New York Times

Flash Nerds.

Flash NerdsMichael Lewis’s new book “Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt” tells the true (and, unfortunately, legal) story of Wall Street technology companies who discovered ways to see demand milliseconds before others and successfully job the system.  These companies would pay for physical access and proximity to the powerful financial exchanges where they would await incoming orders, read them, buy ahead of the unwitting customer and resell the shares at a profit.  The exchanges, the banks, the brokers and everyone else in the system either didn’t know what was happening or willfully turned a blind eye:  after all, the system was working and making everyone a lot of money.  The only losers were those who couldn’t be seen; the consumers and pension funds whose portfolios were less valuable because of this hidden tax.

As Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself.  But it does rhyme.”

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic Advertising Systems, an advertising technology company focused on delivering innovative software that streamlines and automates media workflow for marketers, their advertising agencies, and publishers.

The online advertising business is going through its own version of the same saga.  For every display ad that can’t be seen, every video that auto-plays when it wasn’t supposed to, every fraudulent ad call that leaks into the system from the hackers den in Eastern Europe or the houseboat anchored off Boca, our credibility and forward progress take a hit.  And don’t think these issues are confined to the pages of insider industry websites and the stages and breakout rooms of ad tech conferences.  Just last Saturday The New York Times published “The Great Unwatched,” which served up the issue with healthy doses of outrage and shock.

“Flash Boys” features both villains and an underdog band of heroes who expose the problem and create a new era of transparency and an emerging standard for how trading is supposed to work.  So far, we seem content to chalk our “Flash Nerds” problems to a murky cabal of distant ne’er-do-wells.  In The New York Times article it was noted that TubeMogul “…reported that it had discovered three new botnets that were generating 30 million fake video views a day, earning as much as $10 million a month. TubeMogul said the culprits were well concealed and likely operating overseas.”  It’s convenient and a little exotic to once again blame it on Moscow, but it’s also disingenuous.

Edmund Burke once wrote, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  I’m not completely comfortable couching this issue in the language of good and evil, even though there is in fact a good deal of stealing going on.  But I do think there are far too many good men and women doing nothing.  A robust level of demand has brought on good times for an intricate, overlapping system of middlemen and technocrats; a ton of pressure is put on buyers and sellers to “just get the deals done.”  Yes, I know it’s all so much more technically complicated than this, but please don’t tell me that it’s so screwed up that a given company or CEO can’t say “We will always behave this way” or “We will never do that.”

Soon, I hope, there will be white hats and black hats passed out.  Whether you’re identified as a hero or a villain may be less about your overt actions and more about what you are willing to accept.

Fool’s Gold.

Fools GoldApril Fools day had always been such a kick.  A little fun and whimsy to break up the late winter gloom.  But now, today, it’s just another day.  No fun and brightness, just more gloom.  You see, today, April 1st, 2014 is the first day of the rest of our lives without Eat24 on Facebook.

Please.  Just give me a minute.

Yes, you heard correctly.  The favorite startup of spoiled urban foodies with too much discretionary income and not enough energy to get off the couch (think of Uber for gourmet chicken and waffles )– the one most of us never heard of until yesterday – has very publicly broken up with Facebook.  In 1,312 snarky, self-referential words, Eat24 complained extensively about everything from Facebook’s changing algorithms to – horror of horrors! – its naked desire to make money.  (What the letter lacks in brevity and precision it makes up for with inclusiveness and incomprehensibility:  it includes a freakish LOL cat, a star wars reference and advice that Facebook needs to be more like the dormant 1996 website for the movie Spacejam.)  Bottom line: as of midnight, Eat24 was shutting down its Facebook presence.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic Advertising Systems, an advertising technology company focused on delivering innovative software that streamlines and automates media workflow for marketers, their advertising agencies, and publishers.

