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  • Bob Hoffman


For several years, the advertising industry has been engaged in a conspiracy to deceive its clients and the public about online advertising.

It is not the kind of conspiracy you get when bad people get together to plot a crime. It is the kind of conspiracy you get when greedy, frightened people individually decide it is safer to keep their mouths shut than tell the truth.

For the last few years we have been flooded with scandals and revelations about corruption, fraud, and lies in the online advertising ecosystem. In no particular order, here is just a partial list:

  • Tens of billions of dollars in online ad fraud

  • Inflated and absurd ‘metrics’

  • Advertising dollars spent supporting terrorist, nazi, and pornography sites

  • Advertisers unknowingly supporting pedophile rings 

  • Billion dollar fraud in influencer followers

  • Traffic fraud

  • Criminal federal investigation of data sharing

  • The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office stating that adtech is “illegal” and “out of control”

  • Association of National Advertisers claim that corruption and kickbacks were “pervasive” in the advertising industry

  • Massive fraud in social media followers.

  • Click farms going 24-hours a day

  • Numerous scandals involving online publishers, search engines, and browsers spying on people without their knowledge or consent

  • Sharing of “secure” personal information among web entities

  • FBI and Justice Department investigations of media practices

  • Google and others secretly sharing personal data with advertisers

The terribly damning part is that there are only two possibilities: Either agencies are remarkably stupid and don’t know what is going on, or they know and are keeping their mouths shut. It’s hard to decide which is worse. I believe they have been engaged in an unspoken conspiracy.

Not a single one of the scandals involving online media were brought to light by a media agency. Not one. Let’s put this another way — not one of the scandals about online media were exposed by the people whose job it is to scrutinize online media.

Agencies, particularly media agencies, are as close to the online media industry as you can get. They are analysing online media 24 hours a day. They are responsible for seeing to it that hundreds of billions of online advertising dollars are spent properly every year. They work very closely with media. They have the facts at their fingertips. They are assessing online media opportunities on behalf of their clients every day.

How can it be that reporters, who are not trained in media, have not nearly the resources to scrutinize media, and have no expertise in analyzing media, were able to sniff out scandal after scandal while the ‘experts’ were not able to do so? It is not possible. It doesn’t even pass the giggle test.

As one very highly regarded media analyst commented to me recently: “Agency bigwigs are notoriously paranoid and fearful. There’s a strong code of silence.”

If it were left to the leaders of the ad industry, we would know nothing about any of the appalling stories listed above. By concealing their knowledge of deceit and dishonesty in online media, the ad industry has failed at one of their most consequential responsibilities – being trustworthy stewards of their clients’ money. Instead, they have been responsible for wasting billions of client dollars. Why? 

  • Because they’re afraid to admit they’ve been played for fools by online media

  • Because they get fees or commissions on most of the wasted billions

One can only wonder what additional sleaze the media ‘experts’ know of and are keeping quiet about.

The ad industry has allowed itself to crawl into bed with the squids at Facebook and Google and the rest of the devious adtech weasels. It makes them look like fools. Every week there are alarming reports of fraud, corruption, privacy abuse, and security failures in online media and they shrug their shoulders and duck for cover.

By being lapdogs to the corrupt and dangerous online media marketers are squandering their credibility. They are on the wrong side of history and will continue to stay there until the silent conspiracy to protect online media ends.

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