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How Should Marketers View Digital Media in a Post-Cookie World?

30 Sep

Third-Party Cookies

As both government regulatory bodies and the advertising industry have become serious about data privacy, browsers such as Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Explorer have announced safety measures that include restricting first-party cookies and blocking third-party cookies by default.

These moves will clearly have an impact on a range of outcomes, including user experience, data access, ad targeting and attribution. This will limit marketers ability to personalize content, target their advertising to individual users or assess which impressions had an impact on a consumer’s actions.

That being the case, how should marketers view the value of programmatic advertising in a post-cookie world?

For some, their focus has turned to first-party data for which consumers have given their consent. Yet, gathering this data and harnessing its value will take time. Further, this approach still requires an ad ID solution for which there is currently no standard or consensus among publishers, AdTech companies or device makers. That said, there is hope on the horizon as organizations such as the Advertising ID Consortium have emerged and are offering people-based identifiers that are compliant with “self-regulatory codes” and applicable privacy and security laws.

While the industry awaits a robust, unified ad ID solution, the loss of behavioral or deterministic targeting tools will clearly weigh on the efficacy of programmatic digital media.

According to Statista, global digital ad spend will reach $389 billion in 2021, with nearly 85% of that being place programmatically. In light of the challenges posed by the restrictions on third-party cookies, the question is, “Should marketers continue to allocate such a high percentage of their overall media spend in this area?”

In the words of 19th century author, Henry David Thoreau, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

Ad Industry Launches Programmatic Probe

30 Apr

thThe Association of National Advertisers (ANA) recently announced that it will commission a study to identify ways to address the myriad of issues plaguing the programmatic marketplace. Both the ISBA and World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) are supporting the effort.

Citing ongoing concerns regarding “thin transparency, fractured accountability, and mind-numbing complexity” the ANA believes that these issues, combined with the percentage of digital spend going to cover fees charged by ad tech intermediaries, are costing advertisers billions of dollars per year. By their estimate “only 40% to 60% of digital dollars invested by advertisers find their way to publishers.” Of the funds that do reach publishers, a recent study by the ISBA found that “15% of budgets simply disappear without a trace” supporting thin transparency claims.

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For perspective, according to Zenith Media, 65% of U.S. digital media is placed programmatically. For perspective, advertisers spent approximately $139 billion on digital media in the U.S., representing 54% of total media spend.

Unfortunately, the promise of improved efficiency and effectiveness related to programmatic has yet to be realized. With evolving privacy regulation and a higher incidence of fraud (fake traffic) to add to the lack of clear insight into the fees charged, true inventory costs and placement quality, it is difficult to explain the rapid growth of this form of buying. Yet it seems there is no turning back as programmatic buying has become dominant in digital and expanded to other media types as well.

Despite these challenges, many media pundits suggest that traditional metrics for evaluating media success (i.e., impressions, clicks, views, completed views, etc.) are not apropos for assessing the efficacy of programmatic. They argue that in the end, it is all about actions and outcomes. However, a Google Ad Manager study found that an increase in video ad viewability, for instance, from “50% to 90% can result in a revenue uplift of over 80% (averaged across desktop and mobile).” No one would argue that views and outcomes cannot occur without exposure to real people and legitimate human traffic.

Thus, with advertisers continuing to fuel the growth of programmatic buying across media types, the timing could not be better for the ANA’s initiative to investigate this sector of the media marketplace.  As the 1st century BC writer and philosopher, Publilius Syrius once said: “It is better to learn late than never.”

Fraud & Privacy Regulation Create Digital Media Challenges

21 Apr

ChallengesDigital media’s value proposition is the ability to more finitely target audience segments, moving beyond traditional demographics, leveraging deterministic user data to paint rich, behavioral-based customer profiles, delivering a marketer’s message to those customers inexpensively, at scale.

This dynamic resulted in the rise of U.S. digital media spend from $26 billion in 2010 to $139 billion in 2020 (source: IAB/ PwC).

