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Friday Five round-up: our top five tech and comms stories from September 2017

Lee Menzies-Pearson

11 Oct 2017

From dodgy paid ads to questionable claims about audience reach, last month was as controversial as it was exciting in the world of tech and comms. I've pulled together my five favourite stories from September below. Sign up to the newsletter if you like what you see, and get more like this in your inbox every week.

FT spots multimillion-pound ad fraud

Since the start of this year the efficacy of digital ads has been under a real spotlight. They've been accused of inadvertently funding terrorism, as well as failing to make any noticeable impact on a brand's sales. Now a new aspect of this story has come to light. The FT has investigated what's known as "domain spoofing" against its website – when someone sets up a fake URL that looks like FT.com but is, in fact, entirely under their control and nothing to do with the genuine FT site. Criminals then sell ad space on this fake domain to digital advertisers, who buy through automated programmatic platforms. The FT found that brands paid £1m a month for ads on this fake site – essentially handing money over to organised criminal gangs running the scam. This is a big issue and it's unlikely we've heard the last of the problems connected to the often-opaque world of digital advertising.

How Amazon could break the digital duopoly

It's become normal in the marketing industry to talk about the duopoly - Google and Facebook - that commands digital advertising budgets virtually unopposed. But now there's increasing talk about Amazon wielding greater power in the digital space and possibly becoming a compelling advertising platform in its own right. Amazon is, after all, essentially the search engine for products already: one study found that 72% of people visit Amazon at some point before making a purchase. Indeed Amazon has already begun serving ads to customers, almost under the radar, establishing an ad business with nearly $2bn revenue. As Amazon keeps on improving its knowledge of consumers, the future potential for this part of its business is enormous.

P&G outlines future of digital advertising

Consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) is ripping up the rulebook when it comes to digital marketing. In a speech during September, P&G’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard explained how the company is re-thinking digital advertising - in one instance by moving away from 30-second ads after discovering the average digital ad viewing time was only 1.7 seconds. This is part of its new approach, which it calls "mass one-to-one marketing" - exploiting the mass reach required to grow a brand, mixed with the customised targeting abilities now available across programmatic. The challenge for brands and agencies alike is to get creativity and impact into such tiny timeframes.

Facebook questioned over audience reach 

Facebook got into a spot of bother during September after accusations that its audience reach numbers are above the levels provided by government census data. For instance, Facebook claims it can reach 41m of America's 18-24 year olds and 60m of its 25-34 year olds, but US census data says there are only 31m and 45m people respectively in each age bracket. While this is a little embarrassing, the bigger risk for Facebook it is reinforces an impression of unreliability in its data - the very thing that was supposed to be its strength. This is also a reflection of the increased scrutiny it receives as it becomes a more central part of the marketing ecosystem.

The Sun embraces mobile readers

One of the unexpected results of the rise of digital news is how it's changed the demographics of many publications. Two years after it came out from behind its paywall, for example, The Sun's average reader is now more likely to be a woman than the traditional "white van man". This change has been attributed to the paper's strength in TV and showbiz news - and as these articles can now be accessed discretely (and discreetly) there's less stigma attached than hitherto. An incredible 91% of The Sun's online readers now come through mobile, and in a sign of the times its writers have recently been told to limit headlines to 90 characters to fit better on mobile screens. Sign up to our Friday Five newsletter to get stories like these in your inbox every week