Tag Archives: Fraud

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

 

Is the Ad Industry on the Verge of a Revolution?

25 May

White clock with words Time for Action on its face

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Charles Dickens evocative opening to his book; “A Tale of Two Cities” described the period leading up to the French revolution. It may also be an apt description of where the ad industry and advertisers stand on the topics of transparency, fraud and trust.

As an industry, all stakeholders, including advertisers, agencies, ad tech firms, media sellers and the various associations, which serve these constituencies have long been talking about the need to implement corrective measures. Joint task forces have been formed, initiatives launched and guidelines published, yet little progress has been made in addressing these issues. As evidence of the quagmire, one need look no further than the 2016 Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and White Ops report on digital ad fraud, which saw the estimated level of thievery increase by $1 billion in 2015 to an estimated $7 billion annually. This led Bob Liodice, CEO of the ANA to boldly and rightfully tell attendees at this year’s ANA “Agency Financial Management” conference that; “marketers are getting their money stolen.”

The ANA’s message has resonated with the C-Suite within advertiser organizations the world over as CEOs, CFOs CIAs and CPO’s are working with their chief marketing officers to both assess the risks to their organizations and in fashioning solutions to safeguard their advertising investments. From this pundit’s perspective, it was refreshing to see the ANA take such a strong stance and a welcomed leadership position on remedying these blights on our industry.

Some may view the ANA’s recent stance on fraud and transparency and the upcoming release of its study with K2 on the use of agency volume bonuses (AVBs) or rebates as incendiary. However, in light of the scope of the economic losses, financial and legal risks to advertisers and the havoc which transparency concerns have wreaked on advertiser/ agency relationships we view the ANA’s approach as a rational, measured and necessary stake in the ground.

Mr. Liodice was not casting blame when he suggested that the K2 survey would “be a black and white report that for us (ANA) will be unassailable documentation of what the truth is.” It is refreshing to see an industry association elevate dialog around the need for full-disclosure, moving from disparate opinions to establishing a fact-based perspective on the scope of this practice. To the ANA’s credit, this will be followed by a second report, authored by Ebiquity/ Firm Decisions, introducing guidelines for the industry to proactively address the issue.

To be clear, it is not a level playing field for advertisers. There are many forces at play as a variety of entities look to siphon off portions of an advertisers media investment for their own financial gain. Thus, we’re hopeful that the ANA’s message to marketers to “take responsibility” for their financial and contractual affairs when it comes to protecting their advertising investment takes hold.

In our experience, the path forward for advertisers is clear. It begins with re-evaluating their marketing service agency contracts to integrate “best practice” language that provides the requisite legal and financial safeguards. Additionally, this document should clearly establish performance expectations for each of their agency partners, introducing guidelines to minimize the impact of fraud, including mandating the use of fraud prevention and traffic validation technology, banning the use of publisher sites that employ traffic sourcing and establishing a full-disclosure, principal-agent relationship with their agency partners.

Experience suggests that another key element of a well-rounded accountability initiative should include the ongoing, systematic monitoring of agency contract compliance and financial management performance to evaluate progress. Of note, wherever possible, these controls and practices should extend to direct non-agency vendors and third-party vendors involved with the planning, creation and distribution of and advertisers messaging.

The advertising industry is on the verge of a revolution and for the sake of advertisers we hope so. One that can usher in positive change and allow all legitimate stakeholders to refocus their collective energies on building productive relationships predicated on trust. It is our belief that knowledge and transparency are critical cornerstones in this process:

“I believe in innovation – and that the way you get innovation is you learn the basic facts.”

                                                                                                                                                  ~ Bill Gates

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.”

 

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