How A Lorde Song Screwed Up An Algorithm And Screwed Maybach Sellers

Pop songs have been blamed for a lot of things, from the "My Way Killings" to Ozzy-induced suicides. And now, one Lorde song has caused Maybach ads to go up 233 percent after a fleeting reference to the lifeless corpse of an overpriced S-Class.

"Royals" was Lorde's breakout track from 2013, and the chorus included the line "But everybody's like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece."

Here's the problem: The average tween rocking out to the New Zealand pop star has no clue what a Maybach is. So they did what any curious, hyper-connected idolater would do, they searched for it.

The result was a flood of Googling that according to ChoiceStream, a media-buying platform that relies on algorithms to set ad rates, forced Maybach marketers to pay more than double the cost for display ads late last year. And those boosted rates have been bleeding into 2014.

"Something relatively niche, relatively high net worth now gets blown up through hundreds of thousands of people who really have no actual intent or financial ability to purchase a Maybach," ChoiceStream veep of marketing Bill Guild told Adweek.

Normally, setting ad prices based on search results works well. If Kia puts out another loathsome hamster spot, searches go up. And if those searches come from the coveted 18-35 demographic, the ads cost even more.

But there's no way to break apart serious buyers cross-shopping Bentleys from 13-year-olds trying to figure out what Lorde is on about. Even worse, when you search for, say, Ferrari or McLaren, the machines pulling the strings assume you've got the cash to spend on other extravagant items. So you're served up ads for Rolexes and Patek Philippes and $4,000 sous vide machines.

It's the proverbial rising tide lifting all boats, but in this case, through data, not through actual buying intent. And right now, the algorithms controlling ad prices have no way of determining who's who.

ChoiceStream is working on a solution, which is how it identified the anomaly in the first place, and by fusing whatever data it can get on searchers (we're guessing social media profiles), it can deliver more contextually realistic ads, swapping Tag Heuers and Prada for Swatches and American Apparel.