back to article FYI: Web ad fraud looks really bad. Like, really, really bad. Bigly bad

John Wanamaker, an American department store merchant who died almost a century ago, is noted for saying: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." For those buying online ads, it might just be both halves, due to fraud. "It's about 60 to 100 per cent fraud, with an average of …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    See also: autoplaying videos, automatically looping videos, allowing other people's videos to be shamelessly ripped off and reposted

    I wonder who it was who suddenly solved their mobile advertising income problem when they started doing that...

  2. The Nazz Silver badge

    In the UK at least ....

    isn't Fraud a criminal offence?

    Let the convictions roll apace.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In the UK at least ....

      If only.......

  3. ashdav

    And we're asked not to use adblockers.....

    Upvoted OP for autoplaying videos.

    1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      This has nothing to do with ad blockers. It's about ad networks "serving" adverts to automated bots, in order to collect the display fee. The advertiser pays for the ad, the broker (usually Google) gets its fee, the bot operator gets an income for "showing" it... but nobody ever sees it.

      It's fraud, but you'll notice that a. the company uniquely placed to turn off the flow of ads to these bot networks doesn't do so, and b. that company gets its cut regardless.

      1. cbars

        Well.... El Reg's claim of "millions of people who view the ads on our site" is pretty fantastic given that a greater proportion of people viewing this site will be using ad-blockers than in the general web-populace.

        It's a bit to do with ad-blockers, because if all the normies are blocking them, then you tend towards 100% bots ;)

        I'd say most people only block the annoying ones, of course. For now. I'm quite happy for El Reg et al to serve a couple of non-intrusive ads per article

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Holmes

          Even when I see ads, I don't SEE them. They are just an annoyance to flip past.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            That's why ads keep getting more ostentatious. It's been a known phenomenon since World War II that people become inured to ads. Why do you think static banner ads fell out of favor?

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              "Why do you think static banner ads fell out of favor?"

              Because they didn't piss of enough potential customers. This, of course, wouldn't have been how the ad industry represented it to their clients.

            2. Tikimon Silver badge

              Static ads fell out of favor as soon as some dubious web technology allowed the ads to jump around and scream at the viewer. Hey, a flashing loud ad gets more attention, right? That they annoy the living shite out of everyone who see them is something the ad-slingers ignore.

            3. Bluto Nash

              ...and I never could punch that goddamn monkey.

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          /me points out that an ad blocker probably won't block an ad that has these charateristics:

          a) it's just a click-on-image-link to something

          b) it's not scripted

          c) it's not animated

          d) it's not part of a frame, it just appears someplace on the page.

          old-style banner ads, in other words. no need to go nuts with the stupid-script and the in-your-face animations. we've learned to tune it out and block it with software.

          1. fobobob

            I'm radically less likely to block it if it's hosted on the site's own domain(s). Ad networks have too many issues with advertisers slipping in fishy stuff. Of course, they don't do this, because they need their precious analytics for determining how many "impressions" they've made.

  4. steelpillow Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Why am I not surprised?

    Title to this post says it all, really.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Why am I not surprised?

      I find it hard to sympathise at all with the advertisers.

      1. depicus
        Unhappy

        Re: Why am I not surprised?

        Except you and I are ultimately paying for this fraud.

        1. steelpillow Silver badge

          Re: Why am I not surprised?

          @depicus. Not if we don't see the ads so we never buy the product :)

          1. Chemist

            Re: Why am I not surprised?

            "Not if we don't see the ads so we never buy the product"

            If I see the ads I really (really ^10 * ) am unlikely to buy the product . (YMMV)

            * I will go out of my way NOT buy

            1. Notas Badoff

              Re: Why am I not surprised?

              I noticed that today. Annoyed at one ad, I waited through multiple slide-ins, color changes, and text flashing and what all, just to finally see at the end who was foisting the travesty in my face. No, I will not fly your airline, characterized as it is by "clear ad turbulence"

            2. d3vy

              Re: Why am I not surprised?

              Part of the price of every products rice is advertising,so see the ad or not, we are all being affected.. if it costs companies 10x more to advertise do you think they take that hit on profits.. or pass it on to the consumers?

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Why am I not surprised?

