not 'NoScript' is causing them to not appear in the first place. And if your macula isn't trained on the ad, you don't see the content, either. It's just "a blur".

    2. Rattus Rattus

      On adblock-detectors

      I have uninstalled my ad-blockers and have switched to using Privacy Badger instead. I've found it does a better job of blocking ads on many sites than a dedicated ad-blocker, and isn't detected by their anti-adblock routines.

    3. Dave K Silver badge

      Re: Puzzled

      I agree. I do allow ads on a few sites I frequent, but only so long as those ads remain sensible and none-invasive.

      Recently, another red-bannered IT news site (that shall remain nameless) started blocking users with ad-blockers. So, as I do read that site regularly, I switched off my Ad Blocker on it, and good god what a mess. Auto-playing videos right in the middle of the article, constant connections to all manner of ad sites going on, and the pages took an eternity to load and absolutely crawled along (with my CPU usage rocketing as a result).

      So, the ad-blocker went back on, along with YesScript to block the ad-block check script, and suddenly the pages load really quickly and reading them is a breeze. Hence, I'm not surprised that people either block or ignore the nastier and more invasive ads out there. Not surprised one bit.

  4. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    you'd think...

    More targeted ads aimed at a specific audience would be much better than the scatter gun approach that seems to be the current method these days.

    It's almost like the more Google knows about its target markets for an ad the less it cares. It just becomes background noise.

    As for elderly regs ads. Having highly targeted ads for a specific audience is no bad thing as it at least means that it's honest(ish this is marketing we're talking about) ads for a discerning market that might genuinely be interested rather than passing through.

    As to how to solve this. Other than getting Google to work harder for their bucks I don't know but then I'm not a marketer....

    1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

      Re: you'd think...

      By "Targeted ads" do you mean the demeaning dross from so many online ejits along the line of "you just bought a widget so we'll cram endless ads for even more widgets down your e-throat"

      Pathetic, isn't it?

      1. inmypjs Silver badge

        Re: you'd think...

        "of "you just bought a widget so we'll cram endless ads for even more widgets"

        After 30 years use the downstairs bog seat broke. Bought a replacement from Amazon who for the next 9 months or so thought I ought be interested in buying more of them.

        1. David 132 Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: you'd think...

          After 30 years use the downstairs bog seat broke. Bought a replacement from Amazon who for the next 9 months or so thought I ought be interested in buying more of them.

          Could've been worse. You know they have a delivery subscription option now?

          You'd be knee-deep in khazi seats before you could say "cancel CANCEL unsubscribe ^C ^X quit exit Alexa how do I stop these toilet seats appearing every day"

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: you'd think...

        Or "here are multiple ads for that thing you already just looked at". Why do ad vendors think it is sensible to advertise things at me that I have already been looking at? Not even competing products or vendors which might make some sense, but the same sodding product at the same evendor I have just been browsing.

        Do they think that I possibly forgot that I just ordered a thing 5 minutes ago and that they need to advertise at me to go back and buy it again?

    2. David 132 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: you'd think...

      As for elderly regs ads

      Autocorrect/predictive keyboards are a bugger, aren't they, when you try to post to El Reg?

      1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        Re: you'd think...

        Ugh.... I would use the mobile site but it doesn't have icons. Blame it on bored bus journey home..

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: you'd think...

      "Other than getting Google to work harder for their bucks I don't know but then I'm not a marketer"

      One thing Google could have done is used their alleged AI chops to keep malvertising out of the system.

    4. Patrician

      Re: you'd think...

      Targeted Ads don't work, or rather don't work as they're intended to work; as a for instance, I was looking, online, at hotels to book for a weekend in London last year. I settled on a hotel and booked it but for the next couple of months I was seeing "targeted" advertising for the very hotel I'd already booked.

      What I should have been seeing, if targeted ads worked, is ads for events and offers for things to do in London surely?

  5. VinceH Silver badge

    Optional

    This article reinforces a conclusion I've already come to - viewers are being pissed off and advertisers ripped off by the same obnoxious condom escapees.

