Scam ads prove the advertising industry isn’t exempt from fake news

In the murky world of vanity metrics, winning awards from likes and page views alone means nothing unless the return in investment is clear for everyone to see, writes Sabri Suby.

Fake news is defined as: “False, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.” So, what does that make so many of the marketing campaigns that we see from the Australian industry?

So many award-winning advertising campaigns are created for nothing more than that – award wins. In an age where the industry bangs on so much about data, surely this is inexcusable?

As Forbes reported last year: “A Forrester study found that 44% of B2C marketers are using big data and analytics to improve responsiveness [and] 36% are actively using analytics and data mining to gain greater insights to plan more relationship-driven strategies.”

Despite this, the well-publicised and overly-awarded campaigns we have put in front of us generally seem to be mere shadows of what they really should be, and certainly not what we should be holding up on a pedestal for all to see.

Sabri Suby is the founder and head of growth at King Kong.

The problem is huge. Advertising Age in the US wrote an entire series on it, stating that: “Scam ads are a chronic problem in adland, a sort of dark underbelly of the industry where agencies and individuals trying to win awards submit work that’s never been approved by a client or run more than a couple times.”

That was in 2013. The situation hasn’t improved, despite the fact that data has become a much more prominent player in the industry. The problem is actually simple.

While the industry likes to bang on about data and its myriad opportunities, those in the know also realise it can open them up to serious criticism and accountability.

Scam ads… or fake news?

So, they play it down, count only metrics that look good regardless of whether they increase revenue, or worst of all, use vanity metrics to get away with work they know is sub-par or designed for anything but increasing their client’s sales and revenue.

It’s simply a case of marketing cowboys, but the industry, for whatever reason, doesn’t feel the urge to stand up to it with much force. Even the withdrawal from awards by the Publicis Group wasn’t a reaction to scam ads, but a way to divert funds towards internal projects.

The fact that vanity metrics can still be used to pull the wool over a brand’s eyes is a blight on both the advertising agency and the brand. Perhaps it is down to social media’s surge in popularity which began to rest heavily on vanity metrics, like number of followers or number of retweets.

Let’s be clear, those metrics, along with page views, number of downloads, unique browsers et al have no place in accurately measuring the success of a campaign. Anyone that tries to convince you otherwise should be asked one simple question: “For every dollar I put in, how many dollars in revenue was made?”

At the end of the day, there is one person who is accountable for calling this out and asking the hard but fair question: the brand lead. It seems implausible that in 2017, brands could be walking into a marketing campaign with any goal other than attracting a financial return on their marketing investment.

Sentiment, followers, views, downloads… they are all worth nothing unless those people then turn around and become customers or clients.

The number one thing my team has seen across our client list is that conversion tracking is not set up by the agencies they previously worked with. These digital cowboys preach that the impressions and social reach of an ad campaign are viable and newsworthy results.

Clients arrive sceptical and on high-alert, questioning what a digital agency can actually do for their business. This is why we have adopted an educational approach, informing our clients about how digital metrics are going to provide a return on their investment and help the business grow.


Someone call the scam police

Let’s take an example of a fast food chain that just had an app created for them with a Siri-style assistant. The award shows will ask for result metrics like number of downloads, hours of consumer engagement, number of positive reviews, etc. But none of that matters unless the app increases the amount of people ordering the food, thereby increasing revenue and not just paying for the app creation but earning significantly more revenue on top of that.

In an article for Huffington Post, entrepreneur Jon Colgan wrote the headline: “All awards are stupid”. I don’t agree with that, but those that use vanity metrics as markers of success certainly are.

What’s more, brands that accept vanity metrics as markers of campaign success aren’t being smart. It’s time that brands got serious about what their agencies are providing and attributed actual revenue return to a campaign. Agencies operating on vanity metrics need to be stamped out.

As Colgan writes: “This is an important topic in the annals of marketing, because, in business, so much of what we think of as a victory is wrong. Too often, we celebrate mere popularity… what’s more important is how you leverage that opportunity to later achieve what actually matters: making fat stacks, changing the world, etc.”

Time to cut the crap, then!


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