Invisible Banner Ads — Sure, consumers will like them, but not the companies paying for them

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There’s a lot of dark out there. Dark matter — matter in the Universe that physicists can’t see. Dark pools — of liquidity that buy-side traders can’t see because it is not displayed on order books. And now, dark ads and dark press release pick-ups. (I could’ve mentioned the dark side of the force, for Star Wars fans, or Dark Side of the Moon for any Pink Floyd fans, but thought those were dated references. Well, Pink Floyd certainly.)

Dark ads are those that are coded to appear on sub-pages of some websites. The intent is to collect money by selling space that doesn’t really exist. According to the Wall St. Journal, Web Ads Hidden Under Cloak of Invisibility,” what happens is that “software code running behind the scenes opened more than 40 Web pages, each including three ads from marketers.”

The user doesn’t see those ads, but the marketers are charged for them as if users had.

But because of click-through fraud, “Advertisers often buy display ads based on the number of times they are loaded onto a page, rather than the number of clicks they get.”

Now, to dark press release (as opposed to dark marketing; check out my blog article on dark marketing). Part of the service you get when you distribute press releases via one of the paid services is a report showing where the press release was picked up. Sometimes the links they provide are from very well known media sites. In the pick-up report, you get the media outlet’s logo and a specific URL for that press release.

Clients are often impressed with the media outlets’ logos.

But when you click on that media outlet’s home page to conduct a search for the client’s press release — well, you can’t find it. The press release exists only on that link the distribution service provided and it is not searchable or findable any other way.

So, if you can’t see these pick-ups except for when you actually have the specific links — do they count?

I wouldn’t think so — but, on the other hand, when I searched online for two Wall St. Journal articles I had seen in the print edition, I could not find them using the Journal’s search engine. However, I was able to find them using Google. So, do those articles count if they’re not easily accessible using the site’s search engine?

The answer: of course the articles count. They’re just harder to find.

We still have to show what kind of pick-up press releases get, but we now prefer services that have improved their reporting to find pick-ups beyond the dark press release pick-ups.

In a searchable world, you have to be able to find content for it to count. The articles were found by Google, even if the Journal’s engine couldn’t (and they were from today’s paper). The dark press releases can sometimes be found using Google, even if the media site’s own search engine couldn’t.

My preference: original articles, not just press release pick-ups. But in this age of smaller news staffs, we’re seeing a lot more pick-ups than ever before — albeit slightly edited.

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