Tag Archives: digital media

What Role Will Media Agencies Carve Out for Themselves?

29 Jun

Role QuestionPoint of fact: The media marketplace is evolving at a pace never previously experienced.

While consumers have a dizzying array of choices for accessing content, ad sales are dominated by a handful of media ownership groups. According to a recent GroupM report, the “Top 10” firms accounted for 55% of global ad revenues in 2020. Of note, the “Top 5” firms (Google, Facebook, Alibaba, Amazon and TikTok owner ByteDance) represented 46% of global ad sales during this same period.

In the U.S., the world’s largest ad market, digital media represented 62.9% of U.S. media spend with 88.1% of digital display spend being placed programmatically in 2020 (source: eMarketer). Not surprisingly, Google, Facebook and Amazon increased their share of the U.S. digital market to almost 90% in 2020 (source: GroupM).

Top media ownership groups such as Comcast, Disney, ViacomCBS and AT&T have expanded their offerings to advertisers on a direct basis to include media space/time, content, product integration, experiential support, audience research and production services… somewhat reminiscent of the days of full-service advertising agencies.

And finally, media planning and buying decisions are becoming more highly automated as AI-powered algorithms and machine learning continues to expand their role in the advertising and media sector. This in turn has spurred advertiser investments in AI marketing, totaling over $6 billion in 2019 (source: Statista).

The question to be asked is, “How will media agencies distinguish themselves and their client offerings to protect their share of the media services market?”

This is an important topic, one which is surely being discussed within the major ad agency holding companies. Why? Media agency contributions to agency holding company financial performance are significant. This has been particularly so with the growth of digital media over the last decade-plus. According to Ad Age Datacenter, digital work in 2020 accounted for 58% of 2020 U.S. revenue for agencies from all disciplines. Yet, overall revenues for U.S. ad agencies have been lackluster at best, with low single-digit growth in 2017, 2018, 2019 and a 6.8% drop-off in 2020.

For advertisers seeking to boost campaign performance, improve media ROI and reduce time-to-campaign launch times, they will inevitably evaluate a range of approaches to planning and placing their media budgets. These may include adding consolidating their media agency networks to achieve better integration and improved leverage, in-housing certain aspects of the media strategy and or placement processes to improve efficiencies, working directly with media ownership groups and a host of other alternatives.

In a dynamic, evolving marketplace marked by uncertainty, the onus is clearly on media agency management to defend their role as gatekeepers and stewards of client media spend. Perhaps agency leadership can draw some inspiration from the words of American educator and the founder of Stanford University, David Starr Jordan: “Wisdom is knowing what to do next; skill is knowing how to do it and virtue is doing it.”

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.

Programmatic: Promising, but is the Benefit to Advertisers Real?

19 Oct

cautionIn 1997 rock legend David Bowie told his fans at a Madison Square Garden concert; “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” While his comments were a reflection on life after his 50th birthday, they could just as easily be used to describe the future of programmatic media buying.

Put yourself in an advertiser’s position and consider your reaction when your media agency approaches you with this enticing proposition;

Through our proprietary programmatic buying platform we have the ability to deliver quality, targeted inventory to precise segments of your target audience at a time and in an environment when they’re most receptive to your message and at rates that are a fraction of market pricing.” 

For many advertisers, the response to this enticing offer has been “sign us up.”

The programmatic revolution began with digital media, evolved to print and OOH and is now being implemented in the television marketplace. Many industry pundits consider programmatic to be one of the advertising industry’s most prominent developments. This algorithmic based method of connecting media sellers and buyers to conduct inventory transactions in an automated, real-time manner clearly holds much promise.

Benefits to advertisers are said to include; rate efficiencies, advanced targeting, message personalization and enhanced access to premium content. For media sellers the benefits allegedly include the ability to move less desirable remnant inventory and optimize CPMs across their inventory portfolio. Ad tech firms, such as demand side platforms, sell side platforms and ad exchanges, which here-to-for never existed earn transactional fees on programmatic activity and or licensing fees from organizations that utilize their technology tools. Agencies are able to leverage their clients’ “Big Data,” do more with fewer people and when programmatic buys are executed through their trading desk operations, there is incremental revenue to be gained from media arbitrage (buying low, selling high).

