Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Controversial comments made by Procter and Gamble’s brand chief, Marc Pritchard, about “murky” and “fraudulent” digital marketing practices - and the FMCG giant’s plans to combat them - have met with agreement and welcome relief by several industry players.
During a recent IAB presentation, Pritchard struck out against the lack of transparency and effectiveness of digital advertising and said the FMCG giant would overhaul its agency contracts and embrace transparency and viewability standards in 2017 to try and finally quash the issues.
Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) CEO, Sunita Gloster, said Pritchard’s comments echoed the sentiments of virtually all CMOs.
“Achieving transparency is a perennial problem but it has worsened considerably in recent years with the platforms, technologies and trading arrangements making it increasingly difficult to get 100 per cent visibility over where and how the advertising dollar is being spent,” she told CMO.
“Historically, brand owners were willing to forego some transparency measures in the interests of testing and learning about the effectiveness of new media. However, those days are gone and advertisers are now increasingly expecting the same rigour to be applied to all forms of media, no exceptions.”
Advertisers need to be in the “driving seat” to ensure accountability for transparency throughout the media buying ecosystem.
“Advertisers are ultimately responsible for ensuring they are equipped to understand, question and put in place agreements and processes that deliver fair value to all parties involved,” Gloster said. She pointed to the AANA Media Contract and Guidance Notes as a detailed starting point for advertisers who want to reduce or eliminate non–transparent and non-disclosed practices that relate to their media spend.
“The more pressure for transparency that comes from brand owners, the faster the culture in the media buying system will improve.”
The AANA is working to combat the problem on several fronts, one of which is helping companies recognise that obtaining greater return and effectiveness of media investments is key to brand growth.
“Ultimately, advertisers need to satisfy themselves that the terms of the contractual arrangements meet their overall transparency needs,” Gloster said.
In looking for solutions to the problem, which Gloster acknowledged is widespread, an effort on all fronts is needed.
“In an environment where everyone is being challenged to do more with less and deliver brand growth, it’s crucial that marketers can have confidence in and defend their media investments to the c-suite,” she continued. “While the contract law principle of ‘caveat emptor’ ultimately holds, and the onus of responsibility sits fairly with the advertiser to satisfy themselves that they have visibility over the effectiveness of all their media investments, this is a whole-of-industry issue and one that all parties need to support.”
Like the AANA, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is also assessing sub-standard media supply chain practices. Its CEO, Vijay Solanki, said Pritchard’s comments “align with a lot of thinking and work from last year and plans for this year”.
“While the themes all make sense, you have to look at the data and implications by country and region. For example, the numbers around ad fraud vary by location,” Solanki said.
“The point about consistency in measurement is important. Take ‘viewability,’ where publishers are being asked for different things by different agencies using different vendors. Pritchard articulates this point well. It’s not just about a viewability metric or baseline, it’s about this being consistent across the ecosystem from agencies to vendors.”
Asked what IAB suggests companies do to ensure good media supply chain practices, Solanki said they should look to the MRC standard as the minimum baseline. The IAB is pushing this through its Viewability Whitepaper, launched in December 2016, which was created and written by a cross-industry taskforce.
In it, the association collected data from the key third-party verification vendors including Moat, Integral Ad Science and Comscore and then worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers to come up with real benchmark data. This is being tracked every six months.
Solanki advised caution, saying “before we all rush to action, we need data and we need measurement”.
“At the IAB Australia, we have made a start with the first viewability metrics for Australia. We plan to produce Australia benchmark metrics for ad fraud within the coming months,” he said. “The data will then help establish where we are on ad fraud.
“While viewability is important, as Pritchard mentioned, we must not forget creative and context. That is critical. What he doesn’t reference is the importance of all the variables that drive great marketing outcomes. These include viewability plus factors like brand safety, target audience, reach and frequency and creative impact plus relevance/context.”
‘Vote with their feet’
At the agency level, there’s also agreement with Pritchard in regards to the lack of integrity of the supply chain.
“I think it will take more advertisers (like Marc Pritchard’s position) to actually say ‘enough is enough’ and stop rewarding media owners who either serve up fraudulent/unviewable inventory or continue to ‘mark their own homework’ by using their own internal data as a billing event,” said GroupM AU chief digital officer, John Miskelly. “Only when advertisers vote with their feet, will we see a change in the mindset from the digital media owner community.”
Miskelly outlined several underlying issues in regards to the quality and consistency of digital ad inventory. Those compromising the integrity of the digital supply chain include brand safety, or ads appearing on unscrupulous sites; and ad fraud, where advertisers are being tricked into thinking their ads are appearing to a human and where bots are generating fake impressions and confusing machines for humans.
“This is probably the most serious as a criminal issue,” he explained.
For Miskelly, viewability – or ads that are not being seen as they appear below the view point of a user on a PC or mobile - is another big issue. Likewise, the lack of third-party verification is a top concern.
“While companies such as Google, Facebook and Snapchat are now becoming more open to allowing third-party measurement, they still use their own reporting as billable events,” he said. “This means irrespective of what you see at your end in terms of reporting, they still charge the advertiser based on their own internal reporting.”
GroupM is doing a number of things to ensure good media supply chain practices and buying quality inventory from its clients, Miskelly explained.
“There are 264 open exchanges serving 19 billion impressions per month in Australia. We whittled down the suppliers we deal with to about 10. The only criteria that is needed to make that list was having an Australian phone number,” he said. “We only deal with exchanges who have a presence in market. This allows us to be able eyeball the supplier and ensure they are sending us genuine inventory. There are a number of sellers.”
Other company measures include partnering with best-in-breed technology to block all unsafe GroupM use (Moat and Grapeshot as preferred verification technology to help ensure brand safety); using pre-bid capability; and the use of firewall technology to further check the contents of the page after an ad has been called.
“We also have partnered with Moat to ensure we are measuring all campaigns viewability and make sure our advertisers are seeing ‘apples for apples’ comparisons between different media vendors,” he said.