Yet recent developments, including increased regulatory activity surrounding consumer data privacy protection (GDPR, CCPA) and the resulting moves away from the use of third-party cookies to track website visits and collect consumer data to help marketers target their messages, have exposed some challenges related to digital media and customer targeting that the industry must now contend with.

The primary issue going forward is the fact that the major browsers have stated that they “will not use alternate identifiers” to track consumer web browsing activity. Further, consumers remain distrustful of sharing personal information, which has significantly thwarted marketers’ opt-in efforts, limiting their personalization and targeting strategies.

Secondly, data brokers and data management platform (DMP) providers may offer little credible support in this area. In a recent Forbes article entitled, “How Accurate is Programmatic Ad Targeting” Dr. Augustine Fou suggested that few AdTech providers “have users that voluntarily provide” demographic information. This means that the targeting “characteristics or parameters that a data broker or DMP has on users are derived.”

Thirdly, digital media fraud continues to limit marketing optimization efforts. In their 2021 “Marketing Fraud Benchmarking Report” Renegade and WhiteOps profiled some of the outcomes experienced by marketers whose databases have been corrupted by fraud. These include:

  • Website traffic spikes, not connected to new content
  • Steep increases in traffic associated with marketing campaigns
  • Wide variances in time-on-site metrics, depending on traffic source
  • Lower than expected conversion rates
  • Diminishing quality of in-bound leads

The primary cause behind these occurrences is fraudulent bot activity. In addition to skewing digital media audience delivery and campaign performance indicators, this fraudulent activity has also corrupted consumer databases. Thus, marketers may experience difficulty in determining what percentage of their target profiles and contacts are real or fraudulent, leading to ineffective and expensive retargeting and profiling efforts.

The alternative being suggested by many is to fall back on contextual marketing. In short, placing a marketer’s advertisement in the most appropriate context (e.g. adjacent to the most relevant content). This means either working with publishers and websites directly accessing their first-party data to target advertising based upon user activity and content preferences to shape ad targeting decisions or, in the case of ad networks, serving up ads based upon page content, keywords and metadata.

Unfortunately, some browsers such as Google will not allow advertisers to access contextual content categories and or identifiers to inform their ad targeting efforts. Additionally, one important trade-off of contextual targeting is that data is not collected on the user for use in creating buyer profiles or in predicting future behavior and thus has little value in establishing targeting parameters or in remarketing.

With 54% of U.S. media spend being allocated to digital and 65% of that being programmatic (source: Zenith Media), marketers and their advisers have their work cut out for them as they navigate the new digital playing field.

Why Are Media Agencies Forgoing Objectivity?

24 Jul

dreamstime_m_35343815Consumer media consumption behavior is ever evolving. And advertisers must select from an expansive array of content venue choices to communicate their messaging. Balancing these two dynamics is the key to optimizing media investment decisions.

Time was when agencies based their media resource allocation recommendations on insights gained from an exhaustive, objective review of media performance and audience delivery data. 

In traditional principal-agent relationships, agencies have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of their clients. This includes providing advertisers with informed recommendations, free of bias or conflicts of interest, that are advantageous to the advertiser. Most advertisers understand that in the twenty-first century, unless the principal-agent relationship is firmly established in the Client/ Agency agreement, all bets are off when it comes to their agency being bound to adhere to principal-agent guidelines.

Over the course of the last decade or so, practices such as “principal-based media buys” and ABVs (rebates) came into vogue. This is where an agency takes ownership of the media inventory and resells that inventory to the advertiser at a non-disclosed mark-up, making a profit on the spread and or receives an incentive based upon its total spend with a media seller. Good Client/ Agency agreements require the agency to secure the client’s written authorization before employing these type of practice and in the case of rebates to remit the advertisers pro-rata share of such rebates.  

Fair enough. Buyer beware. Trust but verify. Got it.

There is another practice that seems to be gathering steam between media sellers and media buyers that raises questions about the objectivity of an agency’s media planning and buying recommendations. Simply stated, media owners, seeking to lock-in a revenue stream from a given agency holding company, are offering to reserve inventory in bulk for that agency to allocate to its client base at some point in the future.