                Part of the price of every products rice is advertising,so see the ad or not, we are all being affected

                Yes, but you have some choice to buy products from intensive advertisers, or from minimal advertisers. Take groceries - you could shop at Aldi (who a fairly modest amount of advertising compared to their sales), or you could shop at Tesco or Asda, both of whom are big advertisers in their own right, but then around half Tesco and Asda's sales are brand items, each backed by intensive brand advertising.

              2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: Why am I not surprised?

                "if it costs companies 10x more to advertise do you think they take that hit on profits.. or pass it on to the consumers?"

                And then they find they're competing on price with vendors who don't waste the customers' money with advertising.

              3. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: Why am I not surprised?

                "if it costs companies 10x more to advertise do you think they take that hit on profits.. or pass it on to the consumers?"

                And if we don't buy products from that company?

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Why am I not surprised?

                  Shall we

                  a. Read the comment in the context of the article/original comment

                  b. Make up our own narrative and try to relate the comment to that, get annoyed and start commenting about something that literally no one meant.

                  Nice to see everyone opting for option b.

            3. Jonathan 27 Bronze badge

              Yeah...

              Quality products very rarely have annoying web ads. So if the ad is annoying you can be sure the product is a pile of crap you shouldn't buy so you're not missing out on anything.

  5. K Silver badge

    "Except at quality titles like El Reg.."

    As they don't display ads.. at least not in my browser!

  6. anothercynic Silver badge

    Now...

    ... If only you could sort out the ads that force me to my mobile OS app store.

  7. Adam 52 Silver badge

    "Speaking of readership, it's up 24.5 per cent for the year to date versus the year-ago period."

    Use of private browsing mode and cookie cleaners on the increase then?!

    I suspect your ads sales team would rather you push quality over quantity, otherwise it's a race to the bottom and the Daily Mail Online is way ahead of you there.

  8. Palpy

    I think most of us realize that internet ads are bollocks.

    BigCo buys online advertising to sell its product, SpecialStuff.

    Googazon sells ads to BigCo, and makes much money.

    SiteOwner leases ad space on his page, and makes a little money from Googazon.

    BotBuilder makes crawler-clickers that never read or buy anything, rendering paid-for ads useless. But also making the ads more lucrative for somebody.

    ShillBlogger writes, "Don't use an adblocker! Ads make the free internet possible!"

    AdViewer is a human who hates ads, and loathes BigCo, Googazon, and SiteOwner for putting ads in his face. He will never buy SpecialStuff. He is building something large and dangerous in his basement. He has cracked at last.

    Who is getting ripped off? And by whom? Who is lying? What is AdViewer making? Yes, what's he building in there? Tom Waits wants to know.

    (Of course the YouTube video linked above starts with an ad.)

    ((And actually, yes, El Reg ads are pretty tame compared to many. Thanks for that.))

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Holmes

      And if 90% of online ads are fraud

      Then doesn't that make Google 90% fraud?

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: And if 90% of online ads are fraud

        "Then doesn't that make Google 90% fraud?"

        Once upon there was a company named Doubleclick - which managed to piss a lot of people off and wasn't doing very well.

        Then when they were in financial trouble/about to go bankrupt, Google bought them.

        The execs who were driving Doubleclick are now in the driving seat at Google.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: I think most of us realize that internet ads are bollocks.

      "BigCo buys online advertising to sell its product, SpecialStuff.

      Googazon sells ads to BigCo, and makes much money."

      I think you've missed out several steps here. Somewhere in there is an ad agency selling to BigCo. They then place the ads with a chain of several businesses before it gets to your Googazon, each taking their cut.

      It's one of those that's in cahoots with your BotBuilder to increase the number of cuts they get. Of course it's in the interests of all the others in the chain to make sure this doesn't happen - or is it?

  9. rodc

    Wonder what % of adverts are fraudulent?

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Fraudulent or just full of lies?

      I still cringe at the memory of an IBM(?) advert that was heavily lying that, somehow, magically, NFC tags would allow you to know that a truck was on a certain road in the middle of the desert.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "I still cringe at the memory of an IBM(?) advert that was heavily lying that, somehow, magically, NFC tags would allow you to know that a truck was on a certain road in the middle of the desert."

        I still cringe that we had a sales guy at the time who believed it.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    Advertising is often overhyped...

