PR provocateur Ed Zitron: Big Tech and advertising broke the Internet beyond repair

Ed Zitron, founder and CEO, EZPR

Ed Zitron will speak at the AdExchangers programmatic IO conference on May 16-17 in Las Vegas.Click here to sign up.

As a PR consultant for tech companies, Ed Zitron has seen a few things. He knows where the bodies are buried and is happy to point them out.

Zitron argues that the internet has been ruined by the Big Tech players who control it and sometimes it seems like these companies are eager to prove his case.

Take Meta producing the metaverse hype cycle. The whole thing was just a pretext to distract from Facebook’s cancerous branding, Zitron said. Meta’s recent attempts to downplay its all-in investment in the now-dead metaverse prove that CEO Mark Zuckerberg should be kicked out of the company on a rail.

But big platforms aren’t the only ones making the internet worse. Digital advertising has become nothing but noise, Zitron said.

The advertising industry must lose its sense of entitlement to everyone’s data. Billions of dollars spent, he said she, and we still don’t know where the money went [advertisers] they seem obsessed with having to be able to keep track of people.

Zitron spoke to AdExchanger about the sins of social media, the end of behavioral targeting, the cosmic horrors of artificial intelligence and Swedish melodic death metal. (His favorite In Flames album is Colony and/or Clayman).

AdExchanger: Does the metaverse hype cycle illustrate the influence Big Tech has on advertisers and other tech companies?

ED ZITRON: It’s proof that Big Tech has too much power, but also that the tech industry is a bunch of followers. [Microsoft CEO] Satya Nadella said in 2021 that he couldn’t overstate what a breakthrough the metaverse has been. Microsoft’s metaverse products were Microsoft Teams, and that was it. Their metaverse industrial division has been shut down. They’ve also tried to label the Activision deal a metaverse, and if Activision is metaverse, then everything in video games is metaverse.

What is the future of Meta?

The ad-supported social media model will die as tracking dies. Social media has a reckoning coming in the next 10 years with privacy laws and the GDPR. The EU will crush Facebook.

Digital publishers have cited a decline in ad spending last year to justify this year’s layoffs. Are these businesses poorly managed?

There has been overspending on everything in 2021. It’s no longer obvious what truly works at scale. Large holding companies are used to spending money rather than being results-driven. Billions of dollars are wasted and that was before Facebook accidentally spent millions.

Digital advertising has had an attribution problem for years and the bill is running out. Withdrawal is also happening because we are in the twilight of behavioral targeting.

Speaking of the decline in behavioral targeting, have publishers and social platforms failed to prepare for changes like Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency and cookie deprecation?

Even setting Cambridge Analytica aside, there has always been something deeply cowardly about behavioral targeting to the degree that Facebook and others have. That dying is a good thing for society. And Apple has been quite direct about whether that would happen.

Are you seeing any innovation in the market in terms of building a successful publishing business?

You have to find a way to monetize outside of advertising. The deserter is smaller, but profitable. Users like it and will pay for good journalism and personality-driven writing from the people they love.

Venture capital expects eternal growth and it just doesn’t work in journalism. Check out BuzzFeed and the protocol.

Is the move to vertical video the same failed video strategy we’ve seen before?

Yes, but there are two types of pivots in the video. There’s what we’ve seen with sites like being tricked by Facebook into lying about its video metrics. The transition to vertical video [is the other kind, with] the advertising industry chasing every new fad.

TikTok advertising is just another channel, and it’s also swearing allegiance to another major platform that can change its algorithm to screw you up the way Facebook, Apple, Google, and every single platform owner does.

Does the latest AI shiny object have staying power?

There will be AI-generated articles, but AI-generated content is not good. Even if it improves, it lacks humanity. A soul is missing. And no one can tell me what the AI ​​is doing in ads other than theoretically telling you which ad could play better.

Some companies are pushing AI-powered video ads.

You mean like that fake beer ad? That was Lovecraftian horror.

Could Artificial Intelligence Make Programmatic Advertising More Efficient?

This is a basic thing that everyone could agree on, but wholesale content automation is a horrible idea. The ad industry doesn’t realize that the reason they’re so deep in this hole is because they’ve relied so heavily on programmatic, automated, algorithm-driven things.

Consumers are tired of being hyper-aimed. The irony is that they are not personally targeted. The average consumer is aware of such automation. If we automate creativity, they will notice too.

How about using AI to identify bias in advertising campaigns?

Having an algorithm that checks for bias and racism is such a loophole. Hire black people, hire women, hire trans people not a damn computer.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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