When blank spaces get better click through rates than ads

A blunder by a Google trainee saw a retailer spend a fortune on 'yellow nothing'. But all might not be lost. Bob Hoffman recalls a study that found click through rates on a blank space were 60% higher than published reports of Facebook click rates

What do you think of it?

Apparently in a multi-million dollar “programmatic” screw-up, this block of yellow nothing appeared as an ad on thousands of websites, including CNN and Forbes. The “ad” appeared on websites all over the US and Australia.

According to AdAge the whole thing started at a Google training session. It seems that a Google trainee pressed a wrong button and accidentally bought zillions of dollars worth of yellow nothing on behalf of an Australian retailer.

Publishers were astounded as the yellow “ad” appeared on thousands of their websites. The good news for those publishers is that Google has said it will make good on the ad space. There were no reported complaints by consumers because, as usual with online ads, nobody noticed it.

This reminds me of one of my favorite ad stories. Back in 2012, three very clever guys decided to do an experiment to gauge “engagement” with banner ads. They bought ad space and ran nothing — just an all-white area.

They measured the click rate in the blank “ads” versus the click rate for actual Facebook and other ads. Here were some of the results:

The click-through rate on the blank space was 60% higher than published reports of click rates for Facebook.

The click rate for the blank space was about double the click rate for an average “branding” display ad.

The experiment indicated that about  44% of all banner ad clicks are mistakes.

You can’t make this shit up.

More Branding Brilliance

In the past few weeks we’ve gleefully poked fun at some hideous branding moves — like the renaming of Y&R to VLMY&R and the relaunch of JWT as Wunderman Thompson.

This week the branding geniuses are at it again. The company that owns both Wrangler and Lee jeans is called VF Corp. VF has decided to spin both brands off into a new company which they are calling…ready?… Kontoor Brands. You see, we’re supposed to get that “Kontoor” is a play on the word “contour.” Get it?

Yeah, neither do I.

Happy Holidays: Ad Fraud Steals Another 20%

According to ad verification company Fraudlogix, so far during the holiday season, fraudulent advertising traffic has jumped another 20%. Fraudlogix estimates that fraud constitutes about 14% of all traffic. If true and projectible, this means that about $15 billion worth of ad dollars are stolen annually by ad fraud in the US – over twice what the ANA and IAB estimate.

MediaPost says, “The data comes from monitoring traffic from more than 640 million unique users, 1.2 billion unique devices, and 12 million URLs monthly.” But don’t be too impressed by these numbers. Despite this huge quantity of data to judge from, fraudsters have become so sophisticated and odiously innovative that all fraud numbers are substantially guesswork. Remember, these numbers are based on indications of fraud that can be detected. The art and science of fraud is to go undetected.

Another company, Distil Networks, says that 48% of all internet traffic is bots. Ad fraud expert Dr. Augustine Fou estimates online ad fraud is vacuuming up over 50% of all online ad dollars in the US.

But it’s not you who’s getting screwed, it’s the other guy! You have safeguards and metrics and reports and fraud protection in place, right?  Don’t make me laugh. There’s nothing crooks like better than a whole industry full of confident suckers

Bob Hoffman has been the CEO of two independent agencies and is the author of the Ad Contrarian blog, where this post first appeared


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