Tag Archives: White Ops

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

Advertisers Can Shield Themselves From Digital Ad Fraud… Somewhat

19 Jan

Fraud PuzzleLet’s set the stage, so that we are all clear on the risks faced by advertisers when it comes to digital media in general and programmatic digital media buying in particular. Consider the following quote from Bob Liodice, President and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA):

The level of criminal, non-human traffic literally robbing marketers’ brand-building investments is a travesty. The staggering financial losses and the lack of real, tangible progress at mitigating fraud highlights the importance of the industry’s Trustworthy Accountability Group in fighting this war. It also underscores the need for the entire marketing ecosystem to manage their media investments with far greater discipline and control against a backdrop of increasingly sophisticated fraudsters.”

What prompted Mr. Liodice’s comments? Quite simply, the ANA and White Ops updated their 2015 “BOT Baseline: Fraud in Digital Advertising” study, which suggested that the ad industry would see $6.3 billion in digital ad fraud in 2015. In light of the fact that the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) reported that digital ad revenue surged almost twenty-percent through the first half of last year, can we be surprised by the fact that the level of fraud escalated as well. To what, you ask. According to the ANA report, it is estimated that the level of digital ad fraud will grow to $7.2 billion in 2016.

The challenge for individual advertisers is to determine how best to insulate their organizations from digital ad fraud, while continuing to support industry initiatives focused on the same end.

For many advertisers the question is quite simply; “But where do we begin?” The answer as the late Stephen Covey once intoned is to; “Begin with the end in mind.” So what is the end goal? For most advertisers the aim is to focus digital media investment on media sources that can reliably drive the highest level of effectiveness using the best quality inventory at the lowest possible price.

One important component of this challenge is obviously the continued growth of programmatic digital media buying. It should be noted that of the estimated $60 billion in digital media spend, programmatic will account for $15 billion or 25% of the total spend. However, one must consider that programmatic buying represents a very high percentage of digital ad fraud, up to 90% according to some industry experts.

The range of tactics employed by entities and individuals seeking to profit from the growth of digital spending are many and varied, they include; click-fraud, the use of BOTs, hidden ads and impression laundering. However, the primary source of digital media fraud is in the form of URL masking, which makes it impossible for advertisers or their agencies to know where their digital ads are running. Studies have shown that nearly 45% of transactional digital URLs do not match the URL where the impressions were actually served… a sobering statistic to be sure.

In our experience there are three things that advertisers can do to mitigate the level of risk posed by fraudsters.

First and foremost, advertisers must improve the level of transparency between their programmatic buying partner and their own organization. This can be done by employing contractual language and controls which narrow the transparency gap that more than likely exists today. Too often, agencies simply introduce their trading desk operation to their clients, without amending their current agreement or allowing the advertiser to contract directly with the trading desk entity.

Contract language should provide limitations on the percentage of total digital media spending that can be allocated to programmatic and impart clear “signing authority” guidelines in the event those levels are to be altered. Additionally, the agency should be required to provide a staffing plan, which includes data scientists and data analysts, along with the team’s estimated utilization rates and hours by individual. Complement this by incorporating copies of the media verification and performance tracking reports that will be utilized to monitor impression delivery, ad viewability and fraud detection. Finally, we suggest requiring the agency to separate the costs for media, data and technology licensing from agency fees, each of which should be reconciled to actual.

The second line of defense for advertisers comes in the form of requiring their programmatic media buying partners to utilize a Media Rating Council (MRC) accredited digital technology/ platform provider. Firms such as Integral Ad Science and Double Verify, for example, have a range of tools that can integrate with pre-bid platforms to provide real-time impression authentication to improve the odds that an advertisers impressions will be delivered in a contextually relevant, brand safe and fraud free environment. When nefarious behavior is identified, these tools can block impressions from being delivered there and dynamically blacklist those sites. In addition, there are tech solutions now available, which can assess inventory hygiene within ad networks and exchanges, allowing advertisers to target higher quality impressions.

Finally, advertisers must apply their buy-side leverage and demand that their agency partners and third-party vendors work collaboratively to optimize their digital media investment. Those parties that cannot demonstrate that they are continuously improving their tools, methodologies and compliance monitoring processes should be dropped from consideration set. Voting with one’s dollar has always been and remains one of the best ways to incent the behavior and secure the types of results that diligent advertisers deserve.  

In the words of Samuel Johnson, the celebrated eighteenth century English writer:

What we hope ever to do with ease, we must learn first to do with diligence.”

 

 

 

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

 

 

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