Is The Ad Tech Industry High On Its Own Stash?

For the most part, the author argues, the digital media industry is a joke and advertisers are being royally played. And then the ad tech companies go public.

Is The Ad Tech Industry High On Its Own Stash?
[Image: Flickr user Andrew Kuznetsov]

If you saw the shenanigans behind the scenes in the ad tech data space you’d think the industry was filled with drug dealers all smoking their own inventory. Viewable. Not viewable. Viewable but not seen. Above the fold (that no longer exists in the world of infinite scroll). RTB (a technical term for how fast can I buy?). We’re in a room full of egos all running around pretending to be smarter than they are and tricking people out of billions of dollars with machine learning algorithms. And these people have nothing at stake. A frightening number of them have had IPOs recently, too.


The sad fact is that ad tech companies can still go public without a sustainable business. Investors in the public markets have no more clue what they’re buying than the media planners who use their services.

Investors and advertisers, get real. There is premium inventory and there is garbage. That’s how online media works. You believe audiences are fragmented, and they are, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy everything just to reach a precious few.

Most of the schlock inventory is bought blind but hey, at least it’s at high speed. You have no idea what you are buying, because you buy it on specious audience data. Fortunately, it’s so cheap that any data makes a nice graphic for your boss, you get more spend because they think you’ve “moved the needle.” It’s one big conspiracy in which no one questions either the value of the ads or the value of the data that supports them.

But then you find out that half the hits you bought at bots. Here’s the advice I received from Rodney Mayers, my friend at Proximic, a company that analyzes sites: media buyers, uncheck the box that says you will take “unknown inventory.” That will give you both fraud protection and a URL you can get some data on. Buy with some discrimination.

If you do buy blind inventory, tell your clients that you are wasting their dollars and putting their brand at risk for being next to, say, Mexican drug lords decapitating a woman. Or hardcore porn.

Advertisers are the people with the real money. Demand more. Ask for the data, then audit the data. If you have the money and demand little more in return than a real time buy, you will get what you pay for.


For the most part, the digital media industry is a joke and advertisers are being played royally. They know, you don’t know, so you get swindled every time. And the numbers are so big it doesn’t matter.

Challenge. Everything. Don’t let vendors with Martinis and no data guide you because in the end, they will go public and your industry will have a black eye.

About the author

Francine Hardaway, Ph.D is a serial entrepreneur and seasoned communications strategist. She co-founded Stealthmode Partners, an accelerator and advocate for entrepreneurs in technology and health care, in 1998.