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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.”

 

 

Are You Overpaying for Convenience?

30 Dec

sign with the words Stop Over PayingMarketers are under a lot of stress with increasing demands on their time, constant pressure to deliver results and the seemingly never-ending challenge to accomplish more with restrained budgets.

In this context, what marketing team wouldn’t be open to turnkey solutions provided by existing agency partners, including the ability to easily access specialized skills and secure additional resources for quick-turn projects – rather than onboarding a new agency partner?

Put yourself in this situation… your external agency roster is already too broad, budgets are locked, and expanding current agency scopes of work is a challenge. Even if a new agency/ vendor might be desired it is disruptive and time consuming to work through procurement, vet possible candidates, on-board a newly selected vendor, negotiate a new statement of work, and move forward. Sound familiar?

Therefore, out of necessity Marketers in this situation often turn to a current agency partner and seeking to shift dollars from one project to another or increase staffing in order to alleviating pressure. In the process, it wouldn’t be unusual if the agency suggested engaging the services of an in-house studio/ department or an affiliate agency. The suggestion may come with the enticing proposition of being able to self-fund incremental work through savings generated by the affiliate’s involvement, or via the affiliate’s mode of remuneration (e.g. principal based media buying). Best of all, the agency may offer to handle billing for the related party and will offer to treat related party billings as though they were coming from a third-party vendor (as pass-through costs).

Problem solved. Right? Be wary.

“What is right is often forgotten by what is convenient.” ~ Bodie Thoene

Having your agency partner(s) tap an in-house resource or affiliate on your behalf, knowingly or unknowingly, as easy as it may seem, comes with serious financial risk and control issues. What is the mode of remuneration? How much is the affiliate being compensated and by whom? What mix of staff is actually being deploying on your behalf? How many hours or value is being delivered for the fees? What level of transparency do you really have into “actual” versus “estimated” affiliate fees and expenses?

If you cannot readily provide answers to these questions, your organization runs the risk of overpaying for services, and or not understanding “what you are actually buying and receiving.”

As it is, few client/ agency agreements have adequate controls to govern the appointment and utilization by an agency of an in-house, affiliated, or holding-company-owned resource. The lack of contractual guidelines leaves marketers open to negative financial impact that can weigh heavily on working dollars and expectations.

Common risk areas associated with agency use of a related party include:

  • Lack of a formal client notification/ approval requirement
  • No competitive bidding requirement
  • No rate sheet or billable hourly rate detail
  • No time-of-staff reporting
  • No job reconciliations
  • Non-transparent pricing/ margins
  • Application of unauthorized mark-ups

We certainly understand the desire by the agency community to engage their affiliates on client work and appreciate the potential benefits to the advertiser when it comes to tapping these diverse resources.

That said, experience suggests that the practice should be regulated and carefully monitored. Importantly, rules and requirements must be clearly documented in the client/ agency agreement when it comes to agency use of an in-house studio or any other related party or agency. Further, the affiliate must understand that they are subject to the same terms and conditions documented in the agreement.

Once full transparency is guaranteed, remuneration and billing rules are documented and understood, appropriate authorization practices are put in place, then tapping an agency partner’s extended resource network makes good sense.

 

 

Haven’t We Seen This Picture Before?

20 Dec

Frame movie, clapperboard blue neon icon. Simple thin line, outline vector of cinema icons for ui and ux, website or mobile applicationAs you are likely aware, over-the-top (OTT) television expenditures are rising incredibly fast. According to Magna Global, OTT grew at a rate of 39% this year with advertisers spending $3.2 billion in this sector of the TV marketplace. Further, Magna is projecting spend levels of $5.0 billion in 2020.

As consumer demand for viewing video content via the internet on devices such as smart TVs, gaming consoles, laptops, tablets and smart phones continues to escalate, advertisers are jumping at the opportunity to reach these so called “cord cutters.” However, while advertising demand is strong the supply of OTT impressions or inventory is limited.

This scenario has created an opportunity for fraudsters that attempt to fool advertisers into buying OTT inventory that doesn’t actually exist. eMarketer estimated that in 2018 fully 1 out of 5 OTT impressions were invalid due to “a combination of fraud and ad serving measurement errors.” Compounding this issue is the fact that approximately 40% of OTT ad impressions are served via server-side ad insertion (source: AdLedger, 2019) thus rendering traditional fraud detection services, which rely on Java script, ineffective.

