Would you encourage your children to work in marketing? I doubt it…

Some of you may have noticed I haven’t blogged for about three months. I decided to take time out to observe the industry through rose coloured glasses and find some positive examples of advertising to share – regardless of channel. I might as well have tried to climb Mt Everest naked. Sorry for that vision folks, but that’s how difficult the task has been.

Because when you stop for a moment and take a gander, the sight is really sad.

I’ve spent most of my life working in marketing in one way or another – as a business owner, running marketing departments, running agencies and educating executives and students. Never in my experience have I known the marketing industry to be so shonky, shoddy, dishonest, artificial, delusional, self-destructive and downright on the nose.

Why would anyone want their children to get a job in marketing? It’s become an embarrassment to say “I work in marketing”. You might as well say “have you met my parole officer?”

The growth in deplorables (to steal a recent popular word) is directly linked to the rise of the digital marketing industry and all the charlatans it has attracted. It seems they’re all drinking the same kool-aid and believing their “owned media” to use a digi-buzzword. Their mantra is one of the oldest on the planet “a sucker is born every minute” and it’s easy to chant when the suckers, sorry marketers, are hooked on FOMO and fashion.

Everywhere you turn there are examples. And it’s been getting worse every year. I produced this parody video in 2011 to promote an event, partly because like many, I couldn’t find any facts to support the outrageous claims about online usage by consumers.

Then this book was a best seller in 2012. I cannot find any similar publications claiming analogue channels to be so dishonest.

The first abuse of a marketing channel was the telephone and this was countered by government and industry with “do not call” registers. The problem with telemarketing was not so much dishonesty, rather it was the frequency of unsolicited calls into people’s homes.

The spiral to dishonesty started with email marketing. The scams, abuse of privacy, illegal use of email addresses, spreading of viruses and frequency of messaging, created so many problems that governments created anti-spam laws as well as data privacy legislation. Email continues to be abused, with most people now having a daily ritual of deleting unsolicited or irrelevant messages.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the marketing industry as we know it today…

The fake internet is growing so fast it will be one of the biggest online industries in less than a decade. Bob Hoffman, another lone but increasingly louder voice in the wilderness, has been very vocal about the fraud in the online advertising industry. In a number of articles, he has revealed that the percentage of clicks on online ads by robots, varies from 30% and up to 90%. Agencies have no way of telling how much “traffic” or “clicks” are by robots, as even the publishers themselves don’t really know. Yet marketers are charged for this fraud.

Then there is the “fake profile” industry. Software can now create social media accounts for anything connected to the internet. So your grandmother’s new fridge, or your sound system running from an app, will be hacked and a profile created using the device’s unique IP address.

The fraudsters then buy fake followers, they cost as little as $2.00 for a thousand, and create a fake following. The “profile” then publishes fake content, either stolen, or created by slaves with no subject expertise, working in Eastern Europe, the subcontinent, or South America. Ad space is then sold on these “fake profile” sites to computerised advertising networks. Marketer’s ads then appear on the sites, with the marketer being none the wiser.

As the system is fully computerised and rarely has a human eye to analyse it, the ability to scam the programmatic ad networks to create fake sites and earn automatic “fake revenue” is huge.

But the digital marketing industry seems uninterested in addressing the issue. One of the drivers behind this lack of interest is that very few marketers care. They never look at their digital analytics. It’s more important to be seen to be “digital” and mediocre, than to be using digital channels profitably. An Australian report suggested more than 60% of senior marketers didn’t bother looking at or using the analytical data their digital marketing generated. So they have no idea what works or what fails.

Media companies have now admitted they have been falsely charging for online advertising and are returning $millions to clients, rather than face messy legal action. Dentsu was the first to raise its guilty hand.

I have one client about to go to court with its global media agency because the agency refuses to use the client’s programmatic advertising account. The reason is simple. The moment the client gets access to the account they will discover how much they have been ripped-off over the terms of the contract to date. It seems the agency is hiding behind a clause in the contract that says bookings must be on its account. The media agency would rather lose the client’s business across the globe than be found guilty of fraud.

Facebook admits it has overstated video viewing by as much as 80%.

Sir Martin Sorrell has called out Google for unwittingly allowing advertisers to subsidise extremist terrorist sites with their advertising.

Proctor & Gamble, the largest media advertiser in the world is threatening to stop advertising online unless the industry starts to act honestly and ditches its self-interest. P&G has already reduced its Facebook spend because it resulted in an appalling loss of revenue and market share.

While French media agency Havas has followed suit and pulled all advertising from Google and the YouTube platform until they “deliver the standards we and our clients expect”.

An active Twitter user is someone who accesses their account once a month – and there are more inactive accounts than active ones. #whybotherwithtwitter

FYI Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn remain the major publishers that continue to refuse independent auditing of their platforms. Whereas all the major analogue publishers have always participated in independent auditing as part of providing a legitimate service to advertisers.

How did it get so bad? I suspect that one reason is the fact so many people claiming to be digital marketers know nothing about marketing and just a little bit about binary coding. They have no respect for marketing, dismissing it as “just part of the process” for anyone who can use a keyboard. Or they’ve read a definitive guide and so have become a definitive expert.

I was in a meeting with a digital marketing manager who stated with authority; “a brand is just the logo taken to the next level“. But he did it with such conviction the juniors in the room took notes – I just shook my head and asked for more coffee, as it was the only drug available.

Creative thinking is not valued. Instead, you just need to Google “world’s best example of…” and then copy the ideas for your client or your brand. The result of following the “God called Google” has been a devaluing of creative talent.

And while BIG DATA is the latest trend, most marketers and their media agencies don’t analyse data. They don’t know what works and what doesn’t. They talk about data and even produce spreadsheets, but they don’t study the data to gain knowledge. Instead, they worship at the social altar of “likes” and “followers” and some nebulous term called “engagement”.

