Thorns In Our Side: False Promises And Embellishments

spanfeller-sell-siderThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Jim Spanfeller, CEO at Spanfeller Media Group.

Without exception, every industry has its fair share of embellishments and untruths. In many ways, we as human beings cannot help ourselves. We simply want everything to happen faster and better than it does.

There are those among us who are not so much embellishing as they are outright lying, usually for fiscal gain. In mature industries these folks operate at the fringes, preying on the neophytes and underinformed. In the digital world, I fear that with our search for the new thing, the paradigm shift or the “escape velocity,” some of the more unsavory aspects of the embellishment society are not so much the exception as they are one of the sector’s core business models.

We see this not just in specific instances but also at a macro level in far too many places. Some of the transgressions are funny in how commonplace and well known they are: “Hey, it is just one line of Java code that will take your dev team five minutes to install.” Others are not so funny and hold long-term and deep ramifications for our industry as a whole.

We have played fast and loose with consumers’ trust. We have developed what could be a hugely important way of transacting media buying programmatically but is now fraught with unknowns, untruths and outright fraud. We have counted reach and traffic in countless different ways for countless different reasons and rarely have we done so with the idea of really understanding who and how many people showed up.

It is not that there is one big lie, but rather that there are countless small and some not-so-small half-truths. We have defined our interactions on a bedrock of applesauce that, due to its very loose connection to reality, is constantly being redefined. This causes us to fear not only the unknown but also the assumed known, because who knows what it really is?

This is partially the result of mixed and radically evolving business models supported in part or in whole – depending on the company and the model – by venture investment. Everyone is frantically trying to find the next huge thing. I get it. I am trying to do that as well. And we are all too willing to live in the gray if that is what it takes to get there.

Think about some of the more insidious things that our industry has spawned: malware, phishing, fraudulent traffic, cookie stuffing, bot nets, sites inside pixels, stacked ads, identity theft, privacy infringement, financial theft and so on. Every time I ponder these things I find comfort in the knowledge that just about every other emerging industry went through similar phases. And who knows, perhaps those times were equally as rife with the unsavory and illicit.

But that said, I have to admit to feeling a little worn down by it all of late. I know that I am not alone – not anywhere near alone – when I wish that we could quickly find solid ground on which to transact business, on which to work together for mutual benefits and on which we can find the next big thing.  I just am hoping that we can get there sooner rather than later.

At one point I, somewhat foolishly in retrospect, hoped that our government would step in and establish some core guidelines. I know many were worried that the government is a blunt instrument and that whatever they did would be overkill. I was OK with some overkill if it got us to a better-lit place. Looking back, I’m not sure what the fuss was all about; it seems our government has problems acting on even the most basic of issues, let alone something as nuanced at what we face.

I think in the end, this is all going to come down to you, me and the rest of our peers in the industry. We simply have to step up and say “no more.” We need to channel Nancy Reagan and just say no or, for those of us who are a bit more left of center, emulate Howard Beale in the movie “Network” by saying, “I’m as mad as hell, and I am not going to take this anymore.”

We as an industry must heal ourselves. We have to push back against the lies, the half-truths and maybe even the occasional embellishment.

Follow Jim Spanfeller (@JimSpanfeller) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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