One cannot help but view this scenario and its similarities to the challenges and risks associated with programmatic digital media and real-time bidding. Sadly, the ad industry’s demonstrated willingness to latch on to “shiny new objects” comes with real risks and at a significant cost. Worse, once the proverbial genie is out of the bottle, the industry has demonstrated an inability to marshal its resources in a timely, efficient manner to create standardized measurement and tracking solutions to combat fraud and safeguard advertiser funds.

And, as with the meteoric growth of digital advertising, advertisers are all too willing to jump in, versus testing the waters or forgoing investing in these emerging channels while fraud prevention controls are introduced, tested and rolled out. The net result is that advertisers must spend more money spent on ad tech, fraud detection and viewability services, while the downward pressure on working media dollars multiplies.

Earlier this spring, Forbes published an article on ad fraud and the OTT market, in which it interviewed Adam Helfgott, CEO of MadHive. Mr. Helfgott identified a range of ways in which OTT ad fraud can manifest itself. These included fraudulent arbitragers misrepresenting where an advertiser’s impressions actually ran and app-based or device-based fraud which report uncharacteristically high activity levels, not reflective of human consumption patterns.

While Mr. Helfgott believes that OTT ad fraud can be combatted using blockchain-based technology, he suggested that the first step in the process is for industry stakeholders to acknowledge that OTT ad fraud can and is occurring. That said, it is scary to think that there are those who would believe otherwise.

If knowledge truly is the key to success, then perhaps the ad industry would benefit from Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s words of wisdom:

“Knowledge is in the end is based on acknowledgement.”

Navigating Marketing’s Turbulent Waters

26 Oct

waypointHaving choices can certainly be a good thing. But an overabundance of options carries its own set of challenges. Thom Browne, the American designer once said that: “When people have too many choices, they make bad choices.” 

While an apt description of the $560 billion global advertising industry or not, the expansion and fragmentation of the advertising sector, fueled by rapid advances in technology has complicated things for many of the industry’s stakeholders. Consider the following:

  • In addition to traditional TV, there are over 100 streaming services available in the U.S.
  • According to Internet Live Stats, there are 1.7 billion websites on the worldwide web
  • Fast Company estimates that there are over 525,000 active podcast shows
  • Author Scott Brinker identified 7,040 MarTech solutions in his 2019 Marketing Tech Landscape
  • Agency Spotter indicates that there are 120,000 ad agencies in the U.S., 500,000+ worldwide
  • Inc. Magazine has identified 700,000 consulting firms across business functions globally

As the plethora of options have grown, so has the level of angst and uncertainty among marketing practitioners and suppliers alike. For an industry that has always prided itself on its ability to adapt to change, the current environment is somewhat unsettling.

Complicating things is the consumers growing disdain for advertising, which the New York Times profiled in a recent article entitled: “The Advertising Industry Has a Problem. People Hate Ads” in which it chronicles some of the attitudes and behaviors being exhibited by consumers that could have a profound impact on the industry. In the article, the Times referenced a recent report from Group M, which put forth the proposition that these are “dangerous days for advertisers.”

Let’s face it, there are few “tried and true” approaches that marketers can fall back on to guide their strategic and resource allocation decisions in this environment. Further, given the rate and rapidity of change from a legislative and technology perspective there are simply not that many industry guideposts to assist marketers in effectively charting a course forward or in evaluating progress.

While we believe that there will be a contraction in the supply chain, marked by a consolidation of agency brands, consulting firms, martech solutions providers and media outlets, we don’t believe that this suggests a return to simpler times.

To reduce the level of dissonance, marketers will likely seek to streamline their “world” by rightsizing their agency networks, clarifying roles and responsibilities among their suppliers, transitioning certain work in-house and taking a more considered and cautious approach to the adoption of “shiny new objects” whether related to technology or messaging options.

Given the continued focus by their C-Suite peers on marketing performance, CMOs will maintain a dual focus on driving revenues, while achieving efficiencies across their supply chain to boost working dollars as a percentage of total marketing spend. This is not an either/ or option. Recognizing this “reality” an advertiser’s agency and consulting partners can provide critical support by focusing on the identification of waypoints on the path to performance, rather than pursuing a grandiose focus on future-think outcomes. In the words of 17thcentury Japanese shogun leyasu Tokugawa:

“Let thy step be slow and steady, that thou stumble not.”