Folks, this is the marketing story of the year!  But not for the reasons you might think.  The actual “dispute” about Facebook’s algorithms is a red herring.  Yet news organizations from The New York Times to CNN to Business Insider rushed to report on this “event” as a harbinger and flashpoint for the coming marketer rebellion against Facebook.  (Full disclosure:  in 2012 Facebook was a client of mine, and I have both a personal account and a company Facebook presence.  Further disclosure:  I have my own issues with Facebook, but who doesn’t?)

Here’s the real story.  Eat24 and many more “marketers” have simply been jobbing the Facebook system for years.  They may fancy themselves some kind of content producer, but they are really just another parasitic startup nesting in the social environment Facebook has created from nothing.  They claim that the ROI with Facebook just isn’t there anymore, which begs an interesting question:  how can you complain about ROI when there was no “I” in the first place?   So Facebook flipped the switch and Eat24 pulled the plug.  End of story, right?

Oh no.  Here’s why it’s the marketing story of the year.  Eat24 found another system to job:  the press.  The business press just can’t resist a juicy “story” like this, especially when it feeds a pre-existing narrative (in this case, the twin narratives of “Facebook is arrogant and clueless” and “Facebook is the new Yahoo!”)   As much as I want to hate Eat24 for its smug tone and superficiality (no one over age 12 should ever use the term “besties”) I must give them a tip of the hipster fedora.  They played their hand beautifully.  Their strategy ended up being native, viral and – based on the lockstep, uncritical response of the “business press” – virtually programmatic.

Happy April Fools Day.  We’ve all been punked.

Being Grateful.

It’s a short week at the close of a busy, hectic year.  It’s also the time when many of us take our last breath before the sprint to make Q4 numbers while simultaneously shopping for the holidays.  So during this all too short breather, a quick note about the people, ideas and values for which I’m really grateful. Thanks go out to…

The 3-4 sales people in every workshop I teach who are truly dedicated to the profession of media sales.  I recognize your ambition and commitment, and they inspire me to keep doing what I do.

Those who read, comment on and forward The Drift to others in their companies.  Because of you, meeting this weekly deadline has become something I look forward to.

Ad:tech and the past recipients of the Industry Achievement Award.  To be recognized by such an amazing group last spring was humbling and inspiring.  I feel like it’s something I have to continue to live up to in the years ahead.

My wife Sharon and my daughters, Lucy and Madeline.  I’m grateful that such amazing women choose to keep me around so that I can see  the great things you each do for the world.

The people at iMedia, ad:tech, the IAB, AdMonsters, Evidon and Business Insider who’ve all given me the chance to speak or moderate at their events this year.  I hope everyone who ascends your stages feels the same gratitude and commitment that I do.

Enduring, enriching friendships with people like Wenda Harris Millard, Scot McLernon, John Durham, Dave Morgan, Larry Kramer, Rick Parkhill, Tom Deierlein, Charlie Thomas and Mark McLaughlin.  Through inspiration, support  and advice, you’ve all contributed so much to what I do.

The advisors who continue to guide The Seller Forum into its tenth year, and the sponsors — Collective/Amp, PubMatic and Mojiva — who continue their commitment to this unique and valuable environment.

Tamara Clarke and Christina Ross who work hard every day making sure the experience of working with Upstream Group continues to be a great one.  None of this would work without you.

