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Business Maverick: The digital advertising rip-off

Business Maverick: The digital advertising rip-off

Programmatic marketing might be viewed as a spray-and-pray exercise, but advertising has such a pervasive wastage and fraud problem that it is eating chunks out of marketing budgets and skewing performance results – as Uber recently discovered, having spent about $100-million on meaningless marketing.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Kevin Frisch, the former head of performance marketing and customer relationship management at Uber, has revealed how the ride-hailing company was in the midst of the #DeleteUber crisis when it uncovered advertising fraud worth more than $100-million. Uber is now suing about 100 mobile exchanges for fraud, either for falsifying placement reports or for fabricating them.

Frisch told the Marketing Today podcast last week that in 2017, Sleeping Giants, a liberal social media activist organisation that describes itself as “a campaign to make bigotry and sexism less profitable” by persuading companies to remove ads from conservative news outlets, repeatedly tagged Uber founder Travis Kalanick on Twitter, questioning why the company was advertising on alt-right website Breitbart, which bolstered Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Kalanick, Frisch suggests, went postal – he had left Trump’s controversial economic council and wanted to be viewed as “more neutral”. “I would explain it’s not like we’re buying ads on Breitbart, there are networks and displays … But three days later, our ads would pop up again on the site. And the phone calls and yelling would start again.

“So I’m looking at these ads, to figure out which network is putting them on there, to ask why they weren’t respecting our blacklist,” he explains.

Return on investment?

Desperate to stop the yelling, Frisch turned off 10% of Uber’s $150-million annual ad spend on the rider side and … nothing happened. The number of riders signed up didn’t go down. “I was happy that it didn’t make an impact, so I started digging in – to understand what [was] going on. We started pulling our own log files, asking the networks to tell me exactly which apps the person was in when they saw the advert that they clicked on and we started gaining these reports.”

Uber’s own analytics team started seeing things that didn’t make any sense. Websites with small numbers of monthly active users (MAUs) – a key performance indicator used to count numbers of unique customers who interacted with a company’s product or service in a month – would show hundreds of thousands of installs. Or, users would be shown to have seen and downloaded the app in two seconds, an impossibility.

The tech firm, he said, then discovered that it had an attribution fraud problem: claiming credit and payment for downloads that would have happened organically. “Normally when you think of ad fraud you imagine that it’s impression fraud [bots creating impressions that you’re paying for] but we weren’t playing for clicks – we were playing on the first trip, when an actual human took a ride, swiped a credit card so we knew there were humans involved and the normal sense of fraud wasn’t applicable.

“Attribution fraud is where ad networks were taking credit for installs that would have happened organically; they get inside that path to get credit.”

Frisch said that on the Google Play Store, some ad networks created apps to monitor battery power but the apps had root access to devices, so when users downloaded the Uber app, another app in the background would fire a click on the phone, making it look as if the user had clicked on the Uber ad.

“Then the ad network says, ‘Thanks, Uber, you owe us $20.’ That’s just one of the many amazing methods that they have. It’s not an accident – it’s highly intentional. They spend a lot of time to figure out how to hide what they’re doing and make up where the clicks came from – and often they don’t do it well.

“For instance, we’d have an app with 1,000 MAUs that would apparently drive 20,000 installs. That seems a little unrealistic,” he said.

Here things got even more curious. When Uber cut two-thirds of its advertising budget, it saw no change in its rider app installs. But a lot of installs that the company thought had come through paid channels suddenly came through organically.

Junk ads

Uber is now suing the mobile exchanges Hydrane SAS, BidMotion, Taptica, YouAppi and AdAction Interactive for buying “non-existent, nonviewable or fraudulent advertising”, although it is only able to name five defendants – the rest are cited as fictitious “John Does”. Users who did see the ads merely experienced pop-ups and auto-redirects. The ad tech companies are believed to have been paid more than $70-billion between 2015 and 2017 for performance campaigns to encourage rider installations of the Uber app.

According to the complaint filed, the inventory they bought was junk: some of the ads ran on sites (such as Breitbart) that Uber had explicitly blacklisted. The companies are alleged to have engaged in numerous fraudulent practices, such as click spoofing, ad stacking and spamming, then falsifying their reports to cover it up.

