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#DigitalSkeptic: The Targeted Web Ad Is a Lie

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Remember the old advertising saw that half the ads anybody runs are a waste -- and it's just anybody's guess which half?

Well, Anne Hunter can explain exactly why that joke is still sadly funny when it comes to the Internet.

"The majority of display ads served today on PCs are not seen," said Hunter, a pro numbers nerd -- specifically, senior vice president for global marketing strategy at ComScore, the Reston, Va., Web data and analytics company.

"We are not talking about engagement or how long people look. That's something else," she said. Rather, it's the ads people can actually view online. "We've measured it, and just over 54% of Web advertising is not being given the opportunity to be seen by human beings."

She is not guessing. Hunter has more than a decade of serious ad-data jujitsu at firms such as AOL and now ComScore, where she and Andrea Vollman, senior director for marketing, worked as a part of a team that has created several deep-dive studies into what's what with the missing ad impressions. It's part of a larger effort branded as Validated Campaign Essentials.

After digging through their work and spending and nearly an hour on the phone with them, it's pretty clear there's a whole lot of Web ad dollars bleeding all over the floor.

The Invisible Web Ad
The blinding flash of investor insight Hunter and Vollman reveal is how, even after 15 years of trying, the key organs of the Web advertising body still aren't anywhere close to efficient.

"It's not that technical," Hunter said. "It's ads served in places where simply nobody can see them."

The big, black, value-sucking holes on the Internet turn out to be dumb stuff such as ads on the bottom or top of the pages that nobody scrolls up or down to see, or banners served up in a second or third window that opens behind the page being viewed. Then there are the extended family of traffic bots, automated malware and click-fraud tools that trigger an ad in the process.

"There are things like cross-domain, nested iFrames" that are even more complex. That's when one ad or video is served in a small window inside one Web page, but imported from another domain. "That can eat up impressions as well."