The front page of the SundayBusiness section in the NY Times carries a piece by Natasha Singer about Frank Addante's Rubicon Project, a real time trading market for internet adds. This feature length article dutifully talks about the size of the industry ($2B in display ads bought by auction in the US this year), and other players in the business (BlueKai), the mechanics of the business (cookies), and consumer response (mostly they don't care but the advocates think they should), and advertiser response (apparently they like it a lot). The author then wheels through a number of anecdotes that illustrate how the auction system can be used. Anyone dedicated enough to make it to the end of the article is not rewarded with a conclusion but the now tired trope that the customer is the product.
I am on this rant about the article not because I think it shouldn't have been written or placed prominently in the Sunday edition but because it could have been so much more. No wonder newspapers are threatened! So much of the content is disappointing. Newspapers say that their advantage over bloggers is the interplay between the reporter and the editor that results in better content. Where was the editor on this one?
Here are some questions that I would have wanted to see surface in the article:
- Does the targeted advertising featured in the article work?
- Is there a causal link between these auctions increased consumer tracking?
- Have there been any actual cases where people have been harmed by the tracking?
Those seem like pretty basic questions if you ask me.
Here are some other things a reader might like if interested in this subject:
- The Wikipedia page for Online Advertising: Quotes Jupiter Research's forcast of $34B in online advertising for 2012 -- a good reference point for the $2B quoted in the article.
- The MagnaGlobal Advertising Forecast: One of the leading research groups tracking the industry -- says the US Ad market is going to be $152B this year.
- BusinessInsider on ComScore's report on Facebook add effectiveness: Says that Facebook ads do work -- funny, there was no mention about the auctions and facebook in the article.
- Inc. Magazine about the relationship between online advertising and offline activity.
- If you are worried about who is tracking you and how, check out ghostery.com: They make tools that help you track the trackers.
Anyone want to guess how this article got into the NY Times? Answer: The PR firm from Rubicon wrote it.