 

 

Does Anyone Care About Media?

12 Apr

Coaching Mentoring Education Business Training Development E-learning ConceptMcKinsey estimated that companies across the globe could spend in excess of $2.0 trillion on media in 2019.

A big number to be sure, and for most advertisers the media component of their marketing spend, which runs between 10.4% – 14.0% of annual revenue is a material SG&A expense (Source: The CMO Study, from Deloitte, AMA, Fuqua School of Business at Duke University).

Thus it was surprising to read the results of advertising and media consultant ID Comms recent survey assessing advertiser interest in media training. Seventy-one percent of the respondents indicated that the “investment in media training” by advertisers was “unsatisfactory or entirely unsatisfactory.”

Given that in aggregate, the survey respondents firms spend “in excess of $20 billion” on media globally, one might say that their response was stunning. This is particularly so given the scrutiny that has been given to media advertising in the wake of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) 2016 study on “Media Transparency” that brought to light some of the financial risks faced by advertisers in this area.

So why haven’t advertisers stepped up their investment in building media competency? It would seem that advertisers the world over would place a much higher level of priority on the recruitment and training of media personnel to help them steward their media agencies to safeguard and optimize their media spend.

Media savvy marketing professionals understand that the cost: benefit proposition for staffing and training corporate media departments is quite compelling. In fact, the ID Comms survey went on to point out that nearly all of the survey respondents agreed that “brands can gain a competitive advantage in marketing” by elevating their firm’s media capabilities.

Companies have plenty of Chiefs, ranging from Chief Executive Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Chief Financial Officers and Chief Marketing Officers to Chief Risk Officers, Chief Procurement Officers, Chief Technology Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Revenue Officers and more.

Okay, so perhaps there is no room left in the C-Suite for a Chief Media Officer. No worries, build out the corporate media function within the marketing pyramid. No money in the HR budget to hire a seasoned media professional? No worries, bring on a fractional Corporate Media Director to assist in staffing and training the department.

The need is real.

What advertiser wouldn’t benefit from investing in the ongoing training and education of their marketing and or corporate media staffs? Honing capabilities related to setting media strategy, establishing KPIs, crafting a compelling media brief, reviewing media plans, evaluating media performance, building an understanding of the adtech sector and managing a diverse roster of media agencies would yield both near and long-term financial returns.

With the desire to improve “working media” in an increasingly complex marketplace companies would benefit mightily from building their corporate media proficiencies.

“Hire for passion and intensity; there is training for everything else.” ~ Nolan Bushnell

 

 

Will Programmatic Ever Address Advertiser Transparency Concerns?

20 Aug

dreamstime_m_35343815It has been two years since the Association of National Advertisers released its study on media transparency issues impacting advertisers within the U.S. media marketplace.

While much has changed, there remain reasons for concern. Most perplexing is the fact that with all of the intermediaries in place between advertiser and publisher, few seem to be looking out for the advertisers’ best interests.

The reasons for this lack of an advertiser-centric perspective are many and include greed, a lack of knowledge, insufficient oversight processes and often times indifference up and down the programmatic digital media supply chain.

Thus, it was with great interest that I read a recent article on Adexchanger.com entitled; “Index Exchange Called Out for Tweaking Its Auction.” In short, the article dealt with the fact that Index Exchange had altered its auction processes, without notifying advertisers, ad agencies or DSPs. Ostensibly, the exchange’s motivations for this move was to boost its market share, although in fairness, they claimed that they believed their approach reflected “industry practice.”

Of note, Index Exchange made the aforementioned change more than one year ago, employing a technique referred to as bid caching. In short, bid caching is where the exchange retains losing bids in an effort to run advertiser content on subsequent content viewed by the consumer. From an advertiser perspective there are a number of issues with this practice, as detailed by author Sarah Sluis of the aforementioned article on Adexchanger:

  1. Buyers will bid higher prices for the first page in a user session. Thus, if the losing bid is retained and the ad is served deeper into a user session, the buyer will have overpaid for that inventory.
  2. Any delay between the initial bid and the ad actually being served, using a bid caching methodology, increases the chance that the DSP will have found the user elsewhere, resulting in the campaign exceeding the pre-determined frequency caps.
  3. Brand safety definitely comes into play, because even though the ad is served on the same domain, it is on a different page than what was intended.