Assuming that each stakeholder realized the aforementioned benefits ascribed to this approach, programmatic buying, irrespective of the issues experienced to date in the digital media market, certainly holds the potential to be a win, win scenario for all of the players.

Unfortunately, the underlying technology behind programmatic buying is not fully understood by many in the industry. To be fair, programmatic digital media buying is a highly nuanced and complex process. It greatly impacts digital display ad spending in general and mobile in particular. It can involve real-time-bidding (RTB) or programmatic direct, where advertisers can still secure inventory guarantees, it can be applied in an open exchange or private marketplace and can include traditional banners or non-standard rich media and video.

Given that programmatic buying is still in its infancy, one might logically assert that a greater level of refinement is required to support programmatic buying’s current share of digital media spending, prior to even considering expansion of programmatic buying to other media. Supporting this perspective are some of the challenges which the industry is grappling with to improve the programmatic experience for digital media:

  • Reducing the level of non-human traffic and fraud
  • Minimizing the % of ad spend accruing to “facilitators” or middle-men
  • Serving up environmentally relevant programmatic creative across devices
  • Improving advertiser transparency

We agree that programmatic media buying holds much potential. However, the industry’s experience to date suggests that advertisers have born the bulk of the risk involved with this emerging technology and its application in the digital market.

So when the talk turns to the expansion of programmatic to other media segments one has to wonder if advertisers are ready to embark upon another investment spend scenario in media segments with much steeper learning curves and higher degrees of risk.

Relative to the digital market sector, television, OOH and print are much more complex when it comes to the variety of non-digital assets, lack of uniform inventory management processes and disparate mainframe environments. Throw in the fact that there are multiple ad tech providers already offering a variety of non-standard platforms/ technologies in an attempt to solve for these considerations and the near-term prospects appear quite challenging.

In a recent article in MediaPost, Joe Mandese shared insights on some of the pioneering work being conducted in programmatic/ addressable TV by Mitch Oscar, Programmatic TV Strategist for US International Media (USIM) and his peers. During the interview, Mr. Oscar shared results from one client’s programmatic TV ad buys, which suggested they had generated “improved results and efficiencies” relative to conventional TV buys.

Compelling to be sure, however, one must pause to consider the observation that the data shared by Mr. Oscar indicated that the “mix of networks and dayparts were all over the place and it was difficult to find meaningful patterns from it.”  Further, when USIM asked the programmatic TV suppliers to document what actually ran, “it generated a report with 163,866 lines of code covering 3,563 pages, something most traditional TV buyers and advertisers might not consider practical to evaluate.”

Hopefully advertisers, agencies and media property owners take a more measured approach to expanding programmatic buying to other media segments to avoid some of the pitfalls currently being experienced in digital media. Perhaps we can all benefit from the words of St. Jerome, the Catholic priest, historian and theologian, who once intoned:

“The scars of others should teach us caution.”

 

CPD vs. CPM. Why Not? That’s What Digital is Yielding

24 Sep

cpmAbsent any improvement in the digital media industry’s ability to deliver the viewable impression levels being purchased by advertisers, perhaps changing the currency used to value those impressions would make the most sense.

Perhaps it’s time for the industry’s standard cost-per-thousand metric to give way to a cost-per-five-hundred rate, which more aptly reflects actual audience delivery levels. Let’s face it, to date, digital advertisers have largely been charged on the basis of their ads being served, with any resulting audience delivery impact, particularly by humans, a secondary consideration.

Ironically, in spite of the measurement challenges surrounding digital media, it has surpassed all but one other media channel in terms of annual spend and according to Vincent Letang, Magna Global’s Director of global forecasting “will potentially eclipse television in terms of overall spending” by 2018.

Do client-side CFO’s read the advertising trade press? They must not. How else can one explain the meteoric growth of a media channel fraught with audience deliverability concerns, allegations of fraud at multiple levels of the distribution chain and a greater likelihood of driving bot rather than human traffic? According to the ANA study; “The Bot Baseline: Fraud In Digital Advertising” fake traffic will cost advertisers in excess of $6.3 billion in 2015.

Surely, the C-Suite within advertiser organizations would not sanction the use of an advertising channel that is delivering $.50 of value for every $1.00 invested. Would they?