All the companies who’ve been our customers this year  — for training workshops, Seller Forum events, Drift sponsorships, consulting and more.  33 Across, A&E,, AccuWeather,, Adara Media, Adconion, Adobe, AdoTube, ad:tech, Amazon, AOL, AT&T AdWorks, BabyCenter, bizjournals, Bizo, Blue Kai, Bonnier Corp.,, Burda, Burst Media, Business Insider, Buysight, BuzzLogic,, CBS, Centro, Collective, Comcast Interactive, comScore, Condé Nast, ContextWeb (PulsePoint), D&B Digital, deviantART, Discovery Communications, Disney, DMG WorldMedia, eHarmony, ESPN, Everyday Health, eXelate, Facebook, Fairchild, FOX News, FOX Sports, Gawker, Google, Grab Networks, Halogen, Healthline, Hearst Digital Media, IAB, IGN Entertainment, iMedia, InflectionPointMedia, Interclick, ITN Digital, Jingle Networks, Jumpstart Automotive, Kontera, Krux Digital, Lotame, LucidMedia, Martini Media, Meebo, Meredith, Microsoft, Mojiva, Monster Media Networks, Move, Inc., MTV, MyWebGrocer, Nature Publishing Group, Navteq, NBC Universal, NCC Media, The New York Times, Newspaper National Network, Orbitz, PubMatic, quadrantONE, Quantcast, Reader’s Digest, Remedy Health Media, Resonate, RMM Online, RTL Netherlands, Seeking Alpha, Sojern, Sugar Inc., TechMediaNetwork, The Daily, Hollywood Reporter, Weather Channel,, Thomson Reuters, Travel Ad Network (Travora), Tremor Video, Triad Digital, Turner, TVGuide, Us Magazine, Undertone, Upromise Inc., Vertical Acuity, Washington Post, Weatherbug, WebMD,, Yahoo! and YuMe.

And last but not least, I’m grateful that none of this is even close to being finished.  That there are so many ideas yet to be conceived, so many mysteries yet to be framed, so much of the future left to be invented.  Here’s to being grateful for what this year has brought us, and to remaining excited about what the years ahead will offer.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Don’t Be Evil, Revisited.

Like just about every other conscious human, I’m passionately ambivalent about Google these days.  So yesterday’s New York Times Article (“Google to Face Congressional Antitrust Hearing”) caught my eye.   Because while consumers, congress, and the business press like westerns featuring white hats vs. black hats, Google has become the kind of anti-hero that Sam Peckinpah would have loved.

First, the stuff that Congress is starting to notice.  The Times article made comparisons to the long-ago Microsoft anti-trust action.  While that would make the kind of neat storyline (“They’re spiking the search results to favor their own businesses!”) that Congress and Cable news anchors love, this mid-90s melodrama doesn’t play the same anymore.  For one thing, while companies like Yelp may be be crying foul, there are both other search options (seriously) and a behemoth competitor to act as a counterbalance (see “Facebook.”)

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by PubMatic, which empowers publishers with one holistic platform to sell advertising more intelligently.

This is not to say, however, that both consumers and players in the online advertising ecosystem shouldn’t have very serious concerns about Google’s battle plan for hegemony.  They absolutely should.

Recently at an event hosted by Evidon, I moderated a panel featuring actual civilians — consumers — about issues relating to privacy.  In preparing for the discussion, I pre-interviewed and polled the panelists about their level of paranoia about various companies.  Concern about Google was middling — mostly 3s on a 5 point scale.  But when I later pointed out that Google also owned DoubleClick, one of the principal companies that helped direct the placement of ads on the web, most panelists wanted to restate their scores and raise their level of concern.  How long before consumers start to connect the dots between Google/Click and G-Mail (knows what I write), YouTube (knows what I watch), Android (knows where I am and what I’m searching for locally) and Zagat (knows what I want to eat)?   Does a nation in love with conspiracy theories really just keep blowing kisses to Mountain View?

There’s a corollary agenda of concern for those engaged in online marketing:  the linkage of Google-Adwords-Adsense-YouTube-DoubleClick-Invite Media-Motorola-…??   Are the value of monthly Adsense checks and predictable DART ad deliveries fair compensation for a world in which Google’s control of “the ad stack” is virtually absolute?  Google’s now famous (and famously ironic) watch-phrase “Don’t Be Evil” is irrelevant now.  They are a corporation and corporations for better or worse perpetuate their interests.  And those who would expect government action to level the playing field are living in a fantasy realm.  Google’s hegemony will only be checked by smart companies making active decisions about their own options and choices.  And that’s probably as American and capitalist as it gets.

I will be keynoting two important events next month.  On Thursday, October 6th, you’ll find me kicking off Admonsters’ OPS New York event.  And on Thursday, October 13th I’ll be hosting PubMatic’s AdRevenue 4 Premium Publisher Conference at the Times Center in Manhattan.  I hope that you’ll look into both.