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Bob Hoffman’s new book targets Facebook, Google and Twitter as bad guys in an online world running amok

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Bob Hoffman's excellent blog is The Ad Contrarian

Bob Hoffman's excellent blog is The Ad Contrarian

Publicis is onboard

Publicis is onboard

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Bob Hoffman's excellent blog is The Ad Contrarian

As a former CEO of two advertising agencies, Bob Hoffman knows a thing or two about the advertising world.

The US-based former adman has ruffled many feathers in his demolishing of many of the myths about online advertising, and he remains a thorn in the side of the industry. 

Hoffman’s blog, ‘The Ad Contrarian’, is in my view, required reading for anyone who cares about the future of the advertising industry, while his many books on the topic make for uncomfortable but necessary reading.

His latest tome, Adscam, bears the lengthy subtitle ‘How online advertising gave birth to one of history’s greatest frauds and became a threat to democracy’ (it’s published by Type A Group). 

It’s Hoffman at his caustic best, and leaves the reader in no doubt about why the advertising industry “desperately needs a makeover”.

Just 92 pages long, the book picks up where he left off with Bad Men, which was published in 2017. Not surprisingly, the targets of his outrage continue to be Facebook, Google, Twitter and the many anonymous and sometimes corrupt actors who have been allowed taint the digital supply chain.

The book sets out to examine a “dangerous and destructive wedge that has developed in the political life of democratic nations”.

It asks how the online advertising ecosystem and Big Tech platforms have been complicit in allowing criminals to siphon off billions of dollars from legitimate businesses who have invested their hard-earned money in digital advertising.

Finally, Hoffman asks the most obvious question of all: why has the advertising and marketing industry “turned a blind-eye to the damage that tracking-based marketing tactics have done to the public?”

Back in 2017 Hoffman described a rapidly evolving digital advertising and social media industry that was running amok – and was largely unaccountable to anyone, including legislators.

While the full extent of Cambridge Analytica’s interference in the US presidential election in 2016 hadn’t come to light at the time, the revelations were in many ways Hoffman’s ‘I told you so’ moment.

Unfortunately, five years later, the many problems identified by Hoffman in 2017 are still with us – and have only grown worse. 

Not only are the social-media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as divisive and toxic as ever, he says, but they are still the platforms of choice for anyone hellbent on spreading misinformation and disinformation.

Heads should roll, Hoffman says – including that of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, a long-time bête noire of his.  

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Hoffman also says that the murky world of ad fraud is much worse than it was back in 2017. Some estimates make it worth anything up to $120bn a year.

But the fact that nobody seems to know precisely how much is being siphoned off makes the scale of the problem even more bewildering, Hoffman says.

A big problem is the Ad Tech industry – which, Hoffman says, is “run by callow oafs whose lack of wisdom has created a crisis for democracies, a haven for crooks, a dangerously cruel social environment for children, and an unsafe space for truth.”

Just how bad the problem has become was perfectly illustrated by the digital analytics company Adalytics earlier this year, when they revealed that a number of websites set up and managed by Russian Intelligence Services, including the Federal Security Service (FSB) were accepting advertising revenue from... wait for it, Google.

Needless to say the mainly US-based advertisers didn’t know about it – and in the end it took an intervention from the US Senate Intelligence Committee to highlight this ‘problem’ to Google.

Despite the committee’s intervention on February 25 (the day after Russia invaded Ukraine), as recently as April 13, Google’s ad exchange still appeared to be serving digital ads on many of these websites.

Remember, this was at a time when the Russian sites were explicitly listed on the US Treasury’s sanctions list, according to Adalytics.

So not only were the Russian agencies spreading disinformation, they were getting paid to do it.

As Hoffman is fond of saying, you couldn’t make this sh*t up. 

Back on track

Following a four-way pitch, Publicis Dublin has retained the creative account for Iarnród Éireann.

It’s the third time the agency has retained the account. 

According to Stephen Murray, interim head of marketing at Iarnród Éireann, the agency “demonstrated a strong understanding of our business and vision, and are the ideal creative partner to drive growth in 2023 and beyond.” 

Other Publicis clients include Spar, Virgin Media, Heineken Ireland, and PTSB.

A Genus move

Havas, the French advertising and PR group, has rolled out its new sustainability offering in the Irish market. 

Called Genus, it was launched by Communications Minister Eamon Ryan and offers clients access to an integrated global network of sustainability experts.

The Irish office of Genus will now offer business transformation, strategic communication, and creative and brand services to their existing and new clients.


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