News & Views

Meet the foolish baby sounding the death knell of online ads

by Nick Parish

A few years ago, a video appeared called “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work”. It featured a baby touching an iPad, and then touching a magazine, seemingly expecting the same result.


The text overlay interpreting the baby’s actions, included by the video uploader, is ominous regarding the magazine versus the iPad:

This One Does Not Work

Is it Broken or What?

I’ve had it. Off to the One that Works. 

Coffee shop media theorists were quick to interpret the video as a warning that the baby’s generation expects more from the world, and that previous media aren’t going to be suitable, or contain enough information to keep their attention. These babies, when grown, would toss away a book as broken, and eschew a Sunday paper as a waste of tree meat. Others were quick to chime in, validating the anecdotal research with ‘yes, my baby touches the TV screen and expects it to respond!’

Which one really ‘works’? Well, that depends who you ask: a baby that’s thrilling at its first experience of intense audiovisial stimulation, or an advertiser who’s looking to build a brand.

Because we can assume one will grow up, and learn more about media, and what ‘works’ where.

The other, unfortunately, will continue to make the same mistakes it’s been making since the beginning, and never know what ‘works’, and waste energy on what doesn’t work.

It's seeming more and more that latter description can apply to advertisers as well.

We’re almost 150 years on from John Wanamaker’s famous ‘half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half’ line, and it turns out most forms of display media have given us novel ways to piss away money. The ad tech ecosystem is fraught with bad actors, fake traffic, click farms, bogus likes and follows and more, so much that the Wall Street Journal recently cited a statistic from the Internet Advertising Bureau saying 36% of web traffic is fake.


But even among the 64% of web traffic that is real, that poor baby has now become symbolic of a different kind of wastage.

A few weeks ago, a planner friend cried out in frustration when he discovered DisneyCollectorBR on YouTube.

DisneyCollectorBR racked up 37 million views the week of February 7, making it the seventh most-viewed channel in the world. The channel has a total of 1.1 million subscribers and 1.4 billion views in about three years on the platform, with almost 1,000 videos uploaded. On average, videos it uploads get 70-80,000 views a day.

The account’s most popular upload, Angry Birds Toy Surprise Jake and the Never Land Pirates Disney Pixar Cars 2 Easter egg Spongebob has over 81 million views. Watch it.



Like all of DisneyCollectorBR’s videos, it is simply an unboxing of a toy set with an enthusiastic, high-pitched female voice describing the action, with a full complement of tags and metadata.

How is this possible, my friend asked, when one of the most popular Super Bowl videos, Budweiser’s “Puppy Love,” a paragon of sentimentalist content shouted from the largest, best-crafted megaphone, has just over 49 million views?

On first glance, I thought the clicks maybe had a shady origin. But according to a source at YouTube, the views are coming from 25-54 year-olds in the US, UK and Canada, not click farms or bots.

Search, as well as suggested videos on the right rail and displayed after the video ends, were driving much of the traffic.

Primary device?

You guessed it: a tablet.

Parents with kids, or kids by themselves, are simply watching the videos as entertainment. One parent mentions watching the channel alongside her tot ('We were becoming addicted to DisneyCollector') but you can imagine just as many prop up their child in front of the tablet and let things go while they wash the dishes, or play Candy Crush on their phone.

It’s a viewership on autopilot. After a DisneyCollectorBR video ends, the majority of the suggestions are typically from the same account, easy choices. Colour palette, key images, all these keep kids in the loop, and it’s Christmas morning whenever the iPad’s out. Mirror neurons make the tots feel very much like they’re playing with the toys themselves.

Best of all? It’s totally free.

The advertisers pay the bill.

Back-of-napkin YouTube economics suggest the bill isn’t small:

1.6 billion views means round about 320 million ads served (~20% of views trigger an ad); the average Youtube CPM (as of 2013, trending downward) is $7.60, which means a gross of around $2.4 million billed to advertisers over the life of the account. Less YouTube’s 45% cut, it’s likely the account has cleared $1m net.

That’s a lot of Kinder Eggs. 

A quick flick through videos on the channel triggers inventory from Mitsubishi, Directv, Bloomingdale’s,, Time Warner Cable and more, premium stuff probably meant for mom or dad, and targeted to their profile.

Guess what?

This One Does Not Work

Is it Broken or What?

I’ve had it. Off to the One that Works.

This has become such a truism that Adobe is using this exact insight to sell its marketing analytics services, with DisneyCollectorBR’s biggest fan, who’ll surely grow up to buy a Kia, shop at Bloomingdale’s and sign up to Directv.



The hyperbole in Adobe’s version of the future is exaggerated: cascading ruination beginning from the encyclopedia industry on up to the lumberjacks isn’t likely. The setup — display advertising moving a legitimate revenue lever — is laughable in itself, but that's another post.

What’s more likely to result from the army of babies with iPads and all their ilk is a slow leakage, like an air mattress in the night, with brands waking up to a terminally stiff neck when they realise media investment isn’t investment at all.

Why am I making a big deal out of this?

Well, because for every creative, risk-taking idea or potentially sticky service concept based on solving a real human problem that gets squashed in a meeting, or misunderstood and shelved, advertisers put hundreds of thousands of dollars in a bankrupt medium, where a third of the value is eroded in corrupt infrastructure, and who knows how much is delivered to babies or whatever phantom feedback loop / money sinkhole du jour has opened up to swallow it.

If you’re a brand, first, don’t be afraid to spend money on something new or scary. It probably won’t be a waste, and, if it is, at least you’ll have learned something. At least you won’t be sending 36% of it to help build a mobster’s chateau in Eastern Europe.

If you can point to what you’ve learned from the 36% of your display spend that evaporates before it hits anyone’s eyeballs, baby or not, you can skip this point. But odds are you haven’t, and continue to pour water into a leaky bucket because at least you can tell your boss how full the bucket stays.

Second, and this is maybe why it’s so maddening, if you invest in building technology on behalf of your customers and brand, there’s much less leakage.

Sure, software is hard to make, and there’s often a lot of rework and inefficiency. But, again, at least you’re learning something, ie how to be a productive corporate member of digital society in the 21st century rather than a machine for generating insertion orders. You can then perhaps provide real value to a customer through a service or a platform that addresses their needs.

So remember the baby, and try to help it grow up smart.  Off to the one that works.