Our AdQuick brand podcast, launched earlier this year discusses everything advertising, tech, startups, marketing trends and much in-between.
In episode 3, AdQuick marketing team members Chris Gadek and Adam Singer (your hosts) interview internet advertising industry advocate and frequent media commentator Nandini Jammi to discuss brand safety, online spam/wasted ad spend, and advertising industry role in advocacy.
Transcription follows (auto-generated) below if you prefer text, for accessibility or if you'd like to grab any quotes for re-use via blogging or social.
Chris Gadek (00:01):
Welcome to the AdQuick Advertising podcast. This is episode three where we're covering brand safety and ad fraud today. I'm Chris Gadek, one of your hosts joined by Adam Singer. And our special guest today is Nandini Jammi, who is the co-founder of Check My Ads, an ad tech watchdog and one of the leading authorities in the space. Welcome Nandini. To get us started, in your own words, can you tell us your short version of how you got into this space and what was the inspiration behind Check My Ads.
Nandini Jammi (00:36):
Thanks so much for having me on the show, Chris and Adam. So there is no real short version to how I got into this world, but I'll do my best. I was a marketing consultant working for tech companies, small tech companies back in 2016 when the 2016 presidential elections happened. And like everyone was else was pretty upset about the election results and I was trying to understand what happened. And in that process I went to breitbart.com for the first time. Now that website was the most influential website of 2016, and some say that it helped influence the outcome of the elections. And so when I went to this website for the first time, I was expecting to see a lot of incendiary and offensive headlines, but what I wasn't expecting to see was ads from some of the biggest companies in the world being served right in front of me.
I saw ads. I think the first ad I saw was for Old Navy, and this company was obviously had been follow following me around the internet and served its ad on Breitbart. And so for me that was an aha moment because I don't normally pay attention to ads just like everybody else, but seeing these brands that were trying to sell to me on this website made me realize very quickly that they probably don't know where their ads are. And so I started a campaign to alert advertisers of the fact that their ads were ending up on Breitbart. And I've fallen down a rabbit hole since then and I've never come out.
Chris Gadek (02:24):
And so just for our audience, can you encapsulate what you identify or what you define as brand safety in the grand scheme of things? Because this is going to be a term that keeps on coming up in the program.
Nandini Jammi (02:36):
Oh, this is a great, great question because I have a different answer than you will find in the industry. So the way that brand safety today... Let me take a step back actually and say, when we started this campaign, this original campaign to demonetize Breitbart, we were very specific about the language we used when we reached out to advertisers. We said, "Your ads shouldn't be funding hate, hate speech, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia and so on." And we were very specific about what it meant. We were very specific in our language because we wanted to be clear about what it is that we shouldn't fund.
Now, the way that the ad industry took that work and interpreted it was that brand safety is the practice of keeping your ads away from anything that could be potentially bad, sad, or controversial. Now there's a big difference between funding hate speech and funding some bad news, which is just news. So we reject the way that the ad industry defines brand safety. The way that we define brand safety is keeping your ads away from hate speech and disinformation. And additionally, this is a very key part of our definition is while the ad industry defines brand safety as keeping your ads away from disinformation, we define it as keeping your ad dollars away from disinformation. And that is a very key part of our definition and I'll be happy to get into that.
Chris Gadek (04:28):
Cool. And so in terms of being the watchdog for this space, what does that entail for those of us who aren't very familiar with this up and coming part of marketing?
Nandini Jammi (04:44):
Well, for me it's watching a lot of war room on three separate TVs. And it's also watch watching and monitoring ad exchange, like relationships between websites and ad exchanges, and trying to understand who and what is involved in the supply chain and how ads are being delivered to a place like Steve Bannon's War room or to any number of these other websites. So it's a very manual task for me.
Chris Gadek (05:23):
Right on. Adam, do you have any takes or any questions for Nandini about the political aspect of this? Because I see you licking your chops already.
Adam Singer (05:34):
I have so many questions. We could probably talk for hours on this. I think one question that I have is, I actually think this is a case where it feels very much that when users see ads in an inappropriate spot, whether it's against hate speech, even against something like violence or shooting and they're like, "Wow, this brand is sponsoring this." I think we see the clear evidence of users being like, "This is not a good user experience. What is this brand doing here?" How has it been actually talking to brand advertisers and what they feel? Are they understanding that they need to be user-centric and maybe change the way they're doing this? Or are they still living in their ivory tower where it's not affecting them and they're just continuing business as usual? Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
Nandini Jammi (06:33):
Well, yeah. I would actually challenge the question itself actually. The thing that people care about that they've always cared about is that a brands ad dollars don't fund things that are harmful to their communities and to their friends and to their families. That's always been the question, the central issue here. And the way that it has been co-opted by the industry in really upsetting ways is to translate this issue, it's a very specific issue into, well, people don't want your ads on bad, sad or controversial content. So there's a big difference between your ad appearing on a school shooter's manifesto versus an article from USA Today covering the latest school shooting, which is news, which is essential. And so the thing that I'm always trying to put forward here is that when you block your ads from things on the internet, are you blocking the bad thing itself or are you unintentionally blocking something that we all rely on and need?
Adam Singer (07:58):
That's a great distinction. Thank you for making that. I think a lot of users also might not consider that. I think some brand advertisers, from what I've seen, we're talking about brand safety, but even simple things like performance, there are some brand marketers that don't even look at that. They just throw some money at their campaigns, put it online, and they're not really thinking beyond that. They're like, "Oh, I have this amount to spend." So it's really interesting. I'm glad that you're saying actually brands do notice a distinction and are starting to care. Is that what you're saying?