What if they were aware that there is actually a market for fake traffic? That’s right, there are firms that sell malware generated bot traffic to a variety of companies, some who knowingly purchase the fake traffic and others who turn a blind eye toward traffic sources.

Then there is the less nefarious, but equally as questionable, practice used by some publishers of traffic sourcing. This involves purchasing traffic from third-parties, referred to as “traffic brokers” or “audience networks” to boost measured audience levels on their websites to enhance their appeal to advertisers and their media buying representatives who are looking for sites with critical mass. The traffic procurement marketplace is not regulated and the practice is typically not divulged to advertisers by the publishers engaged in this activity.

Why should advertisers care? White Ops, who partnered with the ANA on the aforementioned study, found that “sourced traffic” averaged 52% bots and that “publishers and premium publishers were not immune from high bot levels in sourced traffic.” In the study, White Ops referenced uncovered one direct buy from a lifestyle industry vertical premium publisher, which yielded 98% bots in a video ad campaign.

To help combat bot fraud, White Ops suggests that advertisers “maintain a public-facing anti-fraud stance and a highly confidential, continuous monitoring program. According to White Ops “to both deter bot traffickers and defend against disguised bots, advertisers must deploy a dual-monitoring strategy: Monitor conspicuously to deter bot traffickers, and also monitor covertly to detect disguised bot traffic.” Sound advice to be sure.

Unfortunately, the more that the ad industry shines a spot light on the global digital media marketplace, the uglier it gets. Yet in spite of the steady stream of unseemly revelations this sector continues to outpace all others in average annual growth. Go figure.

Common Sense is that which judges the things given to it by other senses.

~ Leonardo da Vinci

 

 

What if Advertisers Suspended All Digital Media Spend?

23 Jul

committeeSound preposterous? Perhaps not when you consider how much of an advertiser’s investment is siphoned off by digital fraudsters and criminals. One has to wonder if the efficacy of a reallocated media mix would really hamper in-market performance.

Let’s face it, in spite of the incessant level of press coverage, advertiser, agency and publisher posturing and the formation of numerous industry task forces, digital ad fraud has continued unabated.

In March of 2014 the IAB estimated that approximately 36% of all web traffic was fake, the result of bots. In December of 2014 a joint study by the ANA and White Ops, an ad security firm, estimated that digital fraud accounted for $6.3 billion out of a total estimated spend of $48 billion.

Various other studies have suggested that up to 50% of publisher traffic is bot related and that somewhere between 3% and 31% of programmatically bought ad impressions were from bots. During December of 2014 there was a research study done on FT.com which revealed that “in a single month, 72% of the ad impressions offered on open ad exchanges as being on FT.com were fraudulent.” The impressions were from sites pretending to be the FT and the ads appeared only on sites viewed by bots.

Ironically, in spite of the financial impact of these crimes, advertisers continue to spend an increasing percentage of their marketing budgets on digital media. According to Strategy Analytics, digital media will reach $52.8 billion in U.S. ad spending in 2015, accounting for 28% of every dollar spent, second only to TV. Further, while every other medium is either losing revenue or seeing low single digit growth, digital is anticipated to grow at 10% to 13% per annum over the next three years.

There are a number of industry stakeholders benefiting from the meteoric growth in digital spending, publishers, ad tech providers and agencies to name a few. For example, the major ad agency holding companies have seen revenues from digital media grow to represent up to 50% of their annual revenue base.

Thus it was with a slightly cynical eye that I viewed the recent press release from the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) regarding their latest initiative to combat digital ad fraud. The focus of the release was straightforward enough, dealing with working to minimize “illegitimate and non-human ad traffic originating from data centers.” However, in the end it was about Google lending the group its blacklist of suspicious data center IP addresses for use in a pilot program.

As most industry participants know, TAG is the joint effort of the ANA, 4A’s and IAB launched in 2014 to work collaboratively with companies in the digital advertising space to combat ad fraud. While supportive of industry stakeholders teaming up to address key issues, one wonders how likely it is that TAG will be able to mitigate advertiser financial risks in the near-term.