One recent example of this is Omnicom Media Group’s (OMG) commitment earlier this month to spend $20 million of its clients’ media funds to advertise in podcasts distributed by Spotify. Given the nature of the advertisers represented by OMG (McDonalds, AT&T, P&G, PepsiCo, etc.), their total media spend and the fact that 2020 media plans have been completed and buying commitments presumably made perhaps there is little risk of such a deal influencing whether or not an advertiser should commit dollars to Spotify podcasts.

Separately, it was recently reported by Digiday that TV networks and agencies, in an effort to jump-start the annual upfront marketplace, were considering share of spend deals to “address advertiser commitment issues.”  In this scenario, an agency holding company would commit to spend a percentage of its clients’ aggregate upfront budgets with select network groups. However, client budgets are in flux and there are multiple questions surrounding the traditional upfront marketplace. Thus, the commitments being made by agencies are being done in advance of any client media authorization process. It would be natural for one to ask; “What incentives are being offered by the network groups to facilitate such deals? And How are such benefits distributed to an agency’s clients?”

The primary concern with this type of approach is the potential for these buying commitments to bias an agencies recommendations to its client base. As the author of the Digiday article points out if aggregate spend projections come up short, the holding company may find itself in a position where it may “need to push clients to spend their money” with a given network group.

Practices such as these are fraught with risks. When an agency has already committed to a pool of inventory on a network group based upon hypothetical aggregate spend levels across its client base objectivity is lost.

We are simply not fans of this practice, believing that agencies have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients to make media recommendations, based upon an unbiased fact base, that are in the best interest of the advertiser.

 

 

Bots Don’t Buy Products or Services. People Do.

22 Jun

digital media fraudIs human viewing of your ad message important to you? Then, whether as an advertiser and or their agent, investing in programmatic digital media is deserving of a renewed level of scrutiny. Why? Because as Dr. Fou contends in the following article, purported efficiencies and low CPMs are meaningless if bots represent the source of a marketer’s ad trafficRead More

Impossible: 1 + 1 Can’t = 3

23 Mar

dreamstime_xs_6452736Late last week a group of marketers filed an amended lawsuit against Facebook alleging that it knowingly overestimated audience reach levels.

Court papers filed in the suit indicate that:

“Facebook’s internal documents show that Facebook personnel knew for years that the Potential Reach metric that it provides to Facebook advertisers on its advertisement purchasing interfaces (including on Ads Manager and Power Editor) was inflated and misleading.”

The evidence for these actions was identified in the original complaint and was based upon analysis conducted by independent groups, including the Video Advertising Bureau. In their 2017 report, the Video Advertising Bureau found that Facebook’s purported reach in every state in the U.S. exceeded their populations. A red flag to be sure.

Not excusing Facebook’s alleged behavior, one would think that an observant marketer or agency media buyer would question reach levels that are greater than the population of a given market(s) and raise questions, long before such revelations are made in relation to a lawsuit.

The irony is that reach estimates apparently were not questioned by agency planners or clients during the media planning process, nor at the time of post-campaign performance summary meetings. The seminal question is, “Why not?” Further, if and when suspicions were raised, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect media buyers to exclude any publisher suspected of inflating reach levels from consideration to begin with, and cease allocating client media funds to that entity moving forward? The answer is obviously “no.”

When one sees examples of this type of lackluster media stewardship, it is easy to understand why the C-Suite might question the efficacy of their organization’s advertising investments.

The fact of the matter is that Facebook has seen its annual global ad revenues grow from $1.8 billion in 2010 to over $69.5 billion in 2019 (source: Statista, 2020). Along the way, there have been publicly aired concerns about the accuracy of Facebook’s user base, culminating with the platform’s acknowledged purges of 3.3 billion “fake” accounts in 2018 and another 5.4 billion in 2019.