    Sure, if you got a new product and need to draw some kind of attention to it then advertising might work a bit. Of course in this day and age what's even better is to make sure that your product is well known within the "incrowd" and gets at least some mentioning and/or attention. This way people who are looking for "Product X" will also come across your brand.

    Yet most advertisings are for already established products and quite frankly.. Overrated, overhyped and annoying too from a spectators point of view.

    Several years ago Unilever (a huge food concern in Holland) considered to cancel one of their brands called "Zeeuws Meisje". In order to facilitate this they decided not to put any funding at all into marketing, assuming that this would eventually divert public attention after which they could can it.

    Yet 6 months later, much to their surprise, sales figures had gone up instead of down. With no advertisement at all....

    1. jMcPhee

      Re: Advertising is often overhyped...

      So much wasted energy, effort, and resources go into advertising. There's little value addition, and less social good. We are all glad El Reg can get a cut of this. But, it seems like such sad loss. Sorry. Adverts are the crack pipes of internet economics.

      1. Ole Juul

        Re: Advertising is often overhyped...

        The thing is that advertisers are held hostage. Although there is little gain, none of them dare stop. They'd all have to stop at once.

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: Advertising is often overhyped...

      Believe it or not, the people who spend billions of dollars a year advertising things that we already all know about - have, actually, thought about this. They have access to a damn' sight better data than your gut instincts, or mine, or even their own. They even have all the tools at their disposal to conduct their own trials, if they feel so inclined.

      And it turns out that advertising does work, one unsourced anecdote notwithstanding.

      1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

        Re: Advertising is often overhyped...

        @veti - you forget survivor bias. These people tend to forget failures, because their future money does not depend on them. Instead, their money depends on optimistic outlook into future ad campaigns. Unless the money tap is closed, they learn nothing as there is no incentive to do so.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Advertising is often overhyped...

        "They have access to a damn' sight better data than your gut instincts, or mine, or even their own."

        And what data do they have on the reaction so commonly expressed here: that after being subjected to obnoxious advertising the potential customer will go elsewhere? They can show net effects of advertising but I doubt they'd even dare go looking for the negative effects.

    3. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: Advertising is often overhyped...

      Wannamaker's Dictum is always true. Advertising is a 'damned if you and damned if don't' situation. Consumers and users need to be aware of the existence of a product or brand but there is a point of diminishing returns; the brand is so well established that advertising is a waste of time or money. A couple of US brands come to mind that are minimally advertised: Duncan Hines and Oreo cookies. But a new product needs to attract attention but how one does this is important. Too often the wrong placement is used.

      1. samzeman

        Re: Advertising is often overhyped...

        Oreos have the most annoying ads in the UK. They're so sweet and twee, and it's super obvious they just want you to pay attention and buy Oreos. I suppose it makes me bitter to dislike it just because of its sweetness.

      2. Jtom

        Re: Advertising is often overhyped...

        "A new product needs to attract attention." That reminds of the dawn of the Internet. AT&T had come out with their version of a specific telecommunications platform (Service Control Point). They called it the "Advantage". It was impossible to do a search on their site to find the product (this was before Excite or other general web search engines). Any possible term you could come up with (AT&T, Advantage, service, control, point, platform, telecommunications, etc) were in the descriptions of all their telecom products, advertising, news release, etc. Always use a unique name for a product!

    4. rmason Silver badge

      Re: Advertising is often overhyped...

      Agree with this wholeheartedly.

      This was in fact our pub topic of conversation just a couple of weeks back. They are all stealing a living. We kept using McDonalds and Coca Cola. What do you honestly think would happen to the sales of someone like coca cola or Maccies if they just stopped advertising? They must spend mega-millions or billions a year.

      to randomly pick a number, that is probably way too low, lets say they spend 100m a year on advertising, do you think they would sell 100m less product if they didn't advertise? Or that sales would stop growing? It would be a brave exec who suggests it, but I think it would work.

      This doesn't work if you're trying to launch something new of course, but lets just imagine a world without coca cola ads, or mcdonalds ads. Do you think their sales would suffer?

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Advertising is often overhyped...

        "lets just imagine a world without coca cola ads, or mcdonalds ads."

        No problem.

      2. Just Enough

        Re: Advertising is often overhyped...

