Uber was swindled out of $100m in ad spend and no one is talking about it

Uber losing $100m on ad spend shines light on the (often ineffective) programmatic ad industry.


January 7, 2021

Nandini Jami blew our collective minds when she resurfaced this story over the weekend.

In 2017, her internet watchdog organization Sleeping Giants was nipping at Uber’s heels over ads the rideshare company placed on Breitbart.

Uber responded by cutting ~$15m worth of ads

Surprisingly, the rideshare leader saw no significant drop in user acquisition.

On closer inspection, Uber exec Kevin Frisch found all sorts of problems with their ad partners, like:

  • Impossible numbers: The number of daily ad clicks reported by some networks were higher than their total active users.
  • Slimy practices like spying on users’ mobile app store usage, then claiming credit for organic sign-ups.

In the end, Uber cut ⅔ of their ~$150m ad budget — with no negative effects — and launched the first major ad fraud lawsuit.

Up to 99% of programmatic ad spend is being wasted…

… says digital marketer and independent fraud researcher, Dr. Augustine Fou.

Click farms generate billions of clicks per minute, and most marketing teams are slow to question what looks like excellent data. When they do, they’re often surprised by the findings:

  • P&G cut $200m in digital ad spend and increased its reach
  • Chase dropped 99% (395k websites) from its display ad network and saw no business change
  • Ebay killed paid search after finding that most of its spend went to existing users

In totally unrelated news, The Hustle just found $200m in ad inventory lying around (👋  P&G marketing team!).

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