Curiously, on July 23rd the 4A’s announced the formation of a committee that will focus on addressing “issues related to the digital supply chain.” Their press release pointed out that the newly formed committee will work closely with “other 4A’s committees and task forces, such as the Media Measurement, Data Management and Mobile committees, on policies and best practices.”

Have any of the existing task forces’ yet demonstrated tangible evidence of progress being made to combat digital fraud? It is difficult to imagine how the formation of yet another committee is going to make a difference. Do the organizations forming these ad hoc groups feel that the industry is so superficial and shallow that the news of a new committee will help advertisers feel better about the lack of measurable progress being made on this front?

If the industry doesn’t make concrete progress in the near-term, there is a strong likelihood that we will be welcoming a new “alliance partner” to the team… regulators. We know that historically business in general and the ad industry in particular have never been fans of government involvement. However, if the industry’s self-regulatory approach doesn’t begin to yield results, Washington will assert itself and they should, advertisers are literally being robbed. This is white collar crime at the highest level when you consider that in the U.S. alone, $6.3 billion is being siphoned off by bad actors on an annual basis, 13% of total spending in this specific area.

While the industry struggles to bring order to the chaos surrounding digital media advertisers might rightly ask the question; “Does it really make sense to continue to allocate hard earned dollars to a medium with the audience delivery and viewability issues that currently plague digital?”

What if advertisers were to place a moratorium on digital ad spending until more concrete actions are taken by the industry to protect their investment?

An extreme position? Yes. Unlikely? No doubt. However, this is the type of dramatic action required to force reform and provide advertisers with the transparency and controls required to yield satisfactory returns on their digital media investment. If nothing changes, every incremental dollar invested in digital media will continue to line the pockets of the tech-driven criminals which are preying on advertisers. In turn, this rapidly growing revenue stream allows fraudsters to expand their capabilities at an even quicker rate than those trying to police them creating a “no win” situation for the industry.

From this writer’s perspective, while industry task forces and committees can play a role in furthering the dialog, they will not suffice. Traditional outcomes from these groups include recommended best practices, guidelines, advisory white papers and the formation of new committees to continue the fight… hardly enough to strike fear in the hearts of digital criminals.

In the words of noted businessman Ross Perot:

“If you see a snake, just kill it – don’t appoint a committee on snakes.”

 

What is the True Cost of Opacity? (part 2 of 2)

1 May

iceberg riskPart 2 of a two-part look advertiser concerns regarding “transparency” and the impact it is having on client-agency relations.

Why is a tight client-agency agreement important? One need look no further than the recent comments of Maurice Levy, Chairman of Publicis; We have a clear contract with our clients, and we are absolutely rigorous in respecting transparency and the contracts.”  It should be noted that other agency executives have also cited their compliance with the terms of their client agreements as part of their response to recent questions regarding transparency in the context of rebates and the lack of full-disclosure associated with trading desk operations.

As contract compliance auditors we would suggest that most of the client-agency agreements, which we review do not have sufficient language to deal with the evolving advertising landscape.  It is common to find contract language gaps when it comes to items such as; AVBs, related party obligations, disclosure requirements and or right to audit clauses. Therefore, it is quite possible for an agency to be in compliance with an agreement as Mr. Levy suggested and still not be operating in a fully transparent manner.

To the extent that reducing the level of opacity is an important step in establishing a solid client-agency relationship founded on the basis of trust, we would strongly encourage advertisers to review their marketing agency partner agreements.

If agencies truly functioned as principal agents for the advertiser, a less structured agreement may pose less risk. However, today we operate in a complex environment where agencies may have a financial stake in certain outcomes and those stakes are not always fully disclosed to clients. Thus the reality is that the potential for bias to impact an agency’s recommendations clearly negates the principal of agency neutrality.  Think about it, agencies today operate as independent agents, partnering with a range of third-party vendors in the research, technology and media sectors and actually owning and reselling media inventory to their clients.

Don’t agree? Consider the comments of Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of WPP’s Group M at the aforementioned ANA conference; “Those relationships, rightly or wrongly, don’t exist anymore” he said, adding that “You cease to be an agent the moment someone puts a gun to your head and says these are the CPMs you need to deliver.”