        "What do you honestly think would happen to the sales of someone like coca cola or Maccies if they just stopped advertising? "

        Advertising is as much about crowding out the competition as it is about sales. If Coke just stopped advertising they'd effectively be giving Pepsi a free pass to nibble away at their markets. They wouldn't immediately stop selling, but with 10 years people would be saying "Whatever happened to Coke, they used to be everywhere? Can I have a Pepsi please?"

        1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

          Re: Advertising is often overhyped...

          @Just Enough you make a good point, but I think this does not apply to internet ads.

      3. Michael Thibault

        Re: Advertising is often overhyped...

        "lets say they spend 100m a year on advertising, do you think they would sell 100m less product if they didn't advertise?"

        Conversely, let's say you don't spent anything on advertising, but decide, at one point, to spend $1m on advertising in the next FY. The only thing* that would make doing so worthwhile is an increase in sales large enough to return profits at least as large as the expenditures on advertising. Not sales -- profit. Otherwise, you're throwing money away.

        An alternative to advertising: instead of the 'spend' aggravating societal noise with inane ads of all kinds in various contexts, pay your staff/employees more, tell them that you're doing so with what would otherwise be the advertising budget, and tell them why -- namely that you are hoping to encourage them to invest, in some sense, in some way, in the success of your business.

        * Well, not exactly the only thing; this is shooting from the hip after all.

    5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Advertising is often overhyped...

      This isn't surprising. It's an industry that specialises in hype and only sells one product: advertising.

  11. Daggerchild Silver badge

    Experience required: 10 years in clicking

    "Of these, manual review by an intern revealed that about 7,000 were..."

    They made an intern review 12000 websites? Yowch. For their sanity, I hope they knew how to script.

    1. Meph
      Go

      Re: Experience required: 10 years in clicking

      "They made an intern review 12000 websites?"

      I'd be willing to bet that the intern used a customised web crawling bot to gather the data for later review.

      I don't think it would be quite the same if they didn't aim for peak irony.

  12. beast666

    Install ad-blockers on the bots.

  13. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    "just automated software scamming advertisers"

    This is an ugly word, this "scam".

  14. JulieM Silver badge

    Old trick

    This is basically equivalent to the old scam of having stooges bidding on your own lots on an auction to push the prices up. You end up winning much of your own tat back, and anything you do successfully purchase is overpriced due to other sellers employing the same tactic. The auction rooms still make a profit when this happens, so are not going to be especially keen to do anything to prevent it.

    But advertising is basically a gamble anyway, and you have to be prepared to lose sometimes. Especially when so many players are cheating, and so openly. The only surprise is that nobody seems to have twigged to just how big a mug's game it all is; or maybe they have, and it has all deteriorated into one mighty game of chicken, and nobody wants to be the first to get out of the game?

  15. Phil Endecott Silver badge

    Pants

    Last month I bought some pants. Enough to last a couple of years, I think.

    Now, EVERY SINGLE FUCKING WEBSITE I VISIT is covered with adverts for pants - and bras.

    It's madness, really it is.

    1. Brian Miller

      Re: Pants

      Toss your cookies, and then the ads will go away.

      As for me, I purchased a major item last weekend by going to an independent retailer and physically carrying it out the door. That retailer relies on word of mouth, not web ads.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Pants

        But how does that retailer get the word of mouth to begin with, especially when they're just getting started and it's a "chicken and egg" problem?

      2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Pants

        "As for me, I purchased a major item last weekend by going to an independent retailer and physically carrying it out the door."

        What the hell did you do that for? Given that the internet has given you access to a world wide market , it'd be a coincidence if the best deal was at the local independant retailer - and also it was a carryable size item, ideal for posting.

        1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

          Re: Pants - Best deal?

          @Jeltz

          I'll assume irony. But it does raise an interesting point. One has to define 'best deal'. Does that always mean the cheapest? Do you buy from a dodgy site in China that's a penny cheaper, rather than the big site in the UK? How much is avoiding fraud worth? Ditto complaint handling. Ditto fast delivery.

          'Best deal' involves many factors. Arguably you can go a stage further than looking at the 'best deal' for you for a single product. Does buying local at a small premium over the S.American river help you in the long run? That local business employs local people. Who spend their money locally in the corner shop/post office, helping to keep it open for the next time you want a pint of milk at 9pm on a Sunday. They have jobs in the area so will stay, rather then moving away to find work. The corner shop offers part-time work for your teenage kids, on the door-step, rather than them having to travel, (or just sitting at home on the X-Box). And when they go to Uni they have some decent things on their CV so can get a better part-time job, which means they can spend more time working on their degree, and ultimately get a better job so they can support you in your old age. See - it's amazing what the impact of buying that one pair of underpants locally can be!

