The AdNews numbers that mislead the market

It’s always a tad tawdry when competitors attack each other, but I hope you’ll bear with me…

Whether cynically or through incompetence, AdNews has been misleading its advertisers by providing them with data that seems to suggest they have six times their true online audience.

Allow me to present the evidence.  

It’s an issue of which we have been aware for a little while. They’ve had this graph out in the market for a couple of months now.


AdNews' claimed "impressions"

Adnews_updateThat graph looks impressive, doesn’t it?

A reasonable person might well assume that it means they’re serving 1.2m page impressions a month.

I bet that’s what you assume too isn’t it? Good on the 80 year old market stalwart, eh? That’s a healthy number.

It’s backed up in the accompanying text.

Adnews_media_kit (They’re very proud of not being a blog aren’t they?)

But I started to smell a rat. 1.2m page impressions off 40,000 unique browsers is unlikely.

So I looked more carefully. One of the things you need to know if you are trying to decide where to advertise is page impressions – how many times will your ad potentially be seen? Particularly if, like AdNews, the ratecard is set by periods of time the ad is on the site rather than actual ad impressions delivered.

So what does that AdNews data actually show? Amazingly, it’s how many ad impressions AdNews served – not how many page impressions. A single page of AdNews has six ad slots, which they would count as six impressions.

This is where I start to scratch my head.

Can you think of a single legitimate reason for presenting this number to the market?  Google Analytics has actual page impressions data available. Why wouldn’t you supply that if you weren’t trying to deceive your advertisers?

The most charitable explanation I can come up with is this: a technical person at AdNews passed all of the data to the sales team and there was some kind of misunderstanding which led to the creation of the graph above. Admittedly that doesn’t explain why they use the misleading term impressions, rather than “ad impressions”.

But it’s the best I can come up with.

Up to now I’ve had no hard evidence that reasonable people were being misled. But that changed yesterday.

Amnesia’s Iain McDonald, one of Australia’s most respected digital people, published a blog post about the state of traffic for all of the online marketing titles. Clearly (and reasonably) assuming that the 1.2m figure was what it appeared to be, his numbers suggested to readers that AdNews was the biggest marketing site by far on that metric at least.

Fortunately, the smoking gun is in the AdNews graph above. You’ll notice that they are claiming 731,705 “impressions” for February. That number rang a bell.

Amnesia carried out a similar exercise earlier this year. On that occasion, AdNews shared slightly more data – they included both their “impressions” of 731,705 and their page views – 145,956. (At that time I’m guessing there were just five ad slots).

This was enough evidence to persuade Iain that he’d been fooled by the number, and he moved AdNews down his table from 1.2m views to just over 200,000. He still puts them just above B&T which is in my view inaccurate, but that’s not my fight.

Leaving aside my selfish frustration at a competitor not playing fair, there’s a wider issue at stake here. One of the roles of the trade press is as a watchdog. It’s very hard for the sector as a whole to champion best practice, when shoddy tactics like this are used.

Frustratingly, there’s a very easy way to level the playing field – audit. It’s cheap. The ABA does it for just over $100 a month. Yet only Mumbrella, Campaign Brief and its sister title BestAdsOnTV take part.

And clearly there are advertisers who do not demand it. I wonder if those AdNews advertisers understand what they are getting.

AdNews has an interesting stance on audit. It only allows audited magazines to be considered for its Magazine of the Year Awards. Yet its own website is not audited.

For years, AdNews (which was ABC audited) criticised the CAB audit of its rival B&T (declaration of interest: I used to work there). Until earlier this month when it suddenly switched from ABC to CAB.

That came six months after it published a table of ABC data, but deleted itself from the list after a 10% fall.

The sad thing is that AdNews is doing pretty well online at the moment – its journos have broken some decent stories. Albeit off a lower base, I bet their real page impressions are on the up too. But the journos are being let down by the tactics of their commercial colleagues.

If AdNews has nothing to hide, there’s an easy answer to all of this – get an audit.

Tim Burrowes


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