Nandini Jammi (08:34):
Yeah. Yeah. And I would add that that we've really been pushing back against both the studies and the rhetoric around this in the ad industry. So for example, there's an organization called the Brand Safety Institute, and I'll be honest, I'll just be upfront here. I think they're perfectly useless. And they came up with a survey a couple of years ago. It was right in the middle of the George Floyd protests. And the survey that they put out was they had basically gone to a bunch of people, like a normal people, and asked them, "Do you think it's a good idea to put ads on content related to?" And then they had this big list of just literal current events like police brutality, school shootings, violence, I think it was climate change, all kinds of things that are central issues of our day. And the thing is the nature of the question itself, it's not something that any of us ever think about.
We don't sit around being like, "Oh, why did Bounce or Tide put an ad on that USA Today school shooting article?" That's invisible to us. That's not a real issue. But if you go to someone and say, "What do you think?" Then you and I would probably answer, "Yeah, I guess that seems like a bad idea." So it defies common sense. You're going to people who have no opinion and have no stake in any of this and creating an issue where it doesn't exist because nobody ever called out advert... Look, we certainly never called out advertisers for putting their ads on bad news. Again, that was never the issue. So the industry tries to confuse it and they're turning it in all... What is it? Twisting themselves into a pretzel to try to figure out ways to talk about this. But really the central thing that we have to stay focused on is keep your ads away from disinformation.
Chris Gadek (10:36):
I imagine it's not helpful either when you're running a survey and you have anchoring bias and you basically lead with all the options instead of having a freeform. So for people can actually express their opinions. Adam, do you have anything that you'd like to add to this?
Adam Singer (10:51):
Yeah, we're going to talk about big tech in just a minute, but I'm actually curious while we're still talking about brands, what percent split is the responsibility? If I am a big tech brand and I'm running ads via the GDN or whatnot, is the responsibility split? Is it mostly on tech? Is it on brands? Is it both? How do you see that?
Nandini Jammi (11:15):
Oh, that's a great question. Ultimately, in a perfect world, it's the brand, it's your money. You should be aware of where your ad dollars are going. But I also recognize we live in a reality where advertisers don't have control of their ad dollars anymore. And when I say that, I mean they don't know where their money is going, where their ads are going. And if they ask for that information, they will not receive it. What they will get instead from their vendors is a lot of just (beep), like are you sure are need those reports? Is there anything else we can get? You think you have enough information, we roll this up for you specifically for your convenience.
Or if you keep pushing back, they'll say, "Well, actually we're not contractually obligated to give you that information. That belongs to us. And you signed away your rights. And if you keep asking questions, we're going to go to your boss and let them know that you're working on issues that are outside of the scope of your job." And they do dirty things like that. We've seen them do dirty things like that to... I don't know how you say this word, people with consciences who have read our work and wanted to get their hands on those detailed reports that they would need.
Adam Singer (12:46):
Yeah, that's so interesting. Do you view spam similarly in terms of responsibility? Because in a way, you could really group... If I'm a brand, I don't want my ads running next to hate speech. I don't want them running next to spam. Do you see those as grouped together, not really a different animal?
Nandini Jammi (13:10):
By spam do you mean content farms? Because I have a lot of-
Adam Singer (13:12):
Yeah. Just content farms and just overall web scraping and not hate speech so much, but people obviously grifting in some way shape or form and attrition traffic through just overall scrape sites and garbage, maybe sending some spyware and malware links as well. Because it's also another part of if you're a marketer, that's something else you need to care about. So is that something that you see should be viewed similarly?
Nandini Jammi (13:47):
Yeah. So I view brand safety and finding your ads on a disinformation outlet as a window into your ad spend. That's just the first red flag, and usually there are more. If your ads are appearing on one brand unsafe dis-info site, they're probably running on others. That's number one. And number two, you're likely wasting a whole lot of spend. So there's two things that I want to talk about. One is, a couple of years ago we published a little report that we did, a little audit that we did for a small business called headphones.com. Now they're a small business that sells high end headphones and we found there are ads running on Epoch Times or something.
So we went to the CEO and said, "Hey, we know you care a lot about this issue about disinformation. Can we check out your ad, your ad reports? Well, he went to his ad provider, his ad partner Criteo, they're a retargeting company, and asked for a detailed report because all he had was access to a dashboard that gave him total views, what is it? Total impressions, total clicks and total conversions. And that's it. But he can't see which websites are actually getting him conversions versus not.
So we asked for it and they said, "Okay, are you sure you need that?" He's like, "Yes." So they created a custom dashboard for him and sent it to him and then we were able to look at that. So it's not something that they will give you unless you go and ask for it specifically. And so we looked at it and we found a lot of dis-info and we found a whole lot of websites that shouldn't be on his placement reports at all. This is a-
Chris Gadek (15:44):
Not contextually relevant, right?
Nandini Jammi (15:46):
Yeah. Not contextually relevant. That's exactly right. So we found a info, we found a whole bunch of his ads are running on a bunch of spammy Android apps and stuff that his target audience is not on. And the third thing we found was his ads appearing on a whole bunch of Latin American and Spanish language websites, which is a geographic area that his company simply does not ship to. So we recommended that he block all of that from his ad buy, was quite a lot of stuff to block. And he came back to us and told us that his ad spend had gone down from something like $1,200 a day to $50 a day and there was no change in performance.
Chris Gadek (16:38):
And so there's like $1,150 worth of bloat or sites that weren't in line with the brand or what's contextually relevant to working out for. I guess if it's a higher income headphone company, you probably want to be placed near luxury placements. Definitely not Android. Android is definitely not known for being the premium brand in that space.