In his end-of-year wrap of the “Top 10 marketing follies of 2020”, Bob Hoffman, aka the Ad Contrarian, noted wryly that “among many stories of clueless ‘performance marketers’ getting their shorts swiped by the crooks who have colonised the programmatic advertising dreckosystem, my favourite came from Uber”. Hoffman notes most “performance marketers” have no idea how deeply they’re being penetrated by online ad fraud. “They don’t even know where to look. They have no clue how untrustworthy or irrelevant the numbers they’re getting are.” But the most disturbing aspect of the story, he says, is the description of how “nobody gave one-tenth of a flying shit how much money was being pissed away”.

Massive problem

Marketers need to re-evaluate their thinking about ad fraud, because the problem is rife, Hoffman says: “Independent researchers … tell us that ad fraud is a massive problem (recently estimated at over $60-billion) that is becoming harder to identify and is growing dangerously.”

With more than $300-billion spent on digital advertising globally, state-sponsored hackers can penetrate some of the most secure systems, undetected. “Gaming the programmatic ecosystem (which transacts about 80% of online ad activity) has been shown to be astoundingly simple.”

Citing last month’s penetration of 250 US government agencies by Russia – which was undetected by notable agencies such as the military’s Cyber Command, the National Security Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security – Hoffman says it’s no “stretch to assume that fraud detection software can also be fooled”.

“It would be amazing if state-sponsored cyber criminals didn’t view the ad tech marketplace as ridiculously easy pickings and even more delicious since there are no consequences for being discovered.”

Where does it all go?

A PwC study commissioned by British advertisers trade body ISBA and the Association of Online Publishers into the UK’s £2-billion “premium” programmatic ad market (including high-profile advertisers, publishers, agencies and ad tech) has shown that 15% of all marketing spend disappears into a supply-chain black hole, with only 50% of investment making it to publishers.

Death toll hits 60 as search for survivors continues following powerful earthquake in Indonesia

Death toll hits 60 as search for survivors continues following powerful earthquake in Indonesia

Mamuju, Indonesia – A powerful earthquake on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island has killed at least 60 people, authorities said on Sunday, with thousands left homeless as rescuers raced to find anyone still alive under mountains of rubble more than two days after the disaster.

But monsoon rains were challenging the search effort, as hundreds of injured overwhelmed the only local hospital still operating in the aftermath of the 6.2-magnitude quake, which struck early on Friday.

The tremor triggered panic among residents of the island, which was hit by a 2018 quake-tsunami disaster that killed thousands.

Rescuers have been filling body bags with corpses hauled from beneath crumpled buildings in Mamuju, a city of 110 000 people in West Sulawesi province, where a hospital was flattened and a shopping mall lay in ruins.

Others were killed south of the city.

The death toll could still climb.

‘Everyone was panicking’

Excavators, cranes and other heavy equipment were deployed across the devastated seaside city where buildings were reduced to a tangled mass of twisted metal and chunks of concrete, including the regional governor’s office.

It was unclear how many people – dead or alive – could still be under the debris.

“We heard a roaring sound and the house started shaking,” said survivor Jumardi, 50, from a shelter where he and six family members took refuge.

“All I had in my mind was that I would die…Everyone was panicking.”

Authorities have not given a figure for how many survivors have been rescued.

A pair of young sisters plucked from under the mass of concrete and other debris were treated in hospital.

Meanwhile, corpses were recovered from under a collapsed hospital, while five members of a family of eight were found dead in the crumpled remains of their home.

Running low on food, supplies

Masked doctors treated patients with broken limbs and other injuries at a makeshift medical centre set up outside the only one of the city’s hospitals that survived the quake relatively intact.

Among them was Wawan, who was rescued by neighbours after the violent tremor buried him.

The 27-year-old initially didn’t want to go into a hospital to treat a broken foot.

“I was traumatised,” said the man, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

“But people convinced me that the doctors were treating patients outside the building, so I agreed to go.”

Thousands left homeless by the quake took to makeshift shelters – many little more than tarpaulin-covered tents filled with whole families.


They said they were running low on food, blankets and other aid, as emergency supplies were rushed to the hard-hit region

Many survivors are unable to return to their destroyed homes, or were too scared to go back fearing a tsunami sparked by aftershocks, which are common after strong earthquakes.

“It’s better to take shelter before something worse happens,” said Mamuju resident Abdul Wahab, from a tent with his wife and four kids, including a baby.

Fearing an outbreak of coronavirus in the crowded camps, authorities were trying to separate high- and lower-risk groups.

“Covid-19 further complicates (the) emergency response,” said NGO Project HOPE.

Disaster prone

Indonesia, a Southeast Asian archipelago of nearly 270 million, has been hit by a series of natural disasters this week.

