The number of stories about made-for-advertising (or MFA) websites is multiplying faster than fruit flies on a rotting orange. Since, no one else in the echo-chamber of media analysis bothered, I did a little research. In 2017, there were no stories about MFA websites. Ditto 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022. Nada in the first three months of 2023 too. Then, on May 25th, Forbes published the first story on MFA. Mario Diez wrote (and likely paid to run) it because: (1) getting authors to pay is the real Forbes business model; and (2) Mr. Diez runs a company that offers tech to battle MFA websites. So, why all the news about MFA and should we care?
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Unlike those click bait websites that make you wade through ad sewage to exit Shawshank, I’ll answer this right up front.
Why all the news about MFA? Me-too-ism.
Should you care about MFA? No.
Now, if you’re still interested, I’ll explain why.
The news makes MFA sound big and awful. They found a stat that advertisers could be spending $17 billion to put their ads on sites that are *gasp* made for ads. Actually, unlike they me, they didn’t “find” the stat. The Association of National Advertisers “revealed” it to them.
Now, even though $17b is a number they pulled from their posterior, it sounds like a big number. For context, it would buy you 8,500 McDonalds franchises. Which is 7x more than all the Mickey D’s in England. BIG. Well… for real context, digital ads live in a $531 billion world. So, the money directed to MFA is about 3% of total ad spend. For more context, McDonalds throws away about 5% of the food they make. Grocery stores throw away about 6x more than that or 30%. So, like spend, waste needs context.
Get comfy, we’re just getting started.
Unlike unCharles, nearly every website is made for ads. Gasp. One of the worst of them is — Forbes. Yes, the site where the first MFA story ran. What a rain on your wedding day irony. Which, ironically isn’t an irony at all.
On its good days, the Forbes site looks like someone bought remnant shelf liner from one of those stores Target is shutting down and slapped it on the walls like Dali plastering clocks on canvass. Most days at Forbes aren’t that good.
I won’t offend your senses by linking to that pandering piece of paid media faux thought pretention. Just know if you saw the page without an ad blocker, you’d see four ads. A big banner up top that took up about 25% of the screen. A video on the lower left. I don’t know what those two ads were for. Down the right, there was a square ad and a long vertical ad called a skyscraper for Jaguar. The actual story got 20% of the space.
Why four ads? Because each ad pays Forbes the square root of bubkis. Four times the square root of bubkis would get you the hypotenuse of Pascal’s Triangle. Which at least pays some bills and apparently got me a math degree.
Most times when people show a site, they block out the ads and focus on the news. Here, the ads are the news. In this case, its hypocrisy. “How dare a site be made for ads,” Forbes trumpeted with incredulousness and indignation. Puh-lease.
OK, so to recap, MFA is minimally wasteful and pretending it’s news is totally hypocritical. But, we’re not done yet.
Why all the recent fuss about MFA? AI.
People want to believe that sites created by AI spew all sorts of stuff that could be wrong. Because AI (unlike credible furled brow journalists) can’t police itself to write right.
There’s a deeper inference here that knuckle-dragging troglodytes like me who can’t spell Eh? Eye if you spotted me two of the three e’s can’t be left to decide what we choose to read, value, or believe.
Which is why I want my MTV. Not the channel in a mid-life crisis desperately trying to cling to its youth (audience). But, the innovative startup of my youth.
You see, MTV was brilliant.
The year was 1981. There were 28 channels on cable. Cable only reached 23% of U.S. homes. Most of them didn’t carry MTV. A year after they launched, MTV reached fewer than seven million homes. By comparison, nearly all 100 million homes had a TV. Some of them had two. Like the ads on Forbes, ads on MTV made bubkis. Unlike Forbes, MTV couldn’t clutter the screen with four ads at once.
MTV got $125 to $400 for a 30-second ad and ran six minutes of ads per hour. At $200 per ad, that’s about $10 million in ad dollars per year. Wow, did anyone else just hear Kevin Costner explain how to hit .300 to Tim Robbins? From that, MTV had to pay to be carried. So, what’s a fledgling cable channel in cable’s fledging era to do?
Find ways to produce cheap programming. Bob Pittman was an MTV co-founder. After that he ran AOL and Six Flags. These days he helms iHeartRadio. Before all that, he was a DJ. He knew kids loved songs. He knew you could play songs and not pay much. Daniel Ek, are you reading this?
MTV was the poster child for made for advertising. Better, it was advertising. Unlike paying bubkis to play a song, MTV played record company promotional videos. MTV didn’t even pay for the promos. Like Forbes the entire MTV model was an ad. Mr. Diez paid Forbes to run his story. Forbes charged advertisers to put their ads near his story.
MTV had a cheap set. Paid nothing to show a Bo Diddly promo. Paid their VJ’s diddly to play Bo’s promo. And got kids literally yelling, “I want my MTV.” All of which explains why MTV was the first cable channel to make a profit.
MTV as MFA was good for itself. It was great for its advertisers. Music on TV moved the needle in record’s waning vinyl era.
Artists who had videos (any videos at first, glossy videos later) got big play on MTV. Airing on MTV led to more record sales. MTV drove 20% more sales at local record stores. Any advertiser today that could find a media outlet driving 20% growth, would advertise there like crazy. Danny W, please back me up here.
The idea that MFA is new or bad or even newsworthy is nonsense. When ads barely pay the bills, all content has to be cheap. What does matter is how you use modern tech and smart business to distribute cheap content to an audience that values it. It always been so. That’s why even though I didn’t watch MTV. I have always loved MTV.
Charles Benaiah is the CEO of Watzan, a techy company for medical media. When he’s not running a media company, he reads about media, thinks about it, pull out what’s left of his hair dealing with it, and, then, he writes about it at Substack/unCharles.