Nandini Jammi (17:06):
That's right. And that's-
Adam Singer (17:06):
Chris Gadek (17:08):
There he is. I knew it. That was totally a setup by the way.
Nandini Jammi (17:14):
Really good. No, that's just one example. So another example is, now this was a small business and that money makes a difference, a big difference to a small business. That's the difference between being able to grow your team or high value investments in your marketing or your growth program. I don't have to tell you about that. But the other example that I want to bring up is the one million Google site list. Now, someone who works in advertising sent us a list. Sorry, first messed up on their media, buy for this big brand and they accidentally spent $1 million of a brand's budget without putting in all the normal filters and exclusions that they normally apply to that buy. And so basically they had a little experiment on their hands. Where does Google send your money to when it's on the default settings? And what we found was number one is unknown. So just millions of impressions and dollars going to somewhere. We don't know. Google doesn't tell us.
Chris Gadek (18:30):
Probably the publisher in which they have the best relationship with, best commercial relationship with, one would think.
Nandini Jammi (18:36):
Chris Gadek (18:38):
If it's a black box, right?
Nandini Jammi (18:40):
Technically what they say unknown is a bunch of domains that are so tiny that got so few impressions that they just bunched them all up together and-
Adam Singer (18:49):
That makes sense.
Nandini Jammi (18:49):
Okay. So that's number one. And then I think number two was Yahoo. Who uses Yahoo? Number five was Fox News. Then you go down, you go, oh, okay, number 18 is Breitbart. I think number, I don't know, 50 or 60 something is Zero Hedge. And then there's all these random sites. And when I say random sites, I mean those are made for advertising websites, sites that exist solely to suck up your money. People don't go to zenherald.com for anything. Look it up. Zenherald.com. There's a whole ring of websites owned and operated by whoever's running that site, and they're there ahead of every major national newspaper and local newspaper.
I think you have to go down to a thousand something before you get to USA Today. How long was this list? I think it was like 400,000 domains or something. It was insane. But you don't get to anything that people read until a couple of thousand. And so what does this say about where our money is going? It tells us that, A, somehow the money, I don't know how the money is going to the least brand safe websites, the website that literally 4,000 advertisers said out loud, we don't want our ads on this. Google is putting it up. Google has not only prioritized it over legitimate news, they have just simply prioritized it. And that's for a million dollar ad spent for a company that doesn't care or give a (beep) about their million dollars. Now think about what that means when you apply that across all of Google's advertisers, most of whom are small businesses like headphones.com who care.
Chris Gadek (20:50):
Yeah, I think there was a similar exercise, although it wasn't around brand safety, but there was a concern, I believe this was during the recession where Airbnb and Uber turned off a billion dollars worth of spend and the change in performance was negligible.
Nandini Jammi (21:08):
Oh, the Uber one is really, really interesting because we have something to do with it. So Uber in 2017, we as sleeping giants were pressuring Uber to block Breitbart and they hadn't done it. And then finally Travis went to his head of acquisition and said, "Take care of this." So they told all their vendors, "Block our ads from Breitbart," and they expected that to happen. It didn't happen. The ads kept slipping through. So they then went in, the head of acquisition went in and paused his relationships with all of the vendors that were continuing to serve their ads on Breitbart and braced for a huge or a significant fall in new user acquisition.
And by the way, that was a really big thing to do at that time because this is the height of the Uber, Lyft War. So you don't want to be doing something like this at this time. After a period of time he realizes, "Huh, my acquisition hasn't gone down at all. What's up with that?" And he starts digging in to auditing his ad spend and realizes that he has been defrauded out of $60 million by a single agency. And then he keeps sticking and realizes he's been defrauded out of a hundred million dollars. And I don't quite know what the number is now, but it was over a hundred million dollars that Uber was defrauded out of. And their spend at that time was like $150 million.
Chris Gadek (22:50):
Nandini Jammi (22:51):
We learned. Two thirds of their ad spend was just burned. Just burned.
Adam Singer (22:57):
They're such an interesting example because I actually wrote a post a while back about Uber in their heyday was doing things with ad targeting, they were so inappropriate. And they got calls called out on it. They were targeting people by certain affiliations in Facebook that any marketer with a brain would've known not to do that. And so I wrote a post about growth hacking for metrics for the sake of metrics could ultimately cause a PR nightmare if you're doing things where the optics are bad. So my sense, and you can tell me what you think about this, is the notion of this just purely numbers-driven hyper capitalist marketing where you are only looking at dashboards is ultimately going to get you into trouble. You need the human aspect of marketing. You did.
Nandini Jammi (23:54):
By the way, nobody even got into trouble. No one. So the head of acquisition, Kevin, he's gone on a different podcast and he's like, "I went into work and I was like, guys, we've been defrauded out of a hundred million dollars." And nobody gave a (beep). They were like, "Okay." It's not their money. They don't care. It's unbelievable the amount of money, we don't know where it's going. And maybe you don't care if Uber is wasting its money, and I personally don't. But what I do care about is the fact that Uber is sending money to who are the people that were on the other end of other end of those transactions?
Adam Singer (24:36):
And if you are a marketer listening to this, you bring up a great point. When you are auditing your ad spends online, if some metrics look fuzzy, really bad faked, in my experience, you can flag those that spend as spam, bot traffic, and in most cases you actually will get a refund by Facebook and Google and Twitter. Smaller ad networks, good luck. This is a separate thing than necessarily being alongside content you wouldn't want to be. This is more alongside, maybe you were just put on really bad scraper sites or maybe nowhere at all, right? Maybe there was a bug or something and those ads weren't run and your metrics got inflated. I would definitely keep a close eye on your number. So can you talk a little bit about if I am a brand and a startup, how do I actually work with Check My Ads since you're not an agency and a consultancy?