What is truly remarkable about this scenario is that buyers just learned of this practice and, according to Adexchanger, “not from Index Exchange.”

How many advertisers were negatively impacted by Index Exchange’s unannounced move? What were their agency and adtech partners doing in the placement and stewardship of their buys that an exchange’s shift in auction approaches went undetected for more than one year? Unsettling to be sure.

Ironically, this exchange had implemented a similar move previously, adopting a first-price auction approach, which was known to publishers but not announced to buyers.

Advertisers would be right to raise questions about the current state of programmatic affairs; exchanges not notifying the public of shifts in auction methodology, agency buyers and DSPs unable to detect these shifts to adjust their bid strategies, ad tech firms not catching the shift to safeguard brand ad placements, and publishers that were aware, but settled for the higher CPMs resulting from the shift, rather than informing the buy-side.

This is disheartening news, particularly when one considers the percentage of an advertiser’s dollar that goes to fund each of their intermediaries (at the expense of working media). Yet, advertiser fueled growth in programmatic digital media continues unabated.

Clearly a case of buyer beware. Advertisers that have not already reviewed their supplier contracts or enacted the “right to audit” clauses of their agency and adtech supplier agreements may want to make plans to do so as they begin finalize their 2019 digital media budgets. As the old saying goes:

The buyer needs a hundred eyes, the seller but one.”

 

Try This Quick Programmatic Digital “Transparency” Test

16 Aug

exam resultsIf you’re like most marketers, your organization is spending considerably more of its media budget on programmatic digital media today than it did last year and certainly more than it did five years ago. The question is, “Are you getting value for that shift in media spend?

While agencies and ad tech firms have clearly benefited from the rapid growth of programmatic digital media many marketers have seen their working media levels languish due to the third-party costs and intermediary fees associated with programmatic media.

As marketers know all too well, every dollar invested programmatically is subject to what has been referred to as the “tech tax,” which according to David Kohl, CEO and President of TrustX this can account for over fifty cents of every dollar invested. In his article; “The High Cost of Low CPMs” written for AdExchanger, Mr. Kohl points out that “whether or not the ad reaches its target audience and whether or not it is served into the viewable window or below the fold, DSPs, SSPs, data providers, viewability and verification providers, tag managers, re-targeters and others all take their few cents.”

The question to be asked is; “To what extent is this happening to my organization?” Fortunately, there is a quick, three-step method for testing your risk profile when it comes to programmatic digital media.

Step 1 – Ask your accounts payable department to provide you with a few examples of the digital media invoices that comprise the billing from your digital media agency partners. Check if they have a description of the services provided and the type and level of media inventory purchased. The objective of this exercise is to determine whether the invoices are highly descriptive or general in nature and if a non-media reviewer would be able to ascertain the breakdown of “what” was actually provided for the amount being billed.

Step 2 – Review the third-party vendor invoices that accompany the billing from your agency. If supporting vendor documentation is not provided, ask your agency to provide detail for a handful of invoices. This detail should include the invoices from the actual media sellers, not the agency’s trading desk or an affiliate. Apply the same filter to your review of these invoices as you did for the agency’s billing, with regard to the adequacy of the descriptions breaking out the media purchased and all of the attendant costs (i.e. net media expense, agency campaign management fees, ad tech and data fees, etc.).

Step 3 – Evaluate both sets of invoices, agency and vendor, for an itemized list of the fees being charged such as:

  • Agency campaign management fees
  • Data fees
  • Pre-bid decision making/ targeting fees
  • Ad tech/ DSP fees
  • Publisher discrepancy fees
  • Ad verification fees
  • Bid clearing fees
  • Ad serving fees

If you find that invoice descriptions are less specific than you would like or that third-party vendor invoices don’t contain an itemized list of fees being charged, it is time to have a conversation with your agency partners.

The first topic to be discussed is establishing your position and preference for “How” your programmatic media buys are to be structured when your agency goes to market on your behalf. If it is transparency that you seek, they should be executing your programmatic buys on a “cost-disclosed” rather than a “non-disclosed” basis. This is the only way that you will be able to identify the net costs being assessed for the media inventory purchased and to calculate what percentage of your buys are going toward working media. Fraud and viewability concerns aside, advertisers have found that after fees are subtracted, they’re lucky if 50¢ of a dollar spent on programmatic digital media actually makes it to the publisher to fund the media that your consumers see.

