Phil Livingstone
Phil Livingstone 24 June 2016

Why Does Digital Marketing’s Nemesis Remain Undefeated?

We all know that the digital advertising industry has a number of deadly sins (Viewability, Ad Fraud, Ad Blocking, Brand Safety and Privacy). If, like me, you read the industry press and various news feeds weekly, you’ll notice much has been done over the past few years to tackle these problems.

But after all the definitions, surveys, best practices and certifications, are we making real progress to tackle the problems within our industry?

By mimicking human behaviour and mouse gestures, advertisers are losing vast amounts of their marketing budgets to fraudulent viewing by bots or non-human traffic (NHT) – it apparently happens so often we’ve created an abbreviation for it. It now forms part of our accepted industry lingo (as much as CPM and CPA).

According to (a leading source of independent ad fraud research and information), ad fraud made cyber criminals £7.2bn in 2015. By 2025, the same organisation predicts that ad fraud will be the second largest crime costing tax payers globally over $1 trillion per year. Closer to home, it’s estimated that U.K. advertisers saw an estimated £277m ($344m) of their online budgets lost to ad fraud in the second quarter of 2015 alone. It’s very difficult to get the full facts and therefore the figure could be substantially higher.

Guidelines, codes of practice and a stamp of approval are all good things but we do need stricter controls for inventory. All inventory should be open to scrutiny, verified and quality assured prior to entering the ecosystem.

Unfortunately, the problem is growing and it won’t go away by only talking about it. More visible action is required if we are going to really tackle the problems. 

 Let’s face it, we need a more realistic viewable impression metric - The current 50% of an ad’s pixels are visible in the browser window for a 1 continuous second, is in my view woefully inadequate. Any good verification company will have software to help advertisers customise this metric to get a more realistic measure and I urge all agencies and advertisers to do this.

That said, this year, ISBA is pushing for a certification of vendors and standardised principles for mobile and video viewability which is a great step forward. JICWEBS (The Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards in the UK and Ireland) and the IAB, are all making great progress. 

Attributing data and assigning credit back to channels is one of the key tools in fight to understanding media effectiveness by channel. Accurately rewarding digital campaigns is more vital now than ever before.

We need better policing of inventory, possibly even taking guidance from an unlikely source, the FSA. The Food Standards Agency developed a traffic light labelling system that gives consumers independent expert scientific dietary advice to help make healthier choices. I’d like to see a similar system developed for inventory across digital media. This way, buyers can be reassured and confident of the inventory they are buying and verified inventory would be easier to sell.

The downside to this is that supply is currently outstripping demand. At the end of the day, it’s pure economics. Higher CPM’s for specific inventory and verified audiences. Sound familiar?  In