The digital channels allow you to predict the future, so you can make more money, or earn the same amount for a lower spend. They put more knowledge in the palm of marketer’s hands than any other channel. Yet nobody seems to care.

Though here’s what some major advertisers say about social channels after analysing them:

Unilever has said its social media results are about 50% as good as traditional POS advertising and other retail promotions. While Coca Cola ran its usual metrics through its social media and saw no difference in sales as a result of social content. Westfield shopping centres stopped social media advertising, as results and research revealed its customers preferred printed catalogues.

As Bob Hoffman published recently: in a study by the American Marketing Association, Deloitte and Duke University, more than 88% of marketers surveyed said they could find no measurable impact from social media marketing. While Forrester Research reported that only 0.07% of one major brand’s Facebook followers ever engage with one of its posts.

It can probably be best summed up by Coca Cola’s Head of Global Marketing, Marcos de Quinto who said; “Social media is the strategy for those who don’t have a… digital strategy.

Yet in a recent industry debate with Mark Ritson about social media, Adam Ferrier, one of Australia’s brightest advertising talents, said “…These other two businesses – Uber and Airbnb – would not exist without social media.” I can only assume he said it because he was forced to support his side of the debate, as nothing could be further from the truth.

Uber has mainly used traditional public relations in mainstream media, plus social media to create awareness. Though as revealed here, Uber’s secret new business tool is good old-fashioned print. While Airbnb is a major user of TV advertising, email, network marketing, print and most recently talk-back radio targeting pensioners. The radio ads use pensioners to encourage other pensioners to top up their pensions by becoming an Airbnb host – strangely it says nothing about tax implications? Just as Airbnb pays no tax in our country.

So Uber and Airbnb cannot exist without analogue channels. Social channels are just a sideshow in the scheme of things.

Rumour has it, Unilever is removing the term “digital” from all marketing job titles, as they’ve finally woken up to the fact the job functions are about marketing, not about channels. After all, nobody ever called themselves a “Male Urinal Advertising Manager” just because they placed ads in the specialist channel of troughs in public and commercial toilets used by men. If you’re female and confused, ask a male colleague.

Smart marketers are realising that just sticking solely with digital marketing channels is more often than not, a mistake. For the best results, you need to promote across numerous proven channels, and run tests to determine the best ROI – just as marketers did prior to the internet.

Have to go now and prepare to teach young university marketing students. Might recommend they look for an internship at Long Bay Correctional Centre if they want a successful career…


Let’s connect https://www.linkedin.com/in/malcolmauld/


  1. Excellent read!

    Here’s another one by E.M. Forster that predicts this kind of banality in 1909 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Machine_Stops.


    Glenn Edley

    CEO | Spike Mobile +64 21 777 407 Office +64 9 820 9860 http://www.spikehq.com

    erit utilis [be useful]

    On 20 March 2017 at 14:32, The Malcolm Auld Blog wrote:

    > Malcolm Auld posted: “Some of you may have noticed I haven’t blogged for > about three months. I decided to take time out to observe the industry > through rose coloured glasses and find some positive examples of > advertising to share – regardless of channel. I might as well have t” >

  2. Reblogged this on kfcopywriting and commented:
    Long-ish post but well worth the read for a clear-eyed look at the current (somewhat UGLY) state of digital marketing. If you’re thinking about or currently undertaking any form of digital marketing, you need to be aware of what Malcolm talks about in this post.

  3. Malcolm,

    Good to have you back posting and thank you for an informative and thought-provoking article (as is your custom!). Marketers really need to be aware of the reality of the online advertising world. In theory direct response marketers protect themselves against this kind of fraud through their tracking. All too often, however, people don’t track results adequately. Interesting that this week’s UK “MoneyWeek” has an article on this topic (“The crisis in internet advertising”).

    Can’t help feeling that marketers in general are not the scoundrels your headline and opening comments might suggest. Indeed my regard for the mainstream types at P&G, Unilever and Coke has gone up a little with the knowledge that they are assessing results. The real villains appear to be the “digital media hucksters”…the current incarnation of the peddler of “magic beans” to gullible folks.

    Great post. Thanks again 🙂

    • Thanks Kevin

      It is good to see some of the major brands finally taking stock and asking the ROI question. interestingly the whole Google debacle is now on TV news and in print and online newspapers, which is even more damaging than if it was just reported in trade press. The cyber-hustlers have much to answer for, but so do those who approve the digital spend. To steal that famous quote: “we live in interesting times…”

  4. “There has never been a more exciting time to be a digital marketer”… but I suggest you start looking for a real job because it is all going to blow up just like it did with Web 1.0

  5. Brilliant article Malcolm. Quite simply one of your best.

    I think Drayton Bird (my memory let’s me down) said that ‘there is no digital marketing…there is only marketing’.


  6. Superb stuff, Malc. And needed to be said. As you know, I have, like you, done my level best over the years to ‘out’ the charlatans in our business. Unfortunately we and others like us, have failed. The industry that we once knew and loved, has gone forever. Marketers don’t study anymore. They don’t test either. That’s why they know fuck all – and stagger us with the garbage they put out. Do you know that the average tenure for a marketing director these days, is 11 months? Says it all really. I am going to share this wonderful article with my Copycat followers. Keep the faith. If you can…

    • Andy, you are clearly one of us “Dinosaurs”… Yes I am bitter because for 15 years I have been rejected from jobs & contracts because of my age.

      Guess what? I and you (and Malcolm) will get the last laugh when the bean counters finally realise that the digi whizz kids have no effing idea – or as an old ex-Reader’s Digest President said to me, “These kids are losing money trying to learn direct marketing on the internet, while we learnt how it works and started MAKING money decades ago”…

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