It is imperative that advertisers protect themselves from a legal and financial perspective by crafting contract language and implementing the appropriate monitoring and control processes to insure that they have the transparency that they seek in the context of their agency partners’ financial stewardship of their advertising investment.  This does not mean that clients cannot forge solid relationships with their agencies or that their agency partners should not be afforded positions of trust. Quite the contrary, it simply means that candid, direct dialog must occur so that each party in the relationship is clear and comfortable with regard to the guidelines that will be put in place to govern their relationship.

Once clients and agencies have aligned their interests in the context of their relationship, the ability to focus their time, talent and resources on driving business forward and tackling industry challenges will be greatly enhanced. Interested in learning more about industry best practices when it comes to client-agency agreements? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management, LLC at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on this important topic.

What is the True Cost of Opacity? (part 1 of 2)

29 Apr

icebergPart 1 in a two-part look advertiser concerns regarding “transparency” and the impact it is having on client-agency relations.

Ad industry concerns regarding the issue of transparency and the trust which exists between advertisers and their agencies have taken a new, decidedly negative turn over the course of the last month.  What had been largely an “in-house” debate focused on items such as AVBs, programmatic buying, media arbitrage and concerns over digital media viewability was thrust into the limelight as the result of one Wall Street analyst’s recommendation that ad agency holding company investors “sell their shares.”

The recent revelations about the utilization of media rebates or AVBs in the U.S. marketplace and the resulting firestorm in the advertising trade press seems to have been the tipping point that spurred Brian Wieser a Senior Analyst from Pivotal Research Group to downgrade the stocks of IPG, Omnicom, WPP and Publicis and to recommend that investors exit the category. Mr. Wieser’s recommendation provoked an additional round of denials by some holding company CEOs regarding the practice of agencies accepting rebates in the U.S. and spurred some debate amongst the holding companies about the transparency of their revenue realization processes. One notable CEO, Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP reiterated his company’s policy regarding rebates and encouraged WPP’s competitors to be more forthcoming on that front; “We said what the model is in the U.S., the way it’s a non-rebate model. We’ve made that quite clear. I would urge greater transparency in what’s happening to net sales and revenues, then we would have less black box and more open box.”

While the topic of rebates seems to have garnered a lion share of the attention, when it comes to transparency the rebate issue carries with it much less financial risk than the challenges associated with the rapidly evolving digital media landscape. Consider the fact that various research studies have suggested that digital media advertisers may be losing 50% + of their investment to click fraud, bots, piracy and excessive fees related to supply chain complexity.

Given that digital media now ranks second only to television in terms of media spending and that it continues to grow at double-digit rates the potential for Wall Street commentary regarding advertiser investment in this area could be much more problematic. For instance, at the recent ANA conference on “Agency Financial Management,” Peter Stabler, Managing Director, Senior Equities Analyst with Wells Fargo Securities raised concerns about one particular aspect of the digital media space… agency trading desks. Specifically, Mr. Stabler cited the inconsistent manner in which holding companies report on trading desk operations, the potential for the proceeds from trading desks to inflate revenues and create margin dissolution and the potential for conflict-of-interest concerns between advertisers and their agencies.

If there is a silver lining to this maelstrom, now that the genie is out of the proverbial bottle, perhaps the highly charged nature of these issues can serve as a galvanizing force to bring clients and agencies together to address these issues in an objective manner… without the emotion and finger-pointing which has characterized the discussions to date. Let’s face it, the last thing either party wants is to see their market capitalization rates decline because analysts and investors have concerns about how they transact business and or the state of client-agency relations. 

While the individual issues raised are substantive, many feel that they have taken on additional import as a result of an erosion of trust between clients and agencies. Thus, shoring up the strength of these strategic relationships could yield significant asset value both in the context of issue resolution and the ongoing business of building brands and generating demand. As automotive pioneer Henry Ford once said;

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

In our opinion, the best place to begin is to develop a sound client-agency letter-of-agreement, which clearly articulates both parties expectations and desired behaviors. Further, the agreement should specifically identify the level of disclosure required by the client of the agency, their related parties (i.e. holding companies, sister agencies, trading desk operations, in-house studios, etc…) and their third-party vendors. We believe that this is a critical first step in establishing accountability standards and controls.

