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When it Comes to Programmatic Digital the “Same-Old, Same-Old” Isn’t Working

26 Feb

EinsteinMedia’s murky supply chain, wrought by fraud and congested with too many intermediaries between advertisers and publishers, continues to serve up challenges for digital media advertisers.

The fraudsters at it again with a devious approach to separating advertisers from their media spend. As if digital ad fraud practices including fake devices, fake locations, fake impressions and fake consent strings weren’t enough, the media industry now has to deal with a sophisticated domain spoofing bot.

According to an article in The Drum, fraudsters have now launched bot networks to evade ads.text protections, which was introduced by the IAB to allow publishers to “list authorized sellers” of their inventory. Both DoubleVerify and Integrated Ad Science (IAS) have unearthed fraudulent activity using 404bots, which employ domain spoofing techniques that misrepresent URLs, making buyers “believe that they are getting valid inventory, when in fact it does not exist.” IAS suggests that more than 1.5 billion ads have been impacted since September of 2019.

When will it end? Likely never. Ad fraud is to lucrative and too difficult to detect, creating a literal gold mine for fraudsters. In fact, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) estimates that “over the next 10 years, the global cost of ad fraud is projected to rise to $50 billion. The best defense for advertisers according to Shawn Lim, author of the aforementioned article, is “Brands and publishers need to work with transparent supply chains, reputable supply partners, and know what ads are appearing – and where.”

If you’re an advertiser, you would be right to pose the question; “Who has my back?” For all of the money invested by digital advertisers in specialist agency support, fraud detection services and brand safety tools, who is safeguard their funds? It seems as though the only thing advertisers have to show, for the promise of efficiency that was ushered in by programmatic digital media, is suppressed working media ratios.

The risks continue to mount as the amount spent on digital media in the U.S. is approximately $79 billion, with 85% of the total transacted programmatically (source: Interactive Advertising Bureau, February 2020). eMarketer estimates that advertisers spent 38% of their non-social programmatic display budgets on programmatic fees in 2019, a 20% increase over the prior year.

As one example of the congested digital media ecosystem, Danny Khatib, CEO of Granite Media wrote an excellent article in AdExchanger illustrating the inefficiency of the programmatic digital media supply-chain. Entitled; “Can We Please Reduce This Link In The Programmatic Chain Already?” the article advocates for consolidation between the DSPs and SSPs, long thought to function respectively as buyer and seller advocates, with “each taking a 15-20% cut and confusing the heck out of the web ecosystem in the process.” According to Mr. Khatib, “there really shouldn’t be a traditional SSP business separate from a DSP business – that distinction no longer makes sense, if it ever did.”

No wonder advertisers have stepped up compliance and performance audits of their suppliers and have heartily begun to embrace supply-chain optimization. The madness has to end and fueling investments in specialist agencies and adtech solutions is simply not achieving the desired result.

 “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”          

~Albert Einstein

 

Time for Action, Not Apathy

31 Jan

ActionFraud continues to run rampant as digital media and programmatic buying continue to surge in popularity, garnering ever larger shares of global advertising spend. Regulatory actions around consumer privacy and data protection are presenting a plethora of challenges for the industry and its ability to use data to customize advertising messaging and delivery.

These are seminal issues that the advertising industry has been talking about for years. The risks and costs to advertisers and other industry players are significant. So how effectively has the industry dealt with these critical issues? If one were to generate an opinion based upon results, it would be easy to adopt the perspective that the ad industry has not dealt with these issues well at all.

Let’s start with the topic of ad fraud. While we all read the headlines, the question is; “Have we become numb to the impact of ad fraud on working dollars?” Consider that according to Juniper Research, advertisers lost $51 million per day to ad fraud in 2018. AFFISE estimates that 35.3% of all processed traffic in the first two quarters of 2019 was fraudulent. The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has stated that ad fraud will hit $50 billion per year by 2025.

One short year ago Facebook, in a highly publicized move eliminated 2.2 billion fake accounts, this following the elimination of 1 billion fake accounts during the 4th quarter of 2018. Interestingly, Facebook, one-half of the vaunted “duopoly” which captured over 65% of U.S. digital ad spend in 2019, itself accounts for 1 out of every 5 dollars spent on digital media in the U.S. (source: eMarketer) before and after this move.

While surely an astute media planner could readily make the case for Facebook’s appeal to advertisers, the justification for its share of the digital ad market is mystifying to the layman. According to the United Nations Population Division, there are 7.7 billion people in the world. Nielsen Online has identified 4.5 billion internet users globally. So, if Facebook eliminated more than 3.2 billion accounts, albeit fake over the course of four months, how many accounts could it possibly have had? What level of due diligence were agencies and advertisers undertaking to verify the base? Or, could it be that the industry simply has no valid means of verifying or measuring key digital audience factors?

The term “Big Data” was coined in the early part of the 1990s, referring to the vast amounts of data being gathered as the internet expanded. The data allowed marketers to conduct computational analysis that could reveal patterns, trends and associations related to human behavior. As the use of algorithms, artificial intelligence and marketing automation technology has come into vogue, the ability to more finitely target an advertiser’s message to specific niches, based upon this data, held great promise. This led to the meteoric growth of AdTech and MarTech solution providers vying for a share of advertiser dollars.

