The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Digital Ads


It was just another day at work when I saw a paid digital ad from the same “investment education group” that appeared on my social media account no less than three times.

The first time was in the morning as I was browsing Facebook. The second time was when I was watching a YouTube video shared by a colleague.

The third time was when it appeared in my work email (who was subscribed to an online news portal), with the captivating headline something like “The Future is Now – Upcoming Opportunities of investment”.

The similar announcement appeared on all channels on the same day.

Usually, such corny email marketing content would automatically go into spam. Somehow this one managed to avoid it and find its way into my inbox. Curious, I decided to open it to explore “The Future”. After all, who would want to miss such a great opportunity to get rich?

Well, it’s safe to say that I was quite disappointed with the content, as it again came from the same group of unlicensed, overspending “investment education providers” including the objective seems to prey on honest, hard-working ordinary people who couldn’t know better.

Digital ad spend

Tech giants like Meta and Google have dominated the social media space and found ways to monetize their services through digital advertisements. By cornering the ad spend market, it has provided a great source of recurring revenue for these tech giants.

Due to advanced algorithms dealing with individual data that can easily influence content results on search engines, social media, podcasts, video platforms and even useful business tools like emails; these companies have further strengthened their dominant position in the market.

They have an overwhelming influence on the daily lives of ordinary people, for better or for worse.

Take a look at Chart 1, where you can see the increase in digital ad spend over the past few years despite many people suffering economically throughout the pandemic. What does that tell you?

As traditional ad spend (think billboards, newspapers, cable TV, radio, etc.) continues to decline due to the slowing economy, pandemic shutdowns and changing consumer habits, digital ad business is better than ever.

On the contrary, the pandemic has further boosted digital advertising spending around the world.

There is no doubt that the erosion of traditional media market share is real and digital advertising’s market share of total media ad spend is now close to 60%.

That’s why we can see all kinds of industries jumping on the bandwagon to fight for ever-shorter consumer attention spans.

Content quality

While I am not against digital advertisements for products, I am particularly bothered by misleading content with little or no evidence to back up its claims. It’s like the infomercials of the 1980s and 1990s where anything could be on TV as long as you were willing to pay.

I often question the ridiculous level of exaggeration and self-proclaimed success of these digital advertising personalities, but it never fails to amaze me how many individuals fall into such tactics. Keep in mind that this is not just about the vulnerable segment of society. There are actually many successful professionals and business owners who also fall victim to these ads.

The worst are scams disguised as digital advertisements, and we mostly see them related to e-commerce, marketing, investing, cryptocurrency, and get-rich-quick schemes. This content is far from sophisticated but often carries an underlying message: “Do you feel bad about your life? Do you want to make a change and give yourself a chance to succeed like me? Well, look no further, all you have to do is three simple steps and it starts with signing up for this free masterclass. Sound familiar?

An illusion of truth

“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” This propaganda law has often been attributed to the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Human psychology is fascinating and although it goes far beyond my area of ​​expertise, I admit to seeing it come into play in many facets of our daily lives.

We see politicians giving wonderful impressions to the people, or in other words, playing the gallery, while they themselves are taking the people for a ride. We are also seeing this happening now on social media and digital platforms. Anyone with a smartphone can become an influencer or opinion expert, regardless of their actual skills and experience.

MasterClass, by Yanka Industries Inc founded seven years ago in San Francisco, Calif., is probably the term most used by dodgy digital advertising figures “selling education” to gain traction with consumers.

The original concept of MasterClass is an online education subscription platform that offers more than 1,000 hours of lessons taught by the most successful people in all fields such as sports, performing arts, science and many more.

You see names like Steph Curry, Gordon Ramsay, Paul Krugman, Anna Wintour, Bob Iger, and even leaders of a country, like former President Bill Clinton. This is what the MasterClass brand stands for. Characters at half past six don’t call themselves “Master Trainer” and certainly don’t name their dubious classes “MasterClass.”

This is a complete insult to the founders of MasterClass and their global paying subscribers.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

Sometimes we want to do our best to empower ourselves to take it to the next level. We want to succeed in life. It is necessary to project self-confidence as well as to sell or market yourself.

There’s also nothing wrong with creating your own personal brand. But where to draw the line? In the age of social media like the one we live in today, it’s extremely easy to fall into a loop of self-delusion. The world of digital advertisements can lead to self-fulfilling prophecy based on false pretences and idolatry.

It is the key to Pandora’s box which, if left unchecked, will poison the minds of many potential talents in a nation. It is true that traditional media is being overrun by digital and social media, but what separates them is the professionalism of its writing and editing.

As long as journalistic integrity and ethics are upheld within the newsroom, the advertising arm should be wary of and respect the value the organization represents when deciding which ads to run, regardless of the amount of advertising expenses. Quality content is what readers care about – it always has been and always will be.

Ng Zhu Hann is the CEO of Tradeview Capital. He is also a lawyer and author of “Once Upon A Time In Bursa”. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.