The curse of the foreign eyeballs

Here at StopPress we get our fair share of disgruntled murmurings about, well, lots of things really. Just recently someone approached us about some alleged dodgy online advertising practices and our ears pricked up. The source wished to remain anonymous but claims online media agencies are placing ads on websites that are not necessarily being viewed and accessed by the target demographic for those ads, yet clients are still paying for these ‘foreign eyeballs’.

All screen shots taken in Australia

Confused? So were we. Put it this way: If you’re living in Australia and you log onto the MSN New Zealand website, what would you expect to see? Australian ads, targeted to you because you are living in Australia, or New Zealand ads, which although they are on a New Zealand website, may not be of much use to you, seeing as you are living in Australia?

Large publishing companies are, “… masquerading total eyeballs as New Zealand eyeballs,” says our source. “It drives down the response rates (which we’re all being measured on) and more importantly creates an ongoing issue with transparency and honesty in the industry. People trust their online media agency to get their ads in the right places. Any publisher with morals will only deliver ads to the right people.”

Simply put, media agencies should be targeting ads to specific localities, based on a user’s IP (Internet Protocol) address. IPs are handy things because they identify where in the world an online user is. So, if you are a New Zealand business seeking to attract New Zealand, your online ad campaign should only be accessible to those surfing the net with New Zealand IPs.

Michael Gregg, chairman for the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), does not see much of an issue. He says that when it comes to IP targeted advertising, it is actually quite accurate.

“IP targeting works 90 percent of the time and there may be 10 percent wastage.”

At the end of the day he says it is up to the clients to do their research if they have any concerns about where their advertising is being viewed. It seems though that IP is only a small piece of this puzzling internet picture. According to Michael Carney, veteran marketer and current author/editor of MarketingWeek.co.nz, it really depends on how the ads are sold.

Some clients will pay a flat rate to have an ad displayed for a set period of time. In cases like this, where in the world people are seeing the ad does not matter so much, and so neither does their IP.

He says it only becomes an issue if, as a client, you paying on a cost per click basis.

Like Gregg, Carney says it is about being a smart client and knowing what to ask for. For example, if you are going to pay for ads on a per click basis, you can actually specify to only be charged for ads clicked on by a domestic audience.

He is quick to downplay the significance of the issue in New Zealand.

“It is not necessarily a big issue for New Zealand-based websites because the number of international traffic to these sites is low.”

He estimates that international views to New Zealand websites could be as low as one percent (although, according to Nielsen Market Intelligence from January, unique browsers originating outside of New Zealand for stuff.co.nz is 50.5 percent and 39 percent for nzherald.co.nz).

Yahoo.com.au as seen from NZ

We did a little digging of our own to see what we could garner when we logged onto yahoo.com.au. Sure enough, even though we’re logging on from New Zealand, the ads that appear include ‘Rexona, Australia’s greatest athlete’, ‘Medibank’ and ‘Target’.

At the end of the day it seems what it boils down to is how you are paying for your advertising — per click or a flat rate.

We would be keen to hear your thoughts. Whether you are a client, an online media agency, an internet surfer, or just a general online geek, what’s your verdict? Are some online media agencies taking their clients for a cyber ride or is the whole thing legit?

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