    1. David 132 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Optional

      Thank you for the phrase "condom escapees". Might possibly supplant "cockwomble" as my preferred term of derision.

      1. VinceH Silver badge

        Re: Optional

        I thought I'd come up with something original with condom escapees, but a quick search reveals that I apparently didn't..

        Ho hum.

        1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Optional

          I thought I'd come up with something original with condom escapees, but a quick search reveals that I apparently didn't..

          Does this show that subliminal advertising does work?

          1. VinceH Silver badge

            Re: Optional

            Well, at first glance none of the search results (other than to this very site/thread) are sites I read so, no, it's not a hint that the condom escapees who suggest such crap are correct. :)

            It's just a coincidence - I thought of it independently, but so have other people before me.

  6. John Lilburne Silver badge

    The Register invited ...

    ... both Google and Facebook to respond to Hoffman's claims. Neither responded.

    Well isn't that like asking Vito Corleone to comment on racketeering?

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: The Register invited ...

      That's slander. Vito Corleone never ran any rackets. All he ever did was to make people offers. Offers they just could not refuse.

  7. x 7 Silver badge

    I never realised El Reg ran adverts. I've never seen one on its site. Where are they? What am I doing wrong?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @X7, ElReg ads.

        I've never seen ads here AND I've never heard any complaints about them!

        -Signed, Helen Keller

        (anon because the bounds of good taste are a loooooong way behind me)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @X7, ElReg ads.

        I know! I've never seen ads here either!

        *cough* DevOps *cough*

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a colossal waste of money!

    Billions upon billions of pounds/dollars spent annoying people for no good reason. In the 1970s we used to receive free trial products in the mail; a box of laundry soap, or a packet of lotion (not to DRINK, Russian people!), and whatnot. Now all that money is spent on the message, which no one wants to see or hear, and almost none for freebie handouts. I don't even see adverts anymore since I rarely consume ad-friendly web pages or apps, and I have been without a cable/satellite service for a year now, and... LOVING IT! So, the only way to reach people like me is to hand us some free swag. Period.

    Stop spending money on silly commercials on shitty TV programs and give us some free shit, you fucking assholes! Do it, DO IT NOW! :)

    Thank you.

    1. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: What a colossal waste of money!

      You're missing the point.

      Advertisers appear to spend on advertising for three reasons:

      Big Brands:

      Product positioning: it isn't an over-engineered, overpriced road-tractor, its an adventure lifestyle! It isn't an anti-social noise-generating device for distracting you from those around you, its a keep-you-connected-to-people mobile phone, entertainment centre and its all about YOU.

      Excluding competitors: You don't want other companies appearing to be significant by being able to run saturation advertising campaigns (music shows, chewing gum, soft drinks, mobile phones, fried-food etc). The aim is to fill the mind of the advertised-to so that there is no room for other brands.

      "Local" Brands:

      Hello I'm here!: car/boat lots, mattress and tile outlets and family restaurants.

      Most products are pretty generic, so there's little point giving out samples.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Freebies

      There are frequently gangs of students outside London rail stations handing out freebie samples of various things like Knorr cooking sauces or instant soup powder. I've walked past the entrance to Charing Cross and ended up with four or five given to me by different people.

      1. keithpeter
        Coat

        Re: Freebies

        @werdsmith: In Birmingham it seems to be strangely flavoured soft drinks. I just collect a few on the way in and hand them out to students.

        Coat: can fit about 4 cans in my greatcoat.

    3. phuzz Silver badge
      IT Angle

      Re: What a colossal waste of money!

      There's also a whole bunch of people who work in advertising, and if they're not making adverts, why would anyone bother paying them?

      So the marketing people make adverts because that's what their job is, and the companies put the adverts everywhere because otherwise they've wasted the money they've spent on the marketing people.

      Nobody in this loop benefits from finding out how effective the adverts actually are, instead it's better to spend the time working out how to spend the bonuses they'll get for whatever artificial metric they picked.

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