Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

30 Nov

Accountability FinalPerplexing may be the best way to describe advertisers actions when it comes to digital media reform.

Earlier this month, it was widely reported that television ad revenues enjoyed a near double digit percentage growth rate this October, its best monthly performance in two years. While TV revenues were solid, digital media grew in excess of 30% from October of 2014, continuing to increase its share of overall ad spending.

Ironically, one week later, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) shared the results from a survey of its members relating to digital viewability concerns. The results were quite compelling with 97% of respondents agreeing that third-party verification of digital media owners’ inventory was warranted. Ninety-percent of those surveyed indicated that they were “not confident that their digital working media meets industry viewability standards.”

Most importantly, nearly two-thirds of the survey respondents indicated that absent digital media owners providing independent measurement, they would shift ad dollars to other media.

The obvious question to be asked, given that virtually all of the advertisers surveyed felt that their digital media viewability performance had not met industry standards; “Why did digital media revenues grow 30% year-over-year?” It should be noted that this increase was achieved within 60 days of the ANA fielding the aforementioned survey. Thus, advertisers’ actions seem to belie their words and would therefore cast doubt on the likelihood of any spending shift away from digital media.

The apparent malaise on the part of advertisers regarding digital media reform is precisely what those entities that profit greatly on advertisers digital media investment are banking on. Whether it’s sub-par viewability performance, lack of third-party verification or outright fraud, advertisers continue to trumpet their demands for improved accountability, yet refuse to regulate their media allocation decisions. This is in spite of several significant warnings, including a study conducted by the ANA in conjunction with White Ops which suggested that advertisers could lose in excess of $6.0 billion globally to ad fraud in 2015.

So it was with great interest that we read the Digiday article entitled; “Confessions of an Ad Tech Veteran on Fraud: Advertisers Need to React to What’s Happening.” In the article an anonymous ad tech veteran suggests that there is a sense of “apathy” among advertisers when it comes to digital media. His belief, which comes from speaking with advertisers, was that advertisers know that there is fraud, but that they view this as part of the cost of using digital media.

He alleges that there is a “fine line” between agencies protecting their clients and deceiving advertisers, suggesting in part that the agencies have not made their clients fully aware of the extent of the fraud and or audience validation issues inherent with digital media. Indicative of this conundrum was a story which he shared which involved a conversation with an agency representative regarding the performance of a recent campaign. For the campaign in question, it was determined that “90% of the impressions were fraudulent.” When this fact was shared with the agency, they replied that “the click-through rates were phenomenal.” In spite of the ad tech veteran re-emphasizing that the clicks were fraudulent and that humans weren’t viewing the ads, the agency stated that the client was happy and they were “renewing the contract.”

The article went on to point out that many organizations, including exchanges, had signed up for some of the trade association initiatives such as the Digital Trading Standards Group. However, the anonymous ad tech veteran’s perspective was interesting, suggesting that these were hollow actions. Why? Because in the end, the level of auditing, content-verification and fraud-prevention is spotty at best. In short, the belief is that these industry initiatives have no teeth.

As we all know, there are multiple industry initiatives under way to help combat the challenges associated with digital. Additionally, the key industry associations including the ANA, 4A’s and IAB have also taken proactive steps to educate, inform and protect their respective members through the establishment of third-party verification guidelines, the creation of viewability standards and the identification of processes to minimize fraud and improve transparency.

However, there is only one group of stakeholders that can truly drive accountability gains in this critical area … advertisers.

The Alliance for Audited Media stated it most succinctly; “Marketers must take the lead by demanding the accountability and transparency that come with a third-party certification audit.” Fortunately, the ANA concurs as evidenced by the sentiment echoed by Bill Duggan of the ANA who said that the association “will continue to urge marketers to demand greater accountability and transparency for their digital media investments.”

We sincerely hope that the sentiments expressed by respondents in the aforementioned ANA survey more accurately reflect the mindset of advertisers, as opposed to the potential level of indifference cited in the Digiday article. In the words of Benjamin Franklin;

“Well done is better than well said.”

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