Once you and your agency have agreed on the desired level of disclosure, conversation must necessarily turn to the need for updating client-agency agreements, statements-of-work and each of the media control documents utilized by the agency (i.e. media authorization form, electronic RFI templates, digital insertion orders, etc.). In spite of the ad industry’s efforts to reform what remains a murky digital media supply chain fraught with bad actors, questionable practices and a lack of transparency, advertisers remain at risk. Therefore, it is imperative to ensure all parties are held accountable that they employ the appropriate descriptive invoice detail, reporting requirements and itemized cost breakdowns mandated by the advertiser.

Testing the current state of your programmatic buys’ level of transparency is a necessary first step to stripping away the opacity that can surround digital media buying. In turn, the results of this self-examination will assist advertisers in both safeguarding and improving the return on their digital media investments. In the words of David Ogilvy:

“Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”

Will the Media Industry Find Its Way?

27 Apr

agencies as media ownersThere was a time when ad agencies represented an advertiser’s interest when interacting with media sellers to secure time and or space for the conveyance of the advertiser’s messaging. The media supply chain was uncluttered, machine-to-machine buying was not even a distant thought and the roles of the various players were understood by all parties.

As the media industry has evolved, the complexities of the supply chain and the clarity of “what” each intermediary does, what they are responsible for and what they earn have sown confusion, limited advertiser transparency and eroded stakeholder trust.

One of the key drivers of supply chain complexity, and all that comes with it, has been the rapid growth of digital media in general and specifically the expansion of programmatic buying. Thus, there may be no better barometer of this dynamic than the “Marketing Technology Landscape” prepared annually by Scott Brinker. Mr. Brinker’s landscape chart incorporates the logos of each available advertising, marketing and search solution. This year’s version contains logos for over 6,800 solutions, up from 150 in 2011. That is a staggering number of ad tech and mar tech solutions vying for a slice of an advertiser’s digital media dollar.

In spite of the dramatic increase in the number of marketing technology solutions and the exponential increase in the level of data available to inform practitioners media decisions, the industry is still grappling with issues that negatively impact media performance. Issues that include ongoing limitations in attribution modeling, difficulties with omnichannel measurement, a lack of standardization in assessing audience delivery and continued concerns regarding ad viewability, fraud, ad blocking and privacy.

Many would agree that the current state of affairs is not healthy for the global media industry which totaled $500 billion in 2017 (source: MAGNA Global Advertising Forecast, December, 2017).

Marketers, who are under increasing pressure to improve performance, are clearly not satisfied with the status quo within the media supply chain, which many describe as “murky” and “inefficient.” These marketers are committed to seeking out new partners, processes, tools and solutions that can improve working media and increase the chance that each dollar they invest in media has the opportunity to positively impact business outcomes.

Media agencies, for their part are increasingly being challenged to improve both transparency and the cost effectiveness of their clients’ media spend. Sadly, many agencies have taken the stance that there is a cost to be paid for improved transparency, enhanced viewability and brand safety and believe that these costs should be borne by the advertiser. Advertisers rightly disagree with this position.

Let’s be clear. When agencies strayed from a singular focus on their fiduciary responsibility to their clients, they did so at their own risk. Their pursuit of principal based media buys, non-disclosed relationships with other commercial entities in the media supply chain (including their own affiliates) and the myriad of unauthorized, non-transparent revenue generation practices employed by some agencies netted them significant profit gains… in the short-term.

However, as advertisers became aware of these practices and began to understand the negative impact on their business this created a crisis in confidence among advertisers and lessened the level trust that they had in their agency partners. In turn, this has created opportunities for management and technology consultants to make inroads with CMO’s as it relates to their media business and incented many advertisers to begin looking at taking control over portions of their media business, including bringing work in-house.

These trends coupled with the corresponding reduction in non-sanctioned revenue opportunities resulting from greater levels of advertiser transparency have constrained agency margins. How agencies positon themselves for the future in light of the evolving competitive set, while rethinking their service offerings and charging practices remains to be seen, but will be of critical importance.

