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Ken Magill

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How the CPM Wrecked the Internet, and How we Can Fix It

By Ken Magill
Shenan Reed is absolutely right.
The president of digital for media buying firm MEC North America called for an end to buying and selling online advertising on a cost-per-thousand basis during Dublin’s Web Summit early this month.
She advocated replacing CPMs with buying and selling online ads in 30-second view increments, or CP/30s.
It’s an idea that could save our Internet experience before CPMs ruin it even further than they already have.
If Reed’s idea were to really take hold and CPM-based advertising online disappeared, overnight those stupid click-bait articles, the links to which clutter up everything we read and view, would be gone.
No more “17 Hollywood Leading Men You Didn’t Know Have Female Genitalia.”
Under the CP/30, publishers would no longer be motivated to serve as many impressions as possible with no concern as to how long the ad was in view. Publishers and advertisers would be motivated to serve up content website visitors would be more likely to linger over.
Under the CP/30, the content focus would be on quality rather than quantity.
I personally witnessed the CPM-driven focus on page views destroying content quality.
During the waning days of my time at my last trade publisher, the ad side of the business became obsessed with page views and content quantity.
During meetings about the editorial product, the word “quality” never came up—not once.
Management’s focus was solely on how much we could crank out and, “oh, could you toss a couple of keywords in your leads Google might like?”
For the record, I have never once in my two-decades plus as a writer and editor selected a single word for any sentence based on whether I thought search engines might be more likely to pick it up.
At my former publisher, I refused to give the list of suggested keywords for inclusion in copy even a passing glance. I considered the idea of writing with an eye toward search engines a distraction that would inevitably drive down content quality.
Under Reed’s CP/30 model, I likely wouldn’t have even been presented with a list of suggested keywords. Under Reed’s CP/30 model, the focus would be on delivering intelligent, informative and engaging content.
The Internet is polluted with CPM-wrecked websites. These are the websites that offer quality content—if only potential consumers of that content could get to it. They’ve got ads sliding in from the left, ads driving the content down from the top and then pulling the content maddeningly back up when they close. They’ve got ads breaking the content up in unnatural places. They’ve got ads covering the page.
They infuriate me and I’m one of commercialism’s biggest cheerleaders. I can only imagine the effect they have on people who aren’t as keenly aware of advertising’s lifeblood effect on the free Internet.
The IAB admitted last month that the repeatedly in-your-face ad model is not tenable, though it took the threat of online ad blocking to draw the admission out.
“Through our pursuit of further automation and maximization of margins during the industrial age of media technology, we built advertising technology to optimize publishers’ yield of marketing budgets that had eroded after the last recession,” wrote Scott Cunningham, Senior Vice President of Technology and Ad Operations at IAB. “Looking back now, our scraping of dimes may have cost us dollars in consumer loyalty. The fast, scalable systems of targeting users with ever-heftier advertisements have slowed down the public internet and drained more than a few batteries. We were so clever and so good at it that we over-engineered the capabilities of the plumbing laid down by, well, ourselves. This steamrolled the users, depleted their devices, and tried their patience.”
Sometimes the most elegant and effective solution is the simplest. Reed’s CP/30 idea is that solution.

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