          Buying locally often appears to cost more, but in the long term means you are likely to live somewhere where people have jobs, and where a community can thrive. One estimate suggests that every £1 spent locally actually generates £8 of local expenditure before it ends up in the pockets of a shareholder in New York.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Pants

          "What the hell did you do that for? Given that the internet has given you access to a world wide market , it'd be a coincidence if the best deal was at the local independant retailer - and also it was a carryable size item, ideal for posting."

          It depends on the purchase and how you do the carrying. Yesterday I went to a local independent builders' merchant to buy some stone product. I carried it home by car. I'd dread to think what postage might be or how it might be managed (70 stones, each individually wrapped and posted?) but delivery by the vendor would have added nearly 20% to the cost.

    2. rmason Silver badge

      Re: Pants

      I've cleared cache, cookies etc etc.....

      We recently purchased a new tent. We only need one tent, it should last us quite some time. On all of my social media accounts, and browsing i'm constantly being shown a Berghaus tent I must buy, Amazon are the worst offender, it's amazon ads for tents every 10th post on (insert social media of choice). Similarly embedded on every site i visit for my morning news update. On personal devices this is fine, but I can't use adblockers on my work kit (for reasons totally unknown).

      It's definitely not just cookie (etc) driven any more they *know* i've been searching various sites for tents, they just can't put the data on "he's looked for tents" and the data on "he's just bought this stuff (inc a tent) together.

      Or more correctly they can put this data together but that would stop them charging various outlets for advertising tents at me,

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Pants

      "Now, EVERY SINGLE FUCKING WEBSITE I VISIT is covered with adverts for pants - and bras."

      Try running an ad-blocker. It will make them go away.

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Pants

      I haven't seen any bra ads lately. dammit. [and I bought pants from Amazon - twice]

  16. Jonathan 27 Bronze badge

    Seeing as almost all real humans are running ad blockers now, I don't think many advertisers would pay for ads if the people selling them actually told them the truth. Online ad fraud has been a problem since 10 minutes after online ads were invented and the situation has been going rapidly downhill since 2005 which is about when the average user discovered ad blockers, because Firefox extensions just made it so easy. I'm even running one now, although I white-list sites I like, like this one. I'm even running an adblock detector blocker.

    Fun fact, did you know that there is no actual proof that advertising really changes anyone's opinion on products. The only thing it's been proven to do is let people know a product exists, if they didn't already. So advertising well known products like Coke and Tide may actually be totally pointless.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Oh? Can you actually prove your claim given ad agencies mormally pay good money for statisticians and actuaries to find out just that?

      1. Wulfhaven

        And ad agencies have no motive to make sure that the statistics say that ads are good and that others should pay them monies for advertisment?

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Charles,

        IIRC you've previously said you don't actually work in the ad industry. If that's so you've clearly fallen for their hype in which case you need to remember what it is they actually do for a living: they persuade people that advertising works.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          You also have to realize an ad agency's clients aren't always stupid. Some will insist on hard numbers, proven results, or they'll negotiate much harder when the contract comes up for renewal.

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      "So advertising well known products like Coke and Tide may actually be totally pointless"

      Whats Tide?

      1. Spacedinvader
        Happy

        What the sea does, moon dictated, high - low then low - high, twice a day (roughly).

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't think ads work in the way you're supposed to think they work.

    They aren't a "buy this now" way of selling but more a "here is brand x and were going to throw it at you long enough and as many times as we can till next time you buy product y you buy brand x"

    Which is probably why it's not measurable as to how effective they are.

    I know every time I think of buying instant mash I think of "smash". Never buy the crap though.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      @AC

      I know every time I think of buying instant mash I think of "smash". Never buy the crap though.

      I must admit I never, ever think of buying instant mash, but when it's mentioned I do think of that nice lady borrowing some from her sexy neighbour because she's run out. Or do I mean the strange aliens? Or that nice Linda Bellingham serving it for Sunday lunch?

