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Gannett ad mishap highlights concerns about programmatic advertising

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The revelation that Gannett sent billions of ads to the wrong places is raising fresh concerns about reliability in programmatic advertising. 

The Wall Street Journal reports the publisher “provided inaccurate information to advertisers for nine months, misrepresenting where billions of ads were placed.” In particular, many advertisers thought they were buying space on the company’s flagship USA Today site but wound up on one of its local outlets instead. 


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In addition to USA Today, Gannett owns news properties in 46 U.S. states, ranging in size from big city daily newspapers to weeklies that cover small towns. Ad space is sold on those sites through real time digital auctions. 

In one instance, an ad meant to target a USA Today reader went to a reader of the Indianapolis star. In another case, ads meant for the daily Sarasota, Fl, Herald-Tribune ran on the website of a bi weekly newspaper for a village in New Mexico.

Gannett issued a press release apologizing for the mistake and saying, “The data parameter issue was caused due to a caching error when the Company implemented changes to how data is passed from the publisher to the ad exchanges.”

The brands affected by the mistake included Sears, Nike, Adidas, Ford, State Farm, Starbucks, Kia, Marriott, Capital One, American Red Cross, and Spotify.

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Why we care: From all reports this appears to be a technical mistake by Gannett and nothing else. But the issue it brings up is much larger. This went on for nine months before being noticed. It was caught by a team of researchers not a brand manager, agency or, most importantly, an ad verification guarantor. Given this, how can any company have faith that their programmatic advertising spend is reaching the audience they want.

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It’s an issue of visibility, and it’s not the first time we’ve seen this. Stories about faults in Facebook’s ad metrics have floated around for years. Just as walled gardens offer limited visibility into ad performance, advertisers taking advantage of programmatic marketplaces have much less understanding of where there ads are appearing than if they were buying publisher inventory in the traditional way.


About The Author

Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for CBSNews.com, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.



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B2B customer journeys that begin at review sites are significantly shorter

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B2B customer journeys that begin at review sites are significantly shorter

The B2B customer journey can be a long one, especially when the purchase of expensive software subscriptions is under consideration.

“The average B2B customer journey takes 192 days from anonymous first touch to won,” according to Dreamdata in their 2022 B2B Go-to-Market Benchmarks — a statistic described by co-founder and CMO Steffen Hedebrandt as “alarming.”

But the report also indicates that this journey can be significantly sped up — by as much as 63% — if accounts begin their research at software review sites, gathering information and opinions from their peers. Journeys that originate at a review site often lead to deals of higher value too.

Fragmented data on the customer journey. Dreamdata is a B2B go-to-market platform. In any B2B company, explained Hedebrandt, there are typically 10 or even 20 data silos that contain fragments of the customer journey. Website visits, white paper downloads, social media interactions, webinar or meeting attendance, demos, and of course intent data from review site visits — this data doesn’t typically sit in one place within an organization.

“We built an account-based data model because we believe that there’s such a thing as an account journey and not an individual journey,” said Hedebrandt. “So if there are two, three or five people representing an account, which is typically what you see in B2B, all of these touches get mapped into the same timeline.”

Among those many touches is the intent data sourced from software review site G2. Dreamdata has an integration with G2 and a G2 dashboard allowing visualization of G2-generated intent data. This includes filtering prospects who are early in their journey, who have not yet discovered the customer’s product, or who have discovered it but are still searching. This creates a basis for attributing pipelines, conversions and revenue to the activity.

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“Strategically, our ideal customer profile is a B2B software-as-a-service company,” said Hedenbrandt. “B2B SaaS companies are particularly ripe for understanding this digital customer journey; their main investment is in digital marketing, they have a salesforce that use software tools to do this inside sales model; and they also deliver their product digitally as well.” What’s more, it takes twice as long to close SaaS deal as it does to close deals with B2B commercial and professional services companies.

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Read next: A look at the tech review space

The Benchmarks findings. The conclusions of the 2022 Benchmarks report is based on aggregated, anonymized data from more than 400 Dreamdata user accounts. Focusing on first-touch attribution (from their multi-touch model), Dreamdata found that customer journeys where a review site is the first touch are 63% shorter than the average. In contrast, where the first touch channel is social, the journey is much longer than average (217%); it’s the same when paid media is the first touch (155%).

As the Benchmarks report suggests, this may well mean that social is targeting prospects that are just not in-market. It makes sense that activity on a review site is a better predictor of intent.

Hedenbrandt underlines the importance of treating the specific figures with caution. “It’s not complete science what we’ve done,” he admits, “but it’s real data from 400 accounts, so it’s not going to be completely off. You can only spend your time once, and at least from what we can see here it’s better to spend your time collecting reviews than writing another Facebook update.”

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While Dreamdata highlights use of G2, Hedenbrandt readily concedes that competitor software review sites might reasonably be expected to show similar effects. “Definitely I would expect it to be similar.”

Why we care. It’s not news that B2B buyers researching software purchases use review sites and that those sites gather and trade in the intent data generated. Software vendors encourage users to post reviews. There has been a general assumption that a large number of hopefully positive reviews is a good thing to have.


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What Dreamdata’s findings indicate is that the effect of review sites on the buyer journey — especially as the first-touch channel — can be quantified and a value placed on it. “None of us questioned the value of reviews, but during this process you can actually map it into a customer journey where you can see the journey started from G2, then flowed into sales meetings, website visits, ads, etc. Then we can also join the deal value to the intent that started from G2.”

Likely, this is also another example of B2B learning from B2C. People looking at high consideration B2C purchases are now accustomed to seeking advice both from friends and from online reviews. The same goes for SaaS purchases, Hedenbrandt suggests: “More people are turning to sites like G2 to understand whether this is a trustworthy vendor or not. The more expensive it is, the more validation you want to see.”


About The Author

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Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space.

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He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020.

Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.

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