San Francisco Ad-Tech, 2008 – First Thoughts

Apr 19, 2008 by

By Tom Polanski

On Tuesday, the morning of the Ad-Tech conventions, I stepped from my Union Square hotel on to a sunlit street swept by a gentle bay breeze. Spending time in San Francisco is always a delight. I’ve spent a considerable amount of my life in the City and I’m always glad for a chance to visit.

I arrived at the Moscone Center at about 9:30 AM on Tuesday. The reception area was crowded but well organized. It was clear that everybody handing out the badges and the bags was doing their best to be as positive and pleasant as possible. I admire people who are professional and even more so when I know that they’re probably temporary help hired for the day at an hourly rate.

I took the escalator to the lower level into the din of what can only be called a bad disco. One advertiser placed a banner display bathed in blue at the far wall across from the escalator. I felt like I was faced with a drunken Muscovites idea of an inviting entrance into a club. I looked around expecting to be offered free shots of Stoly but instead I was greeted by two women who claimed to represent one of the companies at Ad-Tech. I didn’t catch the company’s name as I was dumbfounded by the outfits these women were wearing, which were scanty and on their bodies a little scary. The girls looked like hookers who might be carriers of something contagious, potentially giving new meaning to the term, “viral marketing”.

On either side of the entrance to the exhibition hall were displays for a company named eDebit Pay aka EDP Reporting.  You should do a search on those names sometimes. The company recently settled with the FTC for millions of dollars because they were accused of defrauding thousands of people using less than honorable marketing tactics. Here’s an excerpt from the Federal trade Commission site: 

“An operation marketing Visa- and MasterCard-branded prepaid debit cards to subprime consumers has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it made unauthorized debits from consumers’ bank accounts and engaged in deceptive marketing practices. The settlement requires the defendants to pay $2,258,258 for consumer redress, plus the proceeds from the sale of an automobile. In addition, one of the defendants, Dale Paul Cleveland, must pay taxing authorities an additional $667,288.

According to the FTC’s complaint, filed in federal court in July 2007, the defendants marketed bank-issued prepaid debit cards under a variety of names through Web sites and pop-up and e-mail advertisements that directed consumers to sites for the individual cards (including Acclaim Visa, Impact Visa, Sterling Visa, VIP Advantage Visa, Vue Visa, Elite Plus MasterCard, Impact MasterCard, Secure Deposit MasterCard, VIP MasterCard, and Vue MasterCard). They also marketed unrelated short-term loans on Web sites such as and The complaint alleged that, among other things, the defendants debited, without authorization, a $159.95 “application and processing” fee from consumers’ bank accounts, including from consumers who did not submit an online application for the prepaid cards or who had applied for an unrelated short-term loan.

Under the proposed settlement, defendants EdebitPay, LLC, EDP Reporting, LLC, EDP Technologies Corporation, Secure Deposit Card, Inc., Dale Paul Cleveland, and William Richard Wilson, all located in Los Angeles, California, are prohibited from debiting a consumer’s account or causing billing information to be submitted for payment without first obtaining the consumer’s express informed consent. The defendants are required to clearly and conspicuously disclose the costs to obtain and use any prepaid, debit, or credit card, and that the defendants will use consumers’ personally identifiable information to impose such costs, in close proximity to any instruction to provide such information and to statements such as “No Annual Fees” or “No Security Deposit” that represent that a card can be obtained “free,” without obligation, or at a reduced cost.”

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Companies defrauding the poor, the desperate and the uninformed are a dime a dozen. And, based on attendance at their booth, there’s no shortage of people who are willing to attach themselves to this “host’ for the purpose of greater personal gain. Although, to be fair, maybe the people listening attentively at their booth just don’t know. After all, like Al Capone’s creation of the Better Business Bureau, this company is attempting to recast itself as a leader in integrity marketing. But I don’t see these leopards changing their spots.

The exhibition hall itself was a cornucopia of chaos. Booths stretched as far as I could see. But as I walked down the aisles I mostly saw the usual suspects who are at every event. I didn’t really see anything groundbreaking or new. I couldn’t tell you how often I saw the word and variations of the word, “optimized”. As I looked at that word, I was reminded of an old sports story that goes something like this… day during spring training a coach excitedly came up to Casey Stengal and said, “Coach, you gotta see this kid.  He’s got great potential.” Casey, reportedly replied, “What you’re telling me is that he’s not worth a damn right now.”

Although, optimization is a necessary part of marketing, I can see why advertisers shirk at that utterance of the word. It’s easy to become cynical when exposed to words like “optimized”, “largest payouts”, “best data”, too often by too many companies. 

There are a slew of new networks touting, you guessed it, “better optimization”, bigger payouts”, higher quality leads”, etc. And one former SEM company, when asked if they were plowing dough into their Ozzie and Harriet era technology, admitted that they decided to put their money into creating an ad network because the margins are so much greater. Pepper Jam, an SEM that spends alot of time and money promoting itself, had a booth set up for their new Pepper Jam Network.

But for every SEM morphing into an ad network there’s an agency that’s decided to become an SEM. Easy enough to do as there are a number of SEM technologies available for licensing and private labeling.

I’ll have more to share about my perception of Ad-Tech next week.


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