Certainly, as part of the heralded duopoly, media professionals have been keenly aware of the share of digital ad spend which Google and Facebook have accounted for as part of the digital media sector’s meteoric growth. eMarketer estimates that the duo represented 56.3% of total U.S. digital ad spend in 2019, with Facebook accounting for 19.2% of the total.

During this period of increased digital ad spend, advertisers paid their digital agency partners plenty in the way of fees and commissions to provide consultation, planning support, buy stewardship and oversight. So why did it take so long to identify the fact that a media seller’s reach exceeded the audience universe?

“The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it simply.” ~ Khalil Gibran

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

 

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.

Clean Up in Aisle 12. Sponsored by…

28 May

Asian grocery noodle aisleSome of the world’s largest retailers have their sights set on garnering a larger share of the ad market. And why not. Amazon is expected to generate $11 billion in advertising revenue this year, growing to $15 billion in 2020 (source: eMarketer).

So it comes as no surprise to learn that other retailers have taken steps to shore up their ad platforms. In April, Walmart acquired Silicon Valley-based Polymorph Labs and their content sensitive digital ad serving and analytical capabilities to help strengthen its Walmart Media Group and Target is rumored to be interested in acquiring WPP’s Triad Retail Media unit to support its Roundel media division. All three retailers are actively courting advertisers and their agency partners to pitch the media and product sales benefits of their data driven advertising offerings.

On one hand, one might question why is this even newsworthy? Traditional retailers have long been in the ad business, selling advertising to the brands that they carry on in-store media, in weekly ad circulars, in price-item television and radio spots and in OOH. Thus the expanded focus on sophisticated, data-driven digital advertising solutions should come as no surprise.

That said, the potential to integrate target audience information with web browsing data, shopper data and location data to serve up relevant ads in an environment where consumers can immediately click-to-buy and receive their merchandise in a day or two has the potential to revolutionize the retail ad industry.

As retailers refine their offering and simplify platform use, they will quickly cannibalize traditional search and digital display advertising activity. Factor in the ability to tap retailers omnichannel databases, with the goal of refining ad targeting to drive digital media efficiency and the appeal of retailer digital ad platforms increases exponentially.

Consider Walmart Media Group’s pitch to advertisers; with “90% of Americans shopping at Walmart every year” and “160 million visitors” in-store and online every week, Walmart Media Group helps brands to “reach more customers at scale and measure advertising effectiveness across the entire shopping journey.” 

On the surface this evolution of retail advertising certainly appears to be a win-win for the industry. Retailers benefit from a new, high margin revenue stream that is largely technology driven, relying on automated platforms. For the agency community, specialist agencies are already coming to the fore that focus exclusively on assisting brands in assessing and realizing opportunities associated with these retailer digital ad platforms. And, from a brand perspective, serving up targeted ads in a brand safe, fraud free environment with the potential to immediately convert consumer interest to sales is a compelling value proposition.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for manufacturers as more retailers join the fray, will be to balance the ongoing need to strengthen their brands and for some, to build their own direct-to-consumer offerings, while funding their participation in retailer digital ad platforms. Make no mistake, while a brand may be able to build a solid business case for investing with their retail partners, retailer leverage over brands to influence whether or not they buy-in and at what level will be real as the balance of power pendulum continues to swing in favor of omnichannel retailers.

 

 

 

 

Working Media or Tech Tax?

2 Apr

dreamstime_xs_40032570Fact: Digital media expenditures have grown to represent the lion share of advertisers’ media spend, with programmatic being the dominant form of digital media advertising. According to Zenith’s recently released Programmatic Marketing Forecast, “65% of all money spent on advertising in digital media in 2019 will be traded programmatically.”

As marketers continue to focus on increasing working media ratios, they must confront the rise in expenses ranging from agency campaign management fees, data fees and adtech fees associated with their digital media investment.

According to WARC, which provides guidance to many of the world’s largest advertisers, advertising agencies and publishers, in 2017 “over $30.0B of the $63.4B spent on programmatic advertising went to technology vendors.” Thus, it is understandable why so many refer to these fees as a “Tech Tax.”

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