Is digital marketing delivering its promise of value to clients?

Google’s earnings revealed that their advertising is worth less (per bid vs Q1), while Facebook also simultaneously said their ad bids are going up. Frankly I’m not so sure that indicates market share / value transfer or more funny accounting.

But I will say this: the world of digital marketing needs an enormous reboot of transparency and quality. Right now if I am advertising on a website and someone clicks my ad, but immediately leaves before seeing any content (less a pixel or two) that counts. That allows automated click farms to partially load content (to save bandwidth) and rapidly click on a multitude of ads around the web to generate revenue for content generators (websites that advertise with Google, Facebook, etc).

That wouldn’t seem like much of a problem, except that 60% of clicks behave that way. That doesn’t even account for what is described as detected click fraud. That’s about 20% of the digital ad spend. So, according to those metrics, about of remaining clicks 20% on ads are viewed by humans and of them perhaps 1%-2% lead to sales.

Now the math gets interesting. Recent studies claim at least $16.4B is lost to click fraud (probably an extremely low ball figure, but let’s roll with it). The smoothed P/E of techs in digital marketing (like Google) is about 33. Google has an average profit margin of about 20%. So $16.4B * 33 = $541.2 billion. 20% of that is $108.24 billion.

That means at least $108.24 billion of market capitalization in this concentrated tech sector is at risk if just click fraud is exposed and eliminated. That doesn’t address the other 60% of ad clicks that are effectively meaningless. That would add another $324 billion of market capitalization at risk. And again, I feel these are low ball figures.

The biggest advertising companies these days are Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Verizon. So I would be most concerned about their long term performance.

Full disclosure: I have a short position against the NASDAQ 100 at the time of writing this article.