Then, in 2016, the European Union introduced the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), ushering in laws designed to protect consumer data and privacy. GDPR has since served as a model for regulatory action in countries around the world and within the United States, with the introduction of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). The impact on the ad industry has been significant as marketers, technology providers and publishers have struggled to comply with these varying laws. In turn, this led one important player, Google to announce the elimination of third-party cookies from its Chrome browser to avoid some of the risks associated with privacy regulation. The impact on marketers’ audience targeting and attribution modeling efforts will be swift and significant. Some have suggested that this could even signal the end of personalized marketing.

From this author’s perspective, the industry has not effectively dealt with these challenges. There are simply too many disparate interests at stake, which have served as very real impediments to progress in tackling these issues.

Let’s face it, in spite of the impact of fraud, fake devices, fake locations, fake impressions, fake consent strings, ineffectual brand safety and fraud detection services and a lack of uniform industry measurement and verification standards, advertisers continue to spend on media types, intermediaries and technologies that are simply not generating a return worthy of their investment. So where is the impetus for change?

Rather than working on real solutions to address real problems, the industry adopts labels or coins phrases that cover its retreat. Examples such as “Human Marketing” and the need to treat our target audiences as “people” as a solution to the inability to deal with the challenges presented by big data, technology and regulation to customize and personalize at scale. Or the use of the term “Contextual Marketing” in which ad delivery is based upon scanning texts of web pages and serving up a marketer’s ads based upon relevant keywords, rather than behavioral data. Or the nuanced notion of “Brand Suitability” versus “Brand Safety” to mask the inability to adhere to advertiser blacklists and or to ensure proper editorial adjacencies. Really? How is this all of a sudden more appealing than the noble quest, funded by advertisers, that gave birth to the “MarTech 5000” list.

From the outside looking in, it appears as though the industry is content with taking the path of least resistance, opting for a safer, more self-centered approach to issue resolution, rather than focus on doing what is best for the entire industry and ignoring advertisers’ desires to increase the effectiveness of their marketing spend.

To paraphrase American author, Richard Yates from his novel about 1950’s suburban life entitled Revolutionary Road; “It’s a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or cares any more; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little mediocrity.”

 

 

Brand Suitability vs. Brand Safety

29 Nov

Many Brands One Unqiue Best Brand Sphere Top ChoiceAmused, yes. Concerned, potentially. Shocked, no longer when it comes to the cavalier attitude exhibited by some in the digital media supply chain when it comes to an advertiser’s digital media investment.

That said, I have been intrigued by the nuanced manner in which agencies, ad tech providers and publishers now address the topic of brand safety. Interestingly, many in the digital media supply chain have begun to differentiate between “brand safety” and “brand suitability.” Ultimately, marketers will have to weigh in on whether or not there is a difference and why they should give any provider relief when it comes to protecting the brands that they steward.

Recently, Integral Ad Science (IAS) released the results from a research study which they conducted that suggests that while approximately one-half of those surveyed understood that there was a difference between these two perspectives, 27% of the digital media buyers surveyed were unaware of the difference. To be fair, as defined, the differences are subtle to be sure. One deals with controls to mitigate potential damage to a brand’s reputation and the other with targeting parameters such as viewability and content adjacency.

Candidly, it is fair for marketers to ask the obvious question, “Why isn’t content adjacency considered a risk to brand safety? Why the need to segregate this important variable from overall brand safety efforts?” It would seem that the industry should view any threat to the integrity of a brand as a brand safety issue. The cynic in me can’t help but believe that parsing this issue, creating a sub-category for brand suitability is simply a way to mask the industry’s inability to determine where an advertiser’s digital ads are served and to maneuver around the enhanced controls and stricter guidelines that marketers have attempted to enact to protect their brands.

It should come as no surprise that industry participants cannot agree on whether or not the 4A’s Advertising Protection Bureau (APB) guidelines issued in 2018 are adequate or too restrictive… assuming they were even aware of the guidelines to begin with. This also helps to explain why only 9% of the IAS survey participants indicated that they were “very” satisfied with the digital ad industry’s overall efforts when it came to brand safety. 

For a marketer, there is nothing more important than the sanctity of a brand, the relationship it enjoys with its customer base and the long-term value, which that represents to the organization. Any attempt to subjugate the topic of brand safety for the convenience of being able to scale a campaign, extend campaign reach or to enhance supply chain participant revenues, is simply not appropriate.

Questioning the efficacy of or the need for brand safety policies, whitelists, blacklists and or the money being invested by brand marketers to monitor ad placements and adherence to these guidelines comes across as extremely self-serving and contrary to the notion of brand safety. Brand safety should not be an either or proposition.

While progress has been made, the digital ad industry must be pressed by its advertising base to remain vigilant to protect the sanctity of their brands. When it comes to the philosophy of brand safety and the industry’s commitment to it, marketers cannot allow their supply chain partners to relax their standards on this front for any reason. The industry should never forget that it is the brand marketer that bears all of the risk when it comes to challenges to brand safety.

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