It doesn't actually work like that
haha ad model go brrrr
You maybe read about the new TikTokTeen prank on the Trump campaign:
This time, TikTokers are encouraging fellow users to employ a tactic called “shopping cart abandonment” in which they go to the Trump 2020 campaign’s online store and fill up their cart with a whole bunch of merchandise they have no intention of purchasing.
The goal is to leave the campaign’s online shopping data skewed. The use of “shopping cart abandonment” could also hurt its e-commerce business by “signal[ing] a poor user experience or broken sales funnel.”
People who left their digital shopping carts waiting for check-out reportedly cost retailers over $4.6 trillion back in 2016.
It doesn’t really work like that.
Cart abandon is a really important and useful event in eCommerce: you can teach ad systems to learn which users are likely to abandon a cart, and then avoid targeting those users, improving spend efficiency. Or you can target people who abandon carts with display ads, or email if you have it. You’ve seen those Amazon ads for stuff you just looked at, they work.
But note that the prank description doesn’t say to go to the store through an ad, which would have cost the campaign at least one click per user and could potentially hurt targeting...by indicating these teens are a good audience for the ads? But that’s undone the second they abandon cart and become deemed a bad audience? It’s unclear.
And then there is the potential wasted cost of retargeting through display, but that’s unbelievably cheap media. Display is a marketing channel that costs nearly nothing but is nonetheless riddled with fraud, because it quite literally does not “work,” in the sense that the people genuinely willing to spend money on it are Brands without clear acquisition targets. People, as a rule, simply do not click on display ads on purpose. I have no doubt the Trump campaign cares very little where and how their display ads serve.
And besides, ad tools (display networks notably excepted) are extremely good at weeding out suspect and bot behavior. For example: click on an ad on Google four hundred times and only the first click will be charged. Coordinated behavior from multiple users is likewise easy for ad networks to identify, which makes you wonder why they can solve that problem for ad serving but not for harassment and misleading content.
So god love the TikTokTeens, but the efficacy of such a ‘prank’ seems suspect.
I actually wrote about this in a medium post some years ago, but the overlap in the venn diagram of people who understand internet culture versus people who understand internet tools is too small. Internet culture exists inside the context of the internet, but that context is largely created by internet tools (e.g. the Twitter and Facebooks feed algorithms, and the primacy they place on “engagement,” are built in service of an ad-serving model). It’s important to keep in mind that what you see when you go online - whether you’re on social media, a publication, or just searching google - is chosen, by people you don’t know, invisible people, specifically to maximize the likelihood of you clicking on an ad.
This is lost when mainstream reporters talk about polarization/bubbles online: these are direct consequences of the ad sales model of the businesses who run the internet, not errors of moderation or editorial control. That Trump fans are served Trump ads, and that the efforts of outsiders to undermine those ads will be summarily stymied, are important features of this system.
This ignorance of the systems that rule us is not at all limited to teens - you see it all the time in reporters, like in the breathless coverage of Facebook’s so-called “adpocalypse” or brands fleeting the platform, supposedly in response to the platforms complicity in [gestures to our awful planet], and surely not at all in response to declining revenue amid a once-a-century pandemic. Casey Newton’s latest Interface issue covers how little this matters to Facebook:
The highest-spending 100 brands accounted for $4.2 billion in Facebook advertising last year, according to Pathmatics data, or about 6% of the platform’s ad revenue.
In other words, brand advertisers could all quit Facebook permanently tomorrow and Facebook would still have more than 90 percent of its revenue. And that’s assuming the brand advertisers won’t eventually come back to Facebook — an assumption that, at least for the moment, no one is making. There’s a reason Facebook has more than 7 million advertisers, and the reason is that the ads work.
You cannot fight the system if you do not understand the system. It is malpractice for anyone who covers technology and politics to not have a full understanding of the profit models of the major platforms that dominate the Internet. A good rule of thumb if you’re trying to make sense of anything that is or has happened on the Internet over the past twenty years: follow the money.