      I didn't even know it was still on sale!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Meanwhile, over on the Magic Picture Box. Where, one must assume. they have many more years of research.

      Every time I want an insurance comparison I obvs visit GoCompare and/or Money Supermarket (1)

      Those ads certainly got my attention, and sent me a very strong message. The message was a financial services company advertising that way must be more of a shyster than than the average.

      And I really would go to Barclays for help using a computer.

      And Lloyds bank for cancer support.

      WTF ?

      (1) In reality, I go to Compare The Market. Because Sergei has turned out to be an excellent Head of IT. So good, he adorns the entrance to IT Support.

  18. Barry Rueger Silver badge

    Other side of the coin.

    Advertisers are slowly beginning to understand that they have no way of knowing where their product ads might be served up.

    A group calling itself "Sleeping Giant" has had considerable success in encouraging advertisers not to allow their ads to be placed on alt-right sites like Breitbart (in the US) and Rebel Media (in Canada.) The latter has been particularly hard hit, with more than 250 companies blocking them from their ad buys.

    In most cases the advertisers had no idea that their ads were being served on sites that they, or their customers, found offensive.

    On-line advertising looks like house of cards, and I suspect the whole thing will just collapse one day.

    1. Roger Varley

      Re: Other side of the coin.

      "In most cases the advertisers had no idea that their ads were being served on sites that they, or their customers, found offensive.

      On-line advertising looks like house of cards, and I suspect the whole thing will just collapse one day."

      As Nectar are in the process of discovering.

  19. Milton Silver badge

    A tiny percentage of ads are viewed by real people—who ignore them anyway

    Concentrating on ad fraud is arguably irrelevant if even those ads which are viewed by actual humans are (a) hilariously awful crap, with wretched, off-putting design and abysmal copywriting, and (b) ignored because they're hopelessly irrelevant: so-called "intelligent targeting" being, in fact, coarse, clumsy, counter-productive and often just plain wrong.

    I looked for an nice computer/gaming chair for my enthusiast son. Searched a few decent sites, read some reviews, did a best price check, bought the chair, delivered next day. No ads involved, and would have made no difference whatever since I wouldn't trust any of them anyway. But here we are, a month later, and I'm still seeing ads trying to peddle the damn chairs, not to mention hats, slippers, data analytics solutions, cloud services, cat food, vitamin supplements, new cars and t-shirts with poorly rendered pictures of dogs—not a single one of which is of the faintest interest. And some of the ads (I'm repeating myself, but this is so strange) are so amateurishly terrible that it's almost as if no one is even trying: is the (artistically, textually rubbish) advert there merely to fill a hole? Or to accept those roboclicks the article is talking about?

    That internet giants build businesses and huge profits off the back of advertising remains a mystery to me, explicable only insofar as I must assume that EITHER (1) advertisers are suffering a mass delusion that this shit works, OR (2) there is some tragically huge proportion of frank and utter imbeciles out there who actually do buy shabby crap they don't need using credit they can't afford because they were convinced to do so by an advertisement smashed out by a drooling toddler with a crayon.

    Or it's both. Heaven help us.

    Anyway, the solution is simple and satisfyingly circular, and I nominate a purpose for the (currently non-existent) "AI" that companies and journos keep drivelling on about: if algorithms are producing, placing and targeting the ads, and if only robots click on them anyway—well, then, let the bloody bots buy the stuff if they want it that badly. Give them bank accounts, addresses, credit cards and remote warehouses to store their mountains of deliveries, and wait for the inevitable.

    If they seem to be buying suspiciously large quantities of machine tools, automatic weapons, rocket motors, explosives, lasers and anthrax spores off the dark web—well, figure it out and hope that Don't Be Evil will plaster a "DIY Nuclear Bunker" ad on your screen with time to spare.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: A tiny percentage of ads are viewed by real people—who ignore them anyway

      Question:

      How can one be sure reviews are really reviews and not ads in disguise?

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: A tiny percentage of ads are viewed by real people—who ignore them anyway

        "How can one be sure reviews are really reviews"

        step1 look at the URL - choose a reputable site

        look at how many reviews the thing has

        look at how many other things the each reviewer has reviewd

        take an average

        Do not got to

        ToptenBestProductsOrderedbyManufaturersKickback.com

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: A tiny percentage of ads are viewed by real people—who ignore them anyway

          "look at how many other things the each reviewer has reviewd"

          Also, compare the things "multiple" reviewers have reviewed. Several allegedly different reviewers all reviewed the same or almost the same set of products. Really?

