Do Marketers Always Get What They Pay For?

You can’t take everything you see on the internet at face value. More often than not, things aren’t what they seem and you might end up paying more for services that simply aren’t worth it.

Something similar is happening with marketers of late. Thanks to the abundance of misinformation doing rounds online, marketers often get duped. So, it makes sense to take most claims made online by advertising companies with a grain of salt.

The whole mess with the newspaper Gannett indicates how easy it is for marketers to have fraudulent experiences in the world of online advertising.

Here, let’s discuss some points regarding this infamous debacle and how you can avoid facing a similar fate.

The Importance of Auditing In Marketing

Let’s face it: everyone’s heard of auditing at some point. Back in the day, marketers relied on audits to help them understand what they were paying for. If a newspaper or magazine suddenly increased its rates, it would have to audit its circulation number.

Marketers could then view reports from an independent auditor confirming these circulation numbers. In this way, marketers could gain assurance over the authenticity of a publication’s claims.

These marketers would then be happy to pay a premium for featuring their ads in the publication in question. However, now more than ever, third-party auditing is under scrutiny. Marketers don’t trust auditing firms like they did before.

After all, how could they? Take the Gannett case for example. A third-party auditor involved in the Gannett case failed to notice the publication’s fraudulent claims.

In such a scenario, it’s easy to see why marketers hesitate to trust independent auditing firms. In the past, auditing such claims would establish the reliability of a publication. 

While auditing remains important, marketers might not rely on it as much as they did before.

The Role of Research

In the Gannett case, two researchers discovered the depth of the nearly year-long fraud case. These researchers weren’t attached to the publication in any way. Their research findings opened the can of worms which was a pretty elaborate ruse.

For a solid 9 months, marketers believed their ads were featured on USA Today’s website. They paid hefty sums for the same. After all, USA Today’s website enjoys a viewership of over 2 million.

In most cases, major marketers are happy to pay premiums to reach such a massive readership. But, what they didn’t know was that their ads never made it to USA Today.

Instead, Gannett featured the ads on local outlets under its ownership. These ads received significantly low ownership compared to what they’d receive with USA Today.

Imagine the outrage of marketers when they finally discovered the truth! Gannett is the largest newspaper publisher in the US. If marketers can’t trust its quality controls, which publisher can they trust?

Ordinarily, this is where independent auditors would come in. But, thanks to increasing mistrust of auditors, researchers are growing in popularity. The independent researchers, Braedon Vickers and Krysztof Franaszek submitted their report to Wall Street Journal after gathering sufficient evidence.

If they hadn’t, perhaps these ads would continue to make an appearance on lesser-known sites and marketers would pay exorbitant amounts for the same.

Impact of Social Media Advertising

With such a large-scale debacle in the limelight, we must ask: what about other large-scale advertising platforms? Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms offer ad placements.

These platforms too can help you reach hundreds of thousands, even millions of viewers. But, the question is: how many of these users are genuine? It’s not uncommon for marketers to encounter fake accounts and bots on social media.

Paying for viewership when your ads don’t reach genuine users can be a huge marketing mishap. After all, most companies, especially startups, have tight marketing budgets. You don’t want to run through this budget with ineffective ads.

Therefore, social media platforms should give users a breakdown of the number of viewers you’ll reach online. These stats shouldn’t relate to social media accounts or views.

Rather, they should relate to the number of human beings your ads reach on these platforms. Information on whether Facebook and Instagram audit their viewership claims is still vague.

So, it’s not wise for marketers to take these claims at face value.

How Google Factors Into This

Google can play a role in the analysis of viewership and ad performance. With Google’s sufficiently advanced analytics platform, startups and small companies can learn how their ads are performing.

This platform also allows them to view the traffic their sites receive. But, the tools on this platform aren’t 100% effective. For instance, if you attempt to reach viewers with ad-blocking measures, Google’s stats can get warped.

Since web traffic is the bread and butter of online marketers, you can see why this can present a problem. The answer to this problem, once again, is auditing. Sure, trust in third-party audits plummeted after the Gannett scandal.

But, that doesn’t mean the entire profession needs to get discredited. Using independent reviewers and auditors to analyze the claims of Google Ads is of the essence.

Such measures could assure marketers over the reach of their ads and traffic on their sites. Remember, the key here is to understand how many people view a particular ad.


In conclusion, the Gannett case displays some serious loopholes in the auditing process. It also raises several questions about the integrity of online publications and other platforms for ad placements.

But, with stricter quality control and review measures in place, marketers should be able to trust these platforms more.

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