Recently, writer, editor, and technologist Max Read wrote a fascinating piece for New York Magazine. The article paints a dark, Black Mirror-like picture of what the Internet has become and cites some very compelling evidence that we’ve reached what he calls “The Inversion,” a point at which the Internet has become more fake than real.
Some of his examples:
Studies suggest less than 60 percent of web traffic is human
Facebook admitted to overstating the time viewers watched videos by 60 to 80 percent
You can buy 5,000 video views on YouTube from click farms for as little as $15
The list goes on. To be honest, I’m of two minds on this one. Let’s go to this week’s topic to see why.
On one hand, I feel like some of Read’s conclusions were a bit of a stretch. For example, he asserts, “Metrics should be the most real thing on the internet: They are countable, trackable, and verifiable.” And then he points to Facebook’s video data as an example of how metrics have become fake.
Now, that’s a little unfair, and not because Facebook’s metrics can’t be garbage. They usually are. But saying Facebook is be an unreliable source of data shouldn’t equate to saying marketing analytics should be discounted altogether.
It’s like saying that everything you read in the New York Times, Washington Post, or Der Spiegel is fake because they occasionally have to issue retractions.
But on the other hand, while Read’s article isn’t 100% based in reality, it is a hard red pill we may have to swallow.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of bad marketing in my day. Yes, Facebook video views do get reported as key performance indicators from time to time. I’ve also seen 240% conversion rates on websites that tracked pageviews as transactions.
Honestly, some of us collect metrics for reports like Steve Martin from the Jerk. Visits, and clicks and conversions, and that’s all I need. I don’t need one other thing. Not one. I need cost per acquisition.
Sometimes, it is the technology. Other times, we ourselves as marketers are helping substantiate Read’s claims.
So what do we do about this new reality we’re living in?
"What’s gone from the internet, after all, isn’t ‘truth,’ but trust, and fixing that would require cultural and political reform."
In the end, Read finishes with his best points. “What’s gone from the internet, after all, isn’t ‘truth,’ but trust,” and, “fixing that would require cultural and political reform.”
If you agree with that sentiment, here are a few things you can do to help reform marketing in the years to come.
First, we should all become a little more technically literate. IBM recently made a claim in their 2019 Marketing Trends, “the greatest marketing advantage is technical marketing talent.”
Today, world-class marketing experiences require world-class technology stacks to facilitate them. And when we fail to implement them correctly, we only contribute to consumers’ perceptions of our ineptness or malintent.
Second, we really do need to get better at metrics as an industry.
Increasingly, marketing is becoming more responsible for all parts of the customer experience, which comes with a lot more metrics and higher financial stakes for getting the numbers right.
According to Market Watch, the global web analytics market will grow from $2.2B in 2017 to over 12.23B by 2026 as we move more and more from the metrics kid’s table to sitting with the CFO and the other adults who are closest to the company’s revenue.
Even if you don’t plan on becoming a web analyst, every marketer should invest in their ability to understand and use measurement if they want to stay relevant and help build a better web than what we have today.
And lastly, we should reconsider what it means to build a good brand. Read says, “Years of metrics-driven growth, lucrative manipulative systems, and unregulated platform marketplaces, have created an environment where it makes more sense to be fake online.”
And if he’s right, the only choice we have is to build brands that are built on truth and that earn trust. If not, we’ll end up on an Internet “...where the only thing real is the ads.”
What do you think? What does our industry do to promote the “fake marketing” perception and how can we bring the Internet back from Max Read’s “ Inversion?”
Share your thoughts in the comments and you may end up with a very real, very comfortable t-shirt.