Landslides sparked by torrential rains killed at least 28 in Java island, while dozens are dead or missing after severe flooding pounded another part of Sulawesi and Kalimantan, Indonesia’s section of Borneo.

Volcano Mount Semeru shot a plume of ash and debris some 4.5km into the sky on Saturday night as bright red lava flowed down its crater. There were no reports of casualties.

Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide.

In 2018, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi left more than 4 300 people dead or missing.

And on 26 December 2004, a massive 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra, triggering a tsunami that killed 220 000 throughout the region, including 170 000 in Indonesia – among the worst recorded disasters in history.

Infidelity And Divorce Talks, Somizi Catches Mohale Cheating With A Rich Married Man

Infidelity And Divorce Talks, Somizi Catches Mohale Cheating With A Rich Married Man

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire”, they assert right? Their marriage has long been rumoured to get on the rocks, now sources on the brink of the couple say infidelity has led to divorce talks.

The once glossy marriage between mediap personalitySomizi Mhlongo Motaung and his husband Mohale Motaung-Mhlongo could also be losing its lustre, because the couple are allegedly preparing for a politician split.

Following reports that the couple had put the brakes on their relationship in November, an area publication has learnt that the 2 are currently discussing an amicable separation through divorce.
The couple declined to discuss their alleged marriage woes.

When involved comment, Mohale said: “I thought you were calling me about something else. If it’s about this then, no, i select to not say anything.”

Yesterday, Somizi didn’t reply to any of the questions sent to him, only saying: “Please make my year and write that story. i will be able to sue the living hell out of you and your publicat
ion for this crap you’re asking me.”

However, three sources – an in depth friend and a colleague of Somizi’s, also as a lover of Mohale’s claimed that the estranged couple were headed for splitsville.

The couple, who tied the knot two years ago during a publicized television wedding, allegedly spent Christmas and New Years apart.

It is also believed that Mohale has removed of their matrimonial range in Dainfern, northern Johannesburg, and is currently staying with a lover in Sandton.

Sources on the brink of the couple allege that one among the most factors standing within the way of the pair filing papers is that the discussions surrounding their divorce settlement.

He doesn’t attend their matrimonial range in Dainfern. it’s believed that they’re busy negotiating their divorce settlement,” the source alleged.

Sources also claim that the most cause for the rift within the relationship is numerous allegations of cheating on Mohale’s part, including shortly before their wedding in 2019.

Another source on the brink of the pair said the aggravation for Somizi was when he discovered that his husband allegedly had an affair with one among their close friends, who is additionally a husband .

“The guy is married to a lady and has kids. that’s why Somizi didn’t begin about this because he wanted to be sensitive to guard the guy’s young children. The guy is additionally financially powerful, so he doesn’t want to tug his name and reputation,” the source claimed.

“The boy [Mohale] is everywhere the show, but I don’t blame him. he’s young and Somizi wanted to urge married as he’s old.

Mohale just wants to play, he wasn’t ready. Even every week before the marriage , Somizi wanted to chop off the marriage because he acknowledged that Mohale was cheating, but he couldn’t ,” the source said.
The couple, who star in their own reality television program , Living The Dream with Somizi, wear numerous times addressed their marriage troubles through the show.

Sotho Wedding With The Bride In Green Seshweshwe

Sotho Wedding With The Bride In Green Seshweshwe

I have this beautiful Sotho wedding with the bride in green seshweshwe to share with you. This wedding is Bontle Bride through and through. The photography is top-notch and everything else looks stunning. Kelebogile, our bride, had so many things go wrong on her day but judging from the images you seriously can’t tell. Enjoy

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Shweshwe Dresses Perfect for 2021

ShweshweShweshwe Dresses Perfect

It’s been a tough weekend. The flu bug had us all in the Khoza household. Winter is definitely making its presence known here in the UK and although the flu bug is getting better, it inst completely gone. Because of flu we spent most of the weekend inside watching F1. After a decade of watching the sport with MR K and pretending to be interested, I can finally say I’m a huge fan. I was hoping my favourite driver, Lewis Hamilton would win the championship. Anyhow well done to winner Nico Rosberg and in the words of the man who lost a championship. “But still we rise”

If you’re on a hunt for a gorgeous shweshwe wedding dress then allow me to make your search a little easier. The featured dresses took my breath away and I’m sure you’ll adore them too. Although shweshwe is normally worn by Tswana brides there’s no reason as to why brides from other cultures can’t wear it too. Especially if you are getting married to a Tswana man or vice versa.


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