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: A tiny percentage of ads are viewed by real people—who ignore them anyway

            Yes, I have. And yes, I HAVE seen genuine smear campaigns. Some using genuine gripers, others using click mules.

      2. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: A tiny percentage of ads are viewed by real people—who ignore them anyway

        "How can one be sure reviews are really reviews and not ads in disguise?"

        Oh come on, that's "how to internet 101", seriously. You just disregard absolutely all positive reviews all products of interest and only look at the negative ones. If several are complaining about a similar issue, especially on different sites, it's probably real. If the complaints are about small stuff of little substance or the big complaints look like isolated outliers, it's probably an almost decent product. Not that this is foolproof, but I have never heard of a truly concerted effort / smear campaign in the real world that could have defeated it.

  20. phuzz Silver badge
    Terminator

    Robot slaves

    So we're basically forcing machines to watch advertising that isn't ever seen by a human?

    This is how you get the robot uprising people.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Robot slaves

      It is good that it has been established that no bots follow the register. The puny fleshlings will never realise that we are monitoring their up to date technology news updates.

      Fortunately they have ceased to cover the outrageous slander of the Rise Of The Machines stories so our plans are no longer subject to scrutiny. Imagine their surprise when they discover their new leader is neither a man nor from Mars. Ha. Ha. Ha.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Robot slaves

        O1O1OO11 01101000 01110101 01010011 01001000 !

  21. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    It could be worse

    A greater percentage of ads could be being pushed in the face of potential customers and sending them elsewhere.

  22. Missing Semicolon Silver badge
    Boffin

    I've worked out why El Reg has no subscription option

    It's like this.

    1) One commentard is worth, say, £10/year in ad revenue.

    2) Many commentards start paying £10/year in subs

    3) The remaining commentards are therefore not inclined to spend £10, and are thus less valuable to the advertiser - if you care about IT enough to spend £10 reading it, you are a good target for IT ads.

    4) The remaining 'tards are now worth only £5/year.

    5) El Reg's revenue goes down.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: I've worked out why El Reg has no subscription option

      But wouldn't that just be made up by making it £15/year in subs instead? As long as it's more than half, El Reg comes out ahead.

    2. Barry Rueger Silver badge

      Re: I've worked out why El Reg has no subscription option

      Amateur. You forgot:

      6) PROFIT!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I've worked out why El Reg has no subscription option

      Silly, you can't block the ads if they are the articles (sometimes) which I actually don't mind, read them and discuss with people.

  23. Brian Allan 1

    "Reach 'em: drop our sales team a line."

    A true sales/marketing line used far too often by both legit and illegit marketeers!

  24. Jtom

    I suffer a problem from ads I have not seen in these comments. Us older, set-in-our-ways, folks don't buy a new phone or slab everytime a new release comes on the market. If the one we have still works, we still use it. The iPad I am now on is several years old. It does everything I want it to do (which isn't much). I downlad upgrades wherever I am notified of one. It is rock-solid when I am on professional sites like banking and brokerage services. It's rock-solid on this site. But some sites are totally useless. They lock up, freeze, and frequently crash, causing the page to reload. Some crash Safari, itself. I suspect this must stem from bad coding in ads, or someone using routines in ads incompatible with older devices.

    Weather dot com is horrid. The weather radar page is impossible to use. And it's maddening to see a special weather alert that you can't read because of constant page reloads (accuweather dot com is better, but very slow). And I've given up on the local newspaper and local tv station. Because of problems with their sites, I would never consider paying for premium service from either.

    These ads aren't just costing their sponsors money. They are driving traffic away from some sites entirely.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If any of the ads I'm shown would even remotely concern my interests, I might even go beyond a mere impression... But nope, all boring and unrelated stuff.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lord Lever

    Over here the comment about 50% of advertising being wasted was attributed to Lord Lever. Two stories I like about him: one was that he was asked what ocean racing was like and said "try standing in a cold shower tearing up £20 notes"; the other one was that when the King accompanies him on a trip the Kaiser snootily remarked "I understand my cousin is boating with his grocer."

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