As for the ad tech sector, there will surely be a shakeout that will result in a reduction in the number of vendors (over 6,200 in 2018) providing solutions. This will be driven in part by consolidation due to the convergence of ad tech and mar tech solutions and the dominance of large players, such as Google, Facebook and Amazon. In addition, the emergence of consumer privacy protection regulatory actions and the eventual emergence of blockchain technology within the media market has the potential for significant disruption.

Clearly, there are uncertainties and challenges facing the media industry and the myriad of supply chain participants. That said, while continued change will be the norm and course corrections required, there will be winners that are able to navigate these turbulent times and position their organizations for future success.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” ~ Charles Darwin

 

Advertisers Beware: Agency Margin Optimization Efforts

19 Apr

Traffic LightIt was with great interest that I read an article on Digiday dealing with “key issues” facing ad agencies and, ostensibly, the “agency model” ranging from transparency to in-housing.

Masked behind the author’s perspective that transparency comes at a high cost was the reality that marketers remain at risk to the predatory non-transparent revenue practices applied by certain agencies.

Why? With marketers demanding more transparent ad buying practices and transitioning certain tasks and or ownership of elements of the tech stack in-house, agency gross margins are under pressure. In turn, this has created an environment where agencies attempt to make up for the margin shortfall from clients that don’t actively monitor agency contract compliance, financial management or media performance.

Of note, one anonymous agency executive went so far as to suggest that some agencies use a “traffic-light system to determine how knowledgeable the procurement teams at clients are.” This guidepost allows the agencies to assess how much margin they can make on a given account.

This certainly reinforces the reality of the old adage; “Where there is mystery, there is margin” and signals the importance for all marketers to get up to speed on both the potential benefits and the pitfalls related to their digital and other advertising investments. For client organizations, most of which do not have the bandwidth or subject matter expertise in-house, engaging an independent contract compliance or media performance auditor or consultant could greatly help to mitigate risks in this area.

In spite of the potential for efficiencies that fueled the rise of programmatic media buying, what we have all come to realize is that the costs related to algorithmic, machine-to-machine buying have far outweighed these efficiencies. One dynamic, which drives costs is the number of agent firms involved in a typical programmatic digital media buy and the fees that each charge for their role. Below is an overview of typical fees or mark-ups that are charged by those on the demand-side of a programmatic transaction.

Digital Dollar

Source: Industry Experts

As is readily apparent, the dollar dissipation that occurs between the advertiser’s initial investment and the money that actually ends up with the publisher is significant. Industry studies have consistently shown that less than forty cents of each digital dollar invested makes its way to the publisher.

To combat this trend, rightly or wrongly, marketers have focused on reducing the number of intermediaries and the fees charged by each, with the goal of improving working media ratios and ultimately the performance of their digital campaigns. Thus, the agency margin squeeze.

That said, the agency practice described in the aforementioned Digiday.com article of taking advantage of unsuspecting, less knowledgeable clients to make up for the margin lost on those that have moved to transparent buying models, is neither appropriate nor sustainable. Agencies conducting themselves in this manner may want to reflect on the words of the renowned physicist, Stephen Hawking:

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”

This is particularly true given the competitive inroads being made by the management consultant and tech consultancies that are focusing on the digital media segment of the market. The best path forward for agencies is to actively engage their clients in an open dialog about mutually beneficial remuneration methodologies.

In our opinion, it is right and just to eliminate the potential for media arbitrage, non-disclosed fees, no charge media weight and volume-based rebates that often accrue to agencies, and much of the time without the advertiser’s knowledge. Further, we also don’t believe that clients are obligated to make up the gap in lost agency revenue tied to transparency reforms. That said, we are fully supportive of an agency’s right to earn a fair and reasonable profit and to have the potential for incremental gains tied to extraordinary performance.

Near-term, the best way to balance an advertiser’s quest for transparency and an agency’s ability to generate a reasonable profit will likely be a compensation schema that incorporates a base fee using a direct-labor or cost-plus methodology with an outcome-based performance incentive. This approach is particularly apropos for advertisers that are leaning toward a managed-service model. With this approach, ownership of the tech stack and or tech platform licensing agreements transition from agency to advertiser; and the agency is then engaged to oversee the digital planning, buying and ad operations chores associated with programmatic media.

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