Progressing Toward a Viewable Impression Standard

1 Feb

digital media viewabilityAs we have learned in both business and politics, “declaring” victory and actually earning one can represent two different positions on the continuum of success. That said, the news on Friday is that the ANA, 4A’s and IAB have agreed that viewable impressions will ultimately be the method for assessing digital media efficacy… not click-through.

Clearly, this is a positive first step toward reform in digital ad campaign measurement. However, much work remains to be done in addressing concerns over the variety of measurement services and the accuracy of their respective methods for assessing viewable impressions.

Several years ago, the aforementioned trade associations formed the “Making Measurement Make Sense” (3Ms) task force to work toward a multilateral solution to this measurement challenge. Of late, the task force has been working closely with the Media Ratings Council (MRC) to assist in establishing measurement standards that will smooth out some of the counting discrepancies between publishers and digital ad measurement providers which currently exist when it comes to viewable impressions.

Interested in learning more? Check out the Ad Age article regarding this announcement.

The Ad Viewability Debate Rages On

5 Jan

ad viewabilityThere has been much discussion in the wake of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) mid-December release of their proposed “standard” for the measurement of digital media delivery in 2015. 

Advertisers, agencies and publishers should celebrate the progress being made and the healthy nature of the dialog now occurring between each of the participating stakeholders in this important sector of the global advertising marketplace. Having said that, the pace of change and the level of investment being made by the three major industry associations whose members have the most at stake has been disappointingly slow. 

By way of background the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) and the IAB formed the Measurement Makes Sense (3MS) task force in 2011 with the goal of “fixing digital measurement.” According to the IAB, the three industry groups have spent $6 million collectively in pursuit of this goal.  

Not to diminish either the effort or the investment, during this same time frame digital spending has increased from $86.6 billion in 2011 to an estimated $142.0 billion in 2014, up 17.2% year-over-year, is forecast to represent 30% of global ad expenditures in 2015 and will likely eclipse TV spending by 2017. Which in this author’s humble opinion supports the observation that the industry has simply not done enough to remedy the limitations that exist when it comes to validating digital media delivery. 

On the surface, many were surprised at the progressive stance taken by the IAB in suggesting that the industry adapt a “70% viewability threshold” for measured impressions in 2015. The question others are asking is, “Progressive relative to what?” The IAB suggested that up until its proposed 2015 transitional guidelines that the “industry standard” was a definition of viewablility issued by the Media Ratings Council (MRC). The MRC’s definition considered a desktop display ad to be viewable if 50% of the ad’s pixels were in view for at least one second and two seconds for desktop video ads.  

It should be noted that the MRC’s definition, which was introduced in the spring of 2014, was never adopted by the advertising industry as a standard to guide publisher/ advertiser negotiations. Thus, it was no surprise when the 4A’s immediately issued an opinion to its membership to reject the IAB’s online viewability guidelines. According to one industry executive, Todd Gordon, EVP of Magna Global, a leading media planning and buying agency, “Running a campaign and paying for 30% of the ads not being viewable isn’t acceptable to us or our clients.” 

In the press release announcing their proposed 2015 guidelines, the IAB trumpeted the “shift from a served impression to a viewable impression” as “yet another step to greater accountability in digital media.” So it was something of a surprise and contradiction to learn that the first of their seven proposed “2015 Transaction Principles” suggested that “all billing continue to be based on the number of served impressions during a campaign.” Additionally, the proposed guidelines segregate served impressions into two categories, measured and non-measured, with the 70% viewability guideline applying only to measured impressions. Understandably, advertisers might view this as something of a disconnect as it relates to the transition to a viewable impression standard. 

We understand that digital campaign viewability measurement is a challenging proposition due to variances in the types of ad units being utilized and the different audience delivery measurement methodologies in use today. However, the IAB’s proposed guidelines continue to place the lion’s share of the financial burden for these shortcomings square on the backs of the advertiser community. Given that the composition of the IAB’s membership is largely made up of publishers, which have benefitted tremendously from the dramatic growth in digital media revenues, we believe that the 4As was right to reject the IAB’s proposed guidelines, with the goal of pushing for a more balanced standard, with more aggressive viewable impression delivery guarantees. 

