How FOMO And FOFO Sapped Marketers' Budgets

Everyone’s heard of FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. They’ve probably experienced it too, like missing out on Black Friday deals or this year’s must-have Christmas toy. Perhaps some have heard of FOFO too. I first heard the term from Mike Donahue, a veteran of the advertising industry and copywriter extraordinaire. FOFO means “Fear of Finding Out.” I have witnessed how both FOMO and FOFO have afflicted marketers for years when it comes to digital marketing. Let me explain. 

First FOMO

FOMO comes in waves; and it usually happens after a few large players are tricked, oops “convinced,” to buy something “digital.” I’ve been around long enough to have seen big brands resist creating ecommerce websites, fearing that that would cannibalize their catalog and in-store sales; that was 1997. Then all of a sudden everyone scrambled to make websites and commerce-enable them. Then everyone jumped on the Flash bandwagon to make their websites “cool and interactive,” to the detriment of their SEO value (Flash, like images, made it hard for search engines to properly index the sites). Then brands started putting ads on UGC (user generated content) and social media, followed by buying likes and views to make those efforts look like they were performing.

Even to this day FOMO is causing advertisers to continue to buy adtech snake oil — from programmatic ads placed on millions of long-tail sites to privacy-invasive “surveillance marketing” where tons of data are gathered for the purposes of hyper-targeting ads. One “fools gold” after another, resulting in what I consider to be a “lost decade” of digital marketing. I am not saying that digital marketing didn’t work in the last decade; but I am saying that enormous sums of money were spent chasing adtech shiny objects that didn’t work well or didn’t work at all. That money could have been saved or better spent on other forms of advertising that would have driven better business outcomes. 

I won’t belabor this point, but will cite some examples that have been covered extensively elsewhere. Showing ads on millions of long tail sites is not that effective because of the bot problem and because most humans don’t visit millions of long-tail sites millions of times. Long-tail sites don’t have large human audiences, so they turn to bot traffic to make more ad revenue. The fraud detection technologies that marketers paid for failed to detect most of the bots that were advanced enough to trick their detection or ones that just blocked their detection tags altogether. Advertisers then went on to pay for viewability measurement, but missed the point that even if ads were 100% viewable, they were still useless if shown to a bot. Advertisers paid more for targeting parameters, believing that more targeting meant more relevant ads; but they missed the part about the data being wildly inaccurate. The list keeps going, because marketers just kept buying “shiny objects.” 

Further reading:

  1. The Myths of the Long Tail, Behavioral Targeting, and Hyper Targeting
  2. Fraud Detection Tech Doesn’t Work Well and is Easily Tricked
  3. How Accurate Is Programmatic Ad Targeting? Not Very

Then FOFO  

Once marketers paid for these things, they found that they’d have to find continued justification for it, just like previously when they purchased likes and views to justify their decision to advertise on and create brand pages on social media. It certainly would be embarrassing if social media marketing didn’t work as well as they thought it would when FOMO drove them to buy into it. The same Fear of Finding Out is now keeping many marketers from looking more closely at the efficacy of their digital programmatic spending. It would be embarrassing if they found out that it was less effective than originally promised by the ad tech companies that sold them on it. It would be embarrassing to find out that the fraud detection tech they used didn’t find most of the bots and other forms of fraud that were not bots. It would be embarrassing to find out that 100% viewable inventory came from sites that tricked the detection instead of real mainstream publishers that didn’t cheat. It would be embarassing to find out the brand safety detection tech was not much more than keyword block lists (i.e. if the word “coronavirus” was on the page, block the ads – happened on homepage).

FOFO is leading marketers to continue spending on various ad tech services and technologies long after they should have cut the expenses due to lack of efficacy. That’s the nice way of saying they should have cut the wasted dollars as soon as they found out it doesn’t work at all. FOFO is also leading marketers to “throw good money after bad” by paying for fraud certifications. They know programs like TAG’s Certified Against Fraud don’t work because it is self-attested and flawed in other ways; but they still pay for it for optics and CYA purposes. Not a good use of money, especially when budgets are expected to remain tight going forward.  

Fear of Missing Out got marketers to buy ad tech shiny objects; and Fear of Finding Out is prolonging their money wasting on these same shiny objects and on fake certifications that help them feel better about prior bad decisions. 

Further reading:

  1. The Red Herrings of Digital That Kept Marketers Spending
  2. The Cost-Performance Paradox Of Modern Digital Marketing

Now, GTFO While You Can

Yes, it’s hard to admit to prior mistakes. It’s even harder when your job depends on it. Some marketers’ job is to “spend it all” and they fear that if they don’t spend all their budget, they will get less next year. So they’ve lost sight of the fact that those dollars are supposed to produce a business outcome or improve upon business outcomes.

You’ve been given a golden opportunity to kick the fools gold to the curb. When everything was running smoothly, few marketers wanted to rock the boat. But the virus pandemic has already rocked said bot, oops I meant “boat.” Many marketers paused digital ad spending for a number of months and are turning various things back on. Look at your own campaigns to see whether the pause in digital ad spend led to any changes in business activity and outcomes. If there were none, that should tell you something.

Also look for opportunities to audit and review your spending to see what costs you can cut. Budgets are expected to remain tight, and now is the time to determine what to keep and what to cut. If fraud detection tech is not working for you; cut it. If brand safety detection tech is not working, cut it. If hyper targeting is not working; cut it. If certifications against fraud are not working; cut it. Don’t let FOMO and FOFO continue to afflict your judgement and prolong wasted spending until your CFO or CEO finds out and starts asking questions.

So, GTFO (of wasted spending) while you can. This window of opportunity won’t last forever.

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