Home Platforms PR Provocateur Ed Zitron: Big Tech And Ads Broke The Internet Beyond Repair

PR Provocateur Ed Zitron: Big Tech And Ads Broke The Internet Beyond Repair

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Ed Zitron, Founder and CEO, EZPR

Ed Zitron will be speaking at AdExchanger’s Programmatic IO conference on May 16-17 in Las Vegas. Click here to register.

As a public relations consultant for tech companies, Ed Zitron has seen some things. He knows where the bodies are buried, and he’s happy to point them out.

Zitron argues that the internet is being ruined by the Big Tech players that control it – and sometimes it appears that these companies are eager to prove his case.

Take Meta manufacturing the metaverse hype cycle. The whole thing was just a pretense to distract from Facebook’s “cancerous brand,” Zitron said. Meta’s recent attempts to downplay its all-in investment in the now-dead metaverse prove that CEO Mark Zuckerberg should be run out of the company on a rail.

But the big platforms aren’t the only ones making the internet worse. Digital advertising has become nothing more than noise, Zitron said.

The ad industry needs to lose its sense of entitlement over everyone’s data. “Billions of dollars spent,” he said, “and we don’t know where the money even went, yet [advertisers] seem obsessed with the idea that they need to be able to keep tracking people.”

Zitron spoke to AdExchanger about social media’s sins, the demise of behavioral targeting, AI’s cosmic horrors and … Swedish melodic death metal. (His favorite In Flames album is “Colony” and/or “Clayman”).

AdExchanger: Does the metaverse hype cycle illustrate the sway Big Tech has over advertisers and other tech companies?

ED ZITRON: It’s proof that Big Tech has too much power, but also that the tech industry is a bunch of followers. [Microsoft CEO] Satya Nadella said in 2021 he could not overstate what a breakthrough the metaverse was. Microsoft’s metaverse products were Microsoft Teams, and that’s it. Their metaverse industrial division has been shuttered. They also tried to brand the Activision deal as metaverse, and if Activision is metaverse, then everything in video games is metaverse.

What’s Meta’s future?

The ad-supported model of social media will die as tracking dies. Social media has a reckoning coming in the next 10 years with privacy laws and GDPR. The EU is going to crush Facebook.

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Digital publishers cited a pullback in ad spend last year to justify this year’s layoffs. Are these businesses mismanaged?

There was overspending across everything in 2021. It isn’t obvious anymore what’s truly working at scale. The big holding companies are used to spending money rather than being results driven. Billions of dollars are being wasted – and that’s before Facebook accidentally spent millions.

Digital advertising has had an attribution problem for years, and the bill is coming due. The pullback is also happening because we are in the twilight of behavioral targeting.

Speaking of behavioral targeting’s decline, have publishers and social platforms failed to prepare for changes like Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency and cookie deprecation?

Even putting aside Cambridge Analytica, there was always something deeply craven about behavioral targeting at the level that Facebook and others have been doing it. That dying is a good thing for society. And Apple was fairly direct about the fact that this was going to happen.

Are you seeing any innovation in the marketplace in terms of building a successful publishing business?

You have to find a way to monetize outside of advertising. Defector is smaller, but profitable. Users like and will pay for good journalism and personality-driven writing from people they like.

Venture capital expects eternal growth, and it just does not work in journalism. Look at BuzzFeed and Protocol.

Is the pivot to vertical video the same failed video strategy we’ve seen before?

Yes, but there are two kinds of pivots to video. There’s what we saw with sites like Mic.com that were tricked by Facebook lying about its video metrics. The pivot to vertical video [is the other kind, with] the ads industry chasing every new fad.

TikTok advertising is just another channel, and it’s also pledging fealty to another large platform that can change its algorithm to screw with you the same way Facebook, Apple, Google and every single platform owner has.

Does the latest shiny object – AI – have staying power?

There are going to be AI-generated articles, but generative AI content is not good. Even if it gets better, it lacks humanity. It lacks a soul. And no one can tell me what AI is doing in ads other than theoretically telling you what ad might play better.

Some companies are pushing AI-generated video ads.

You mean like that fake beer ad? That was a Lovecraftian horror.

Could AI make programmatic advertising more efficient?

That’s a baseline thing everyone could agree on, but wholesale automation of content is a horrible idea. The ads industry doesn’t realize the reason they’re so deep in this hole is because they’ve relied so much on programmatic, automation and algorithmically driven stuff.

Consumers are tired of being hypertargeted. The irony of it is they’re not really being targeted personally. The average consumer is aware of that automation. If we automate the creative, they’re going to realize that, too.

What about using AI to identify bias in ad campaigns?

Having an algorithm check for bias and racism is such a cop out. Hire people of color, hire women, hire trans people – not a goddamn computer.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For more articles featuring Ed Zitron, click here.

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