And while continued dialog between the ANA, 4As and IAB on this topic is encouraging, we know from experience how long and arduous a journey toward an industry “standard” can be. It is for this reason, that we applaud the efforts of those advertisers and their agencies that have taken matters into their own hands and begun to eschew digital ad inventory of questionable value or with limited delivery guarantees. It has been reported that advertisers such as Kraft, for example, have “rejected up to 85%” of the digital ad inventory offered to them.  

Historically, we know that when advertisers self-police their ad investments, audit contract compliance and supplier performance and withhold ad dollars where appropriate, agencies and publishers will begin to take the notion of transformative change as it relates to digital media much more seriously. As Kevin Scholl, Digital Marketing Director at Red Roof Inn aptly stated in a recent Adweek interview on the viewability issue, “If we were buying in spaces with lame guarantees, we had to question continue buying there – or evolve how were buying.” 

Let us know your thoughts on this important issue by emailing Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com.

 

 

Agent and Seller. Can an Ad Agency Serve Both Roles?

2 Sep

digital trading deskThe answer to this question may seem fairly obvious and can be answered most succinctly with another question;

“How can an ad agency fulfill its fiduciary duty to an advertiser when they are not primarily focused on the advertiser’s best interests?”

In the context of digital media, agency trading desk operations are functioning both as media sellers and buying agent.  Perhaps even more vexing is the mode of revenue generation which agency trading desks employ… media arbitrage.  Simply put, agency trading desks purchase digital media inventory at one price and re-sell that inventory to their base of advertisers at a higher price, pocketing the difference.  The higher the spread between the media cost and the rate at which it is sold, the greater the margin of profit which the agency can derive from their trading desk operation. 

This dynamic would suggest that an agency’s profit motives could overshadow their obligation to provide reliable independent counsel to their clients and to secure the highest quality media inventory at the best possible rate for those advertisers.

Further skewing transparency concerns over this practice are the non-disclosure agreements which most trading desks ask their clients to sign.  These agreements greatly limit advertiser insight into the true cost of the media, data analytics and technology costs and as importantly the percentage gain being realized by their agency partners. In the words of the noted twentieth century essayist, Erich Heller:

“Be careful how you interpret the world: It is like that.”

From our perspective, the trading desk operation model currently being employed by agencies is not serving advertisers best interests.  Forgetting cost transparency, how can it when there are real questions regarding the quality of the inventory being sold to an advertiser; “

  • Was this truly the best audience for my brand’s message or was it simply the best inventory which the agency owned?
  • Was it even the best inventory which the agency owned or was that sold to another of their clients with a comparable target audience?”

No one is challenging the potential benefits of deploying technology which matches available inventory to an advertiser’s target audience within the timeframe and environment that has been identified as optimal for delivering that advertiser’s message.  The concept of leveraging advertiser data, sophisticated analytical tools and engagement models to further enhance the targeting process in a real-time automated bidding process makes a great deal of sense. 

The question to be asked is simply one of “Who” should be driving the bus.  Perhaps that is why larger advertisers have begun to assess the potential for transitioning this activity in-house.  In those instances where advertisers assume control of that portion of their digital media buying currently being handled by an agency trading desk it is logical to consider whether or not there is any role for the agency to play on a pre-bid or post-buy analysis basis.

Concerns over advertisers migrating programmatic operations in-house was at least partially responsible for WPP’s decision to re-evaluate its trading model and to consider a more “flexible” approach.  In an interview with Ad Age, Rob Norman, Chief Digital Officer for WPP stated that; “Agencies need to retain their place in the value chain as new channels emerge. If we don’t do that, there’s the temptation for clients to take more of those [buys] in-house…”  Interestingly, WPP is apparently not re-assessing their role as a media re-seller given Mr. Norman’s suggestion that their moves are in part driven by a desire “for clients to test Xaxis inventory in the open market against other inventory sources.” 

To the extent that a greater number of advertisers would prefer a truly independent agency partner, WPP’s consideration of a more “flexible” approach may fall short of the market’s expectations.  On the other hand, agency holding companies that look to leverage the investment which they have made in the technology, analytical processes and operational support required to deploy and maintain a trading desk could find an accepting market for monetizing that experience and those resources… without being involved in media arbitrage.

 

 

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