Nandini Jammi (25:41):
Yeah. So we don't work with clients. What we do now is primarily we investigate the supply chain and we write about it and we advocate. So the way that we operate now is a little bit of what you saw with Sleeping Giants. So we've grown a community once again of people who care and who want to do something or then vote every two years. So we educate them on the ad tech industry, which isn't the most fun or the most sexy, but we do it through these storylines of how an ad network or an ad exchange that you've never heard of is working with Bannon. And then what we do is we give them e-mail addresses of executives at these companies and we give them a template and we say, "Reach out to them, reach out to them yourself and ask them why they're doing this."
And this is not our personal opinion that the Ad exchange shouldn't be working with Bannon. This is against their own policy in their brand safety agreements, in their supply policies to be specific around who they will and will not monetize. So I look at their prohibited content and every ad exchange, every major ad exchange has a list, including Google, of content that they prohibit from monetization. And that language has become increasingly specific over time, thanks to our work because advertisers have been making more specific demands of what they think should or should not be is not appropriate for monetization. I'll give you an example. There's an ad network called Play Wire that in their supply policy says, we don't monetize content that advocates the overthrow of the government and get this, we found them monetizing Charlie Kirk. So we just go directly to them and say, "You are violating your own standards. Is that something your clients would be okay with?" And of course it's not. So they act very quickly.
Chris Gadek (28:04):
So it seems like, just to paraphrase, not a whole lot has been done in this space. Outside of the afterthought, "Oh crap, this might be adversely affecting us." What are some of the hands-on keyboard protections that maybe some of the tech providers have enabled, if any?
Nandini Jammi (28:23):
Well, I can tell you all the tech providers that aren't doing anything about this and it would just be me handing you that crazy map of a thousand million ad tech company. What does that mean?
Chris Gadek (28:37):
We have brand safety as a concern in out of home in outdoor advertising. Before the internet, you would solve that by going on a market ride with the salesperson, seeing if your advertisement is in the neighborhood that aligns with your target demographics, so on and so forth. And now in 2023, we do that through Google Street views or we're able to see a given locale based on that. So what you're saying is you still can't go in and be like, "I don't want to be on this site, I don't want to be on this site?"
Nandini Jammi (29:13):
No. No. I think what you're asking me is how are ad tech companies or the brand safety industry tackling this issue? And I can sum that up by saying inefficiently. So so you might be familiar with brand safety companies like Integral Ad Science and Double Verify ComScore Oracle.
Chris Gadek (29:36):
Nandini Jammi (29:37):
They're all (beep). And I'll tell you exactly why. I'll tell you exactly why because they all have some variation of this thing called contextual intelligence. Contextual intelligence is when they scan a page to understand what the page is about. So they're like, "We can read the page just a person would, and we're able to know instantly what the topic is and whether it's a positive sentiment topic or a negative or neutral or whatever." Okay, so how does it work? They won't tell us, except this one time when, what is it, Integral Ad Science slipped up.
So a couple of years ago they put out this tool for about 24 hours or less. They put out a tool, a demo of the product, and of course I was on it. And I put in a white nationalist website. So I think it was American Amron, Clear white nationalist website to see how they would rate various types of sites. So Amron was rated as neutral and under the topics, they had highlighted the words white and politics and stuff like that, but they missed white genocide. So that was rated overall neutral and a lot of advertisers are fine with having their ads on neutral content. I also looked up, interestingly, I was really curious about this because of the way that this technology works is even an algorithm is going to be based on what you input into it.
And a lot of advertisers and these ad exchanges have put words like lesbian and death on their brand unsafe keyword block list. So I was like, "Well, how would the algorithm handle that?" So on Refinery 29 there's an article about something called Lesbian Bed Death, which is a real thing and it's like a scientific term, but it has two bad words in it. So I put that in and it was marked as brand unsafe. And then I put in, I think, who is that gun girl, that girl from Ohio who carries the gun around with her all day? I put that in. And that was either neutral or positive, I'm forgetting. But then I put in Kenosha, an article from a local Kenosha-
Chris Gadek (32:12):
Where written house was, right? The shooter?
Nandini Jammi (32:13):
Yes, this is the middle of all this. And so I put that in and that was just blanket negative. So what I was finding was that it wasn't identifying white nationalist rhetoric and these brand unsafe websites, but it was essentially blocking ads from safe news sources. And they took that tool down and they've never put it out again for a good reason. Now, another data point that we have is a couple of years ago, a researcher that we collaborate with, Dr. Christof Franz, that came to us and said, "Hey, I think I have found a bunch of brand safety values lying around on the internet. I found it in my browser." And this was also from integral ad Science. Well, Christof found some very interesting data. In a nutshell, what he found was that integral ad science is unable to tell the difference between crime and the coverage of crime. So actual crimes, they don't find it, but the coverage of crimes they do.
So what was happening, for example, was they were marking over 90% of articles written by the crime novel reviewer at the New York Times as brand unsafe. They were marking basically entire beats of crime reporters as brand unsafe.
Chris Gadek (33:52):
So no top level domain exclusions or anything like that?
Nandini Jammi (33:57):
Chris Gadek (33:57):
Right. You would reasonably infer that. You'd just be like, "Okay, this is a publisher that covers this beat. Okay."
