Every week for the past five years there has been an article about the decline of the traditional ad agency. I always smile, knowing that is too broad a stroke made on the industry. The real nail in the coffin is not the agency all up, but many distinct market forces, each with their own individual pressure on any one agency. Leave their creative alone – the real death of the agency is in the media. Not only is the programmatic display media function increasingly brought in-house, but agency ethics are in question. And the real kicker? Ad fraud. I was on a call with a global media agency defending industry-average beating CTR and CPM while conveniently ignoring the fact that time-on-site was 0.0 seconds.  I was in shock that they kept up the defense, looking at how LinkedIn and YouTube media were delivering 4+ minute visits on site. Every display ad click was a bot. The data was staring at them, and they ignored it. So, every dollar spent was wasted. Every. Single. Dollar.

But a slightly promising slice of data appeared. Retargeted display ads. These were served at a lower cost to prospects that had already visited a brand’s website. A bit of interest and awareness was already there. Retargeting could turn it into a conversion. This is why Amazon is chewing into Google and Facebook’s revenue – they are closer to the point of purchase. But retargeting poses a different problem. A very human one.

A few times a week for the past few months, a disturbing trend is happening. I will be on my laptop (I’m not a Facebook user), and a few hours later my wife’s Facebook feed shows her an advertisement for the exact thing I was looking at. We didn’t put it together until she asked me, “Did you order Leon Bridge’s new album on vinyl?” Stunned, I replied, “Yes, how the heck did you know?”  She then went on to describe the latest online course at MIT I just registered for, and that I was looking for new shoes and a travel bag. Now, remember, I’m not connected to Facebook, yet she was getting these ads on Instagram. I realized that our Internet provider was selling our collective web history to the ad auction houses. We took our son’s iPad and saw that we could force those ads into his browser results and games from our web history.

So here is the problem. My search history for Christmas gifts is going to hit every member of my household. The wife has already figured it out, and it is only a matter of time until my kid does. Bravo. This year, everything under the tree will be sourced from the Dark Web.

James Rice, Digital Experience