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Balham-gateway to the Internet

21 Aug 2020  |  Nick Manning 
Balham-gateway to the Internet

With his holiday plans abandoned and nowhere to go but online, Nick Manning finds himself wondering why some parts of the ad industry still struggle to get geo-location right

It’s August, it’s very hot (at least for now) and the holiday season provides some light relief from the relentless grimness that seems to be the signature theme for 2020.

Apparently many of our woes can be attributed to dinghy-borne refugees rather than the decades-long structural and political issues so magnificently analysed in this piece from The Atlantic. The Royal Navy should perhaps be better employed heaving alongside mega-yachts owned by Britain’s many multi-millionaires and passing the hat around to help poor, homeless people who have risked their lives trekking across thousands of miles and who have given their meagre savings to unscrupulous people-traffickers.

Meanwhile, a bit of web-surfing on non-media websites in search of leisure options replaces the long-abandoned holiday plans, now that France is on the ‘no-go’ list. To get my French ‘fix’ I casually flick through a local news website for the Loire Valley (as you do) and, guess what, they have schlocky click-bait, too (sorry, ‘promoted content’).

Sadly, my dreams of lounging in the Loire are shattered by a rude reminder that I’m still in London, but somehow the Internet thinks I’m in Balham, some five miles from my true location.

So, the ‘UK’s top lawyers’ (whoever they are) seem to think I’d be interested in an ‘attorney’ five miles away. Apparently they don’t know that ‘attorney’ is an American term that we never use in the UK. They surely can’t be top lawyers if they don’t know that.

Now, I have nothing against Balham. I haven’t been there for several years apart from driving through once every other blue moon, but I don’t think I would choose it as a place to find top lawyers or solicitors (to use the British vernacular). I suspect that the most successful attorneys in Balham are like the highest hills in Holland.

And I have a hunch that the woman featured in the ad is not a successful lawyer from Balham. Don’t ask me why, it’s just my instincts.

But I sure as hell don’t live in Balham, and even if I needed a top lawyer, I wouldn’t pick one from a classified ad in a French provincial newspaper in August. If I didn’t care about such things I wouldn’t even have noticed.

Sadly the Nouvelle Republique is not alone in thinking I live in Balham. The whole internet seems to want me to live there. Here’s another one from a UK site.

This one is especially bemusing. It’s for an online MBA, so it doesn’t matter if I’m in Balham, Budapest or Beijing. Surely ‘online MBA degress (sic)’ aren’t location-specific, are they?

Maybe I should move to Balham to prove the internet right, but if I did there is a real chance the same thing will happen and they will geo-locate me to Peckham or Penge.

We’re all used to this sort of crapvertising clogging up webpages and making the user experience worse, to the detriment of the advertising industry; we’re also aware that publishers resort to this sort of filler to eke out a paltry revenue once the big platforms have filled their boots; we’re also aware that the business model behind this sort of content is bottom-feeding and relies on an arbitrage model that slices off pennies in the pound; we’re also aware that pictures of scantily-clad women are often used to hook in the unsuspecting, setting off the click-cascade; we know that we can find out what Susan Boyle looks like now if we take the bait.

Apparently this kind of ‘advertising’ is worth carrying by publishers at the expense of their own content.

Here is the worst example I’ve ever seen from ‘Football Insider’. There are over 200 items ‘from The Web’ (which in itself is a fiction), with many repetitions and, guess what, you’ll be stunned by Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth ‘in 2018’. And even more stunned in 2020. Is there a worse example anywhere else?

But, surely, if you’re going to pollute the industry with such garbage on an industrial scale, getting basic geo-location right is not that hard. My house has been here since 1924 and Google seem to be able to see inside it.

And it might be helpful to work out that I’m not in the market for an MBA, online or Balham-based, or even the best ‘attorney’ in Balham. Unfortunately click-bait, programmatically delivered, doesn’t care about targeting; the model is all about volume and tiny click-through rates on big numbers, leading to even tinier revenues downstream as the response cascade kicks in. So ‘Balham’ has got nothing to do with it, and there is no point using any geo-location, right or wrong. They just want someone, somewhere to react.

No wonder people are rebelling against advertising. At best they may find this sort of content irrelevant, perhaps laughable; someone, somewhere might just respond, but the short-term kick in revenues it creates is as nothing compared to the damage it causes to our industry.

And not just in Balham.


Nick Manning is the co-founder of Manning Gottlieb OMD and was CSO at Ebiquity for over a decade. He now owns a mentoring business, Encyclomedia, offering strategic advice to companies in the media and advertising industry. He writes for Mediatel News each month.

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