Nandini Jammi (34:02):
No, they don't do top level domains because they don't make money by doing top level domains. Do they? They make money by running their stupid algorithm on every impression. So they don't do that. And that hurts everyone. So they not only disproportionately harm legitimate news organizations, we found that they were allowing ads on websites like hannity.com at higher rates than legitimate brand safe news sources. And so this is a thing you have to be afraid of because they not only don't work, but they don't want you to see how it works. So they won't tell you. Even if you're a client, even if you're spending millions of dollars with integral ad signs or double verify, if you go and you ask, "Tell me which URLs you've blocked my ads from," they will not tell you because that would unravel the whole thing.
Now, can I add what the real problem is? The real problem, while they do all this (beep) with the millions of dollars that you're spending on scanning these stupid websites, the real problem is that your domain block list don't work. And the stupid scanning stuff doesn't work because the bad guys already know not to use those words because they're not freaking journalists, they don't care. They're not trying to be accurate, they're just trying to make money. So they have found ways to evade these technologies which are not very smart to begin with. And the second thing that they've done is it doesn't matter if you've blocked their stupid domain because they're operating on a different level and that level is seller accounts. So real quick, a seller account is required for any website that monetizes. You need to obtain a seller account with an ad exchange to be able to start accepting ads because they need to know who you are and they need to have a bank account for you.
So if you obtain a seller account, so let's say breitbart.com obtains a seller account and then everyone blocks breitbart.com, well their seller account is still active so they can just spin up a new website and then continue to make money. And let me tell you, that's exactly what they're doing. So I'll give you an example. There's a website called the post-millennial dot com, which is extremely brand unsafe. They employ multiple white nationalists. They employ Andy Noel, they employ straight up fascists. And if you look under their seller accounts, you'll notice that they also run in addition to the post-millennial, a website called woecanada.ca. And woecanada.ca is a great place for you to find the five top donut shops for your next visit to Quebec City, or five great hikes in Ontario. It's literally a content farm.
Chris Gadek (37:02):
Best Protein in Montreal.
Nandini Jammi (37:05):
Exactly. They are running a brand safe operation to subsidize their brand unsafe operation. And this is just one example, this is what is happening across the industry and none of these brand safety technology companies even acknowledge that it's happening.
Adam Singer (37:26):
Do you think they don't acknowledge it because it's too hard of a problem and they don't care? Or is it just not a priority? I'm curious because it seems like it'd be pretty universally supported to wire products and not be on a white nationalist website. That doesn't seem controversial.
Nandini Jammi (37:45):
Well, of course they don't want to find this problem because if they find a problem, they make less money.
Adam Singer (37:51):
That makes sense.
Nandini Jammi (37:53):
Sadly, we're the only nonprofit in this industry. We're not here to make money. We don't take money from ad tech companies and we're not here to make a profit. We're just here to solve the problem. And so if you're really here to solve the problem, if you're serious about it, you're not going to be scanning stupid websites, you're going to be digging into the financial ties and the financial ties are happening under the radar, and you're not going to find them by looking at keywords because they're not using those anymore. You have these people who are running content farms that, by the way, these seller accounts are not linked for the most part, especially for Google. This is another issue. Seller accounts should tell you what company a website is associated with. That's the point of a seller account. So advertisers can look at the seller account and go, "Okay, that belongs to the New York Times company."
But what Google has done or not done is they have not released the identities of something like 90% of these seller accounts. So if you go to most of these content farms and you try to look at the ownership data, you won't find anything. So you don't know who that website, that content farm belongs to. So what does that mean? Where is your money going? So it might be just some Hollywood gossip website, it might look harmless, but who is running it? Because whoever is running it is making a lot of money because you haven't blocked that website because you don't think it's a big deal. It's just like dumb crap and gossip.
Adam Singer (39:27):
Nandini Jammi (39:28):
And this is happening at scale. Google is a $250 billion ad advertising business, and where's the money going? Right now, the money could be going to fund the Kremlin because we can't audit this spend. It could be funding disinformation operations here domestically because we can't audit it. So what we've done as advertisers is we've given up entirely our control over our ads and our media budgets, and we are funding all the things that we say we don't want to fund and we have no way to stop it.
Adam Singer (40:11):
I think another great point that you made as you were talking is the opportunity costs. I don't think anyone, you don't have to be an advertiser to not want money going to things that are sounding distrust in our country or promoting hate speech. And every one of those dollars is a dollar that could be going to your favorite creator, whether it's political or not, that's money that could be going to fund the people that are earnestly making a living online promoting things that are generally accepted by the world and are positive things for everyone. So I think that's probably another way to frame it for any creator listening, you should be vocal about this because this affects you and all of your peers.
Nandini Jammi (40:59):
Exactly. Headphones.com with the money that they were wasting every day could have been giving out a headphone a day to their fans, to influencers, to content creators. They could have been hiring people, they could literally be giving away money to communities. They could be doing all kinds of creative things that would actually make people pay attention. But instead, but when you make this decision to invest your money into the programmatic advertising ecosystem, you are making a commitment to what? To nothing.
Adam Singer (41:35):
Yeah. This has been really fascinating on the side of brands and ecosystems and programmatic, which I think you've given everyone really good food for thought to chew on. I wanted to ask another question that wasn't about programmatic, but I know you're going to have great opinions on this and I think that this is a really interesting one right now. So every conversation has become politicized, whether you're going super far right or super far left or whatever, people are using it to score points for social media engagement and whatnot.
And me, a marketer, I've been watching brands surprisingly do things to align with the right and crazy things or whatnot. So if I am a brand and I'm this boring product, it seems tempting for a lot of these marketers to want to align politically, which to me seems weird. Why are you trying to align this CPG good? Or if you're Disney World, why are your executives publicly endorsing something where I'm like, "Wait a minute, what are they saying?" But it seems like that's either exciting for some people or they're just these executives that are really bored to say things. What are your thoughts on just brands taking sides politically or pushing on political thumbnails for marketing or awareness? I'm curious what you think of that. It seems crazy to me, but I'm curious your thoughts as someone who's not like in the space every day.
Nandini Jammi (43:13):
Yeah, that's a great observation. And I would say the answers lie in the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer survey results, which found that consumers through just in general, just things that have been happening over the past few years, plus the pandemic, are looking to connect with brands in authentic ways, and that is in ways that enrich their personal lives, their communities, their network, their families, and so on. So what people are looking for you as a brand to do is to contribute, to make a positive impact in their lives. And so what that means for you as a brand, I don't think it's a political question. I think it's a question of how can we use the budgets that we have to connect in a way that isn't flashing a stupid ad in front of them, but meaningfully improving their lives. And like I said, you could be headphones.com giving away a he phone a day, a pair of headphones a day.
And I think there was also this website called didtheyhelp.com that popped up during the pandemic, logging which companies were using their resources to help people in the pandemic. So the beer companies that started making hand sanitizer and stuff like that. And that's what people are looking at. And so that is a really exciting question, I think, for marketers to evaluate with regards to whatever it is that they sell. And it gives you the opportunity to be creative and innovative and God knows we need more of that in this industry.
Adam Singer (45:10):
Do you think though that the razor edge that is, then you also get brands like MyPillow who are basically going to full on troll and support the crazy side because they know that that base will then be like, "Oh, I'm part of this tribe." So it seems like you get both, which-
Nandini Jammi (45:36):
MyPillow, I don't think doing that good. He spends a lot, he spent a lot of money on advertising and then saturated that audience.
Chris Gadek (45:42):
And the product sucks. My old man bought one off of Fox News.
Nandini Jammi (45:47):
I don't think it's a very good product. And by the way, he lost all of his distribution centers. Everyone dropped him after he supported the insurrection. No, don't take your cues from MyPillow. Take your cues from the past. In the past, as marketers, we thought of ourselves as stewards of our brand. How do we make decisions that contribute to the longevity of our brand? How do we make people feel warm and fuzzy when they think about us? That's what made Coca-Cola a great and lasting brand. And today we are thinking in terms of incrementality, we are thinking in terms of how to meet a bunch of frankly vanity metrics. And we are not only suffering in our own profession, but we are not adding value to the people we say we want to connect with.
Adam Singer (46:47):
I was going to say thank God, because there's this fierce scenario in my head where every brand becomes far left or far right and it's becomes like the Twitterization or the stratification of everything and becomes really bipolar. So I'm glad that that fear is over concerned. So on the right, we have the brands trying to be MyPillow or sell crazy mugs and rounding era of stuff. But what's interesting, and I think to your point about authenticity, we also see brands pandering on the left like the Pepsi one where the cop hands someone a Pepsi, and that one was clearly not real. I think we have this [inaudible 00:47:30], we're hardwired to tell if it's real or not. And I think why people were like, "What are they doing?" Right?
Nandini Jammi (47:38):
Exactly. Yeah, these are some hard questions. And from where I sit here at Check My Ads HQ, my thing is that I think that you can make such a wildly significant impact on the world simply by checking your ads. And you will hear these Steve Bannons and Dan Bonginos talking about us and making up all kinds of claims about us. But at the end of the day, we are calling for a very unsexy thing, and that is advertising transparency. We just want advertisers to be able to, and to actually take the steps of checking their ads because that one simple act will help you us take on the disinformation economy. And I don't know if you care about the disinformation economy, maybe that's not the thing you care about, but then it'll definitely help you save money, it'll definitely help you improve your business decisions. It'll help you save money, it'll help you give somebody a raise or I don't know what you want to do with that money. And so I have a simple message. It is literally the title of my company. Check My Ads. Check Your Ads.
Adam Singer (49:05):
Yeah, I love it. And I love that. I think the best among us who are career marketers and this is their living and they live and breathe it, and they love media, those are the people, they've always been very thoughtful of where ads are spending. I think when you're talking about even if you only cared about money, it is in your interest on spending on high quality sites that reach real users, not the type of people that are visiting those sites who aren't going to be great customers anyway. So I think the message is right, and I don't think anything with what Check My Ads is doing is uncontroversial. I just think you're such a firebrand online. I had to ask your thoughts on what some of these companies are doing, because I think a lot of brand marketers, brand safety and all of that, and spam aside, I think a lot of them are lost in the current landscape of what to do.
And the three TV channel world is blown up, cables going away, their internet ads aren't so effective. People care more about organic content. For a lot of these people, they don't know what to do.
Nandini Jammi (50:17):
Yeah. I sympathize. And that's why I say become a marketing steward. The word stewardship, I think, is really powerful because it reminds us that we own our brands and every decision that we make about our brands, the way that it shows up in the world is on us and not on some third party company. We've almost forgotten what it's like because we gave up our advertising, our most important decision, the way that we show up in the world to somebody else. And I want to see marketers take back that power to remind themselves that the responsibility is ultimately on us.
Adam Singer (51:05):
I love it. Chris just wrote an op-ed and fast company that says exactly what you just said.
Nandini Jammi (51:10):
Adam Singer (51:12):
I think in the out of home space, we see the same things that you are seeing when you dig into programmatic ad networks online. We're obviously in real life space. You see your ad in the exact space that you bought it, you paid for that space and that time, and it's right there. And so we're actually doing something else where we're bringing internet metrics and just dashboards and analytics around physical world ads. But it's one of the thesis that we have with this company isn't just about in real life accountability. It's that there is a bubble in the online ad space and a lot of those ads aren't effective, aren't seen, are on low quality sites or sites, as you note, shouldn't have the ads from brands at all. Right?
Chris Gadek (51:57):
And given the limitations that we've covered in the past, what are some of these up and coming channels that you've identified as being a little bit more safer for advertisers to go after? One immediately that comes to mind is podcasting, right? Well, although there are companies making inroads into programmatic podcasting, but maybe you could touch on that a little bit.
Nandini Jammi (52:20):
I regret to inform you there, there's no safe place to advertise right now. Twitter went to (beep).
Chris Gadek (52:24):
Ooh, that's [inaudible 00:52:27], should we talk about that?
Adam Singer (52:29):
I was going to ask her about Elon, but let her talk about [inaudible 00:52:32].
Nandini Jammi (52:33):
Uh-oh. Yeah. I think one of the more interesting things that we haven't talked about as marketers is that on our watch, the entire internet went to (beep). We have only ourselves to blame that Twitter was the cesspool that it was. We did not do enough as advertisers to push back against the way that Twitter is. And they would have made different decisions if advertisers were fully leveraging their power. The same with Facebook, the same with I think pretty much anything. We only have ourselves to blame. There is no place today that you can advertise. Open web. On the open web, on these walled social media platforms. There is no ad exchange that I can recommend to you. There is no social media platform that I can recommend to you. And that's the reality of where we are.
I think that advertisers are really just taking a step back and be like, "We don't know where to advertise anymore." Don't even bother with streaming TV, you guys. Streaming TV is a huge mess. I admit, I don't watch TV that much. And I learn as I go by the way. I don't know everything about advertising. There's so much I don't know. But two years ago I thought I took care of War Room because I was watching War Room on my computer and I saw ads for GoDaddy and then notified everybody. And I was like, "Oh, okay. They're gone now. So he's not making money anymore." And I didn't pay attention. What I didn't realize is that War Room, it sits on a channel, it's hosted by a channel called Real America's Voice, which is owned by another company called Performance One Media, LLC. Performance One Media, LLC also owns an outlet called Weather Nation, which is 24/7 streaming weather.
And what I learned by watching what I learned by watching TV, look, I had a Roku TV, now I have two more TVs, I have an LG and I have a Samsung as well. I learned that the biggest advertisers in the world were advertising on real America's Voice because they did not realize the difference. Because I believe what happened, and based on my research, this is probably true, that these advertisers believed that they were advertising with some normal company because Performance One Media sounds normal. They thought they were advertising on Weather Nation, but where their ads are really ending up was on War Room. And so for the past, I don't know, few years... And oh yeah, the other thing about Thing about Performance One Media is they're the ones that had all the relationships with all the mediums and the manufacturers.
So they got Real America's voice into Roco, into Samsung, into Direct TV and Amazon, Amazon Prime, whatever, all those places because of Performance One Media, LLC. And so all these major advertisers at Audi, BMW, Etsy, Hilton, Iams, the pet food company, all of them found their ads running on War Room. And they don't know, by the way, they don't know to this day, I believe they don't know how the ads ended up there because CTV is such a hot mess. It is the new Wild West. And so every time we try to take care of something like the Open Web, they all move to the next thing and to the next thing. And so those two next things right now are CTV and podcasts.
Adam Singer (56:43):
Have you thought about putting together, say, having a resource on your site where here's a list of newsletters, here's a list of TikTok users, here's a list of YouTube channels as guides for different brands? I'm not saying you have to be advisory so much, but that could be a cool resource. I don't know. I was just thinking as you were talking because I think what you're scratching at is that this problem's not going to get solved with new formats of media where there's like this going to be this infinite tale of unmanageable amount of content and channels, and there's not really much motivation on the actual tech platform side. So it could be cool if I were a small business and I could be like, "Oh, here's a list of real things I could advertise with."
Nandini Jammi (57:40):
Yeah. Well, actually I'll turn that around to your audience. We are starting to build out resources, more proactive resources for marketers. We hope to have a hub where marketers can come and understand more about the ad tech industry and the things that they should be asking their vendors and know about vendors before signing contracts and so on. We don't do lists. So the most frequently asked question that I have had since running Sleeping Giants was, can you give me a block list? And the answer is no. Because if I gave you a block list, you'd apply that block list and then you wouldn't do any of the work on your own. And you need to do the work because what's happening again, first of all, there's no way for me or anyone with all the resources in the world to maintain a block list because Google invites, I don't know how many thousands and hundreds of thousands of websites into their inventory every day, every week.
So we can't keep up with that thing. So that's why we need advertisers to be following us, little plug for us, to understand what the techniques are that are allowing the bad actors to continue to operate. And what we will do is we will keep you posted on our investigations. We'll keep you posted on the seller accounts that we are having ad exchanges drop. And we are hoping that advertisers will join us because ultimately we work in the interests of advertisers who work in the interests we hope of their own customers and audiences. And we want you to be able to be your own advocate in the ad tech industry.
Adam Singer (59:33):
I love that message, and I think education is exactly the right approach to get particularly young and new to the industry advertisers aware of the power they have. And I think that getting them to be really passionate about it and giving a F about the impact of where they're spending their dollars. We live in a capital society. Everyone's voting with their dollars. And so I think the more you can get people to care, they're going to get to the right end points of what they should be doing. I think it becomes pretty obvious to any advertiser, if you look at whether it's hate speech sites or spam site, you don't want your ad there. And I think shining the light starts with maybe some of the marketers who are just throwing cash at whoever because they feel like they have to tick a box. But I think if you can educate more people to care, they're going to do a better job, they're going to have better results, and ultimately we get a better world. Right?
Nandini Jammi (01:00:34):
Absolutely. And my only request to your audience today is I would love to get my hands on your ad placement reports, and I would love to have that because one of the initiatives that we would like to introduce is audits. So if you are interested in off the record or maybe on the record audit of your ad spend, please contact me and we'll make it happen.
Adam Singer (01:01:08):
Awesome. I just had one more question I want to go through because it's top of everyone's mind. What are your thoughts on our beloved community of Twitter? Because we all love Twitter. It's such a great site. I don't want to see anyone taking it the wrong way. I want to see the community ultimately coming to power. We know each other because of it. We've been here before anyone was trying to play Game of Thrones and put their egos on things. So what do you think happens next in terms of Elon's ownership? Do you see advertisers sticking on, not caring? Do you see him selling? I'm curious, just your take, however you want to comment.
Nandini Jammi (01:01:51):
Sure. So when this whole thing happened, people asked me if we would be doing some an advertiser boycott. And I said, no, I don't think that's worth our time because we already did the work. Let me tell you, all of those organizations like GARM, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, which represents a part of the world Federation of Advertisers, which represents, I don't know, some billion dollar amount of money and the biggest brands in the world, they have their little framework and other things because, and definitions of what brand safety is and all the work that they have done to this point is because of the work that Sleeping Giants did. Am I still online?
Adam Singer (01:02:48):
You are still online.
Nandini Jammi (01:02:49):
It went super quiet. Okay. Okay, let me just start that over.
Chris Gadek (01:02:56):
We're still here.
Nandini Jammi (01:03:02):
Okay. No. Let me just back up a little bit. So the reason that I felt like it wasn't a good use of our time, that I don't feel like it's a of our time to target Twitter, the way that we've done with platforms and exchanges in the past is because he's just doing the work himself. He's the most productive boycotter of Twitter that I have ever seen, and the work has been done. So the definitions of brand safety exist there. There's frameworks that exist and that they exist because of the groundwork that Sleeping Giants and other sister efforts have already done in the past. So we already laid the groundwork for advertisers to leave because they all signed on to these agreements, to these charters and so on.
So they had no choice. A lot of advertisers had no choice but to leave basically, unless they want to look like hypocrites and create a lot more issues for themselves down the line. So the work has been done, the advertisers have left. There is no chance for growth, there's no pathway to growth for an Elon run Twitter. So I don't feel like it's a good use of our time to beat a dead horse. I'm really sad for what this means for Twitter, of course. I've met so many amazing people, and of course all the work that we've done has been on Twitter, but that's the nature of marketing for you. Things change. People change, people move on, and we have to adapt to new realities to be able to connect with people in other ways. So while I think it sucks, and I'm really sad about it, I'm excited to be experimenting with new ways to reconnect and grow my audience again.
Adam Singer (01:05:01):
Cool. Well, thank you for your thoughts. No one is un-opinionated on questions about Elon Musk, so I love it. I think everyone should have opinions. And yeah, this has been so great to talk. I think that our sector benefits so much by having people who genuinely care about advertising. I think you're someone when you do see a great ad and you find a great brand, whether it's a Shark Tank mom and pap startup or a brand we grew up with, I don't know about you, but I like it. I think advertising is very American part of our DNA. You go into a city. New York Times Square wouldn't be the same thing without ads. So I think the more we all care about the quality of our ads, the better our industry and the better our world would be. Is there anything else that you want to close with.
Chris Gadek (01:05:57):
Nandini, where can our audience find you? How can they connect with you? Plug away.
Nandini Jammi (01:06:03):
Thanks for asking. What I would like to plug is Branded our newsletter where we publish the investigations that the ad tech industry doesn't want you to know about. It's where we uncover new stories and push the industry forward. Pretty much every brand that we've written has resulted in some tangible industry-wide change. So if you could please go to checkmyads.org/branded and sign up for our newsletters, we will not spam you, we'll just send you the newsletters, the investigations as we put them out. And follow us on, I guess, Twitter. I'm at @Nandoodles and we are also at Check My Ads HQ. I don't know how much longer you can do that, so I guess do it while you can.
Chris Gadek (01:06:54):
Cool. Thank you. And every self-respecting, aspiring podcaster, I should say, we'll add them in the show notes and we'll drop the links to make it easy for the audience. Yeah, you like that, Adam? I'm getting pretty good at this.
Adam Singer (01:07:07):
It's like you're a proper podcast marketer, right? We're in new grounds here.
Chris Gadek (01:07:12):
Yeah. Again, thank you for your time, Nandini. We're so blessed to have your expertise and hear your takes on this space. I imagine that we're just starting to scratch the surface on brand safety and ad fraud, especially with generative AI, but I think that's a conversation for another episode perhaps in the future. Adam, is there anything that you'd like to add before we wrap up here?
Adam Singer (01:07:38):
No. It's awesome to talk with ad tech industry pioneers, so this has been really fun.
Nandini Jammi (01:07:44):
It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for inviting me.
Chris Gadek (01:07:47):
And then everybody, if you've enjoyed what you've heard today, smash the subscribe button. Leave us some comments, leave us some reviews. Tell us what we can improve, what we shouldn't improve. We'd greatly appreciate it.
Again, this is Adam, Nandini and Chris, the AdQuick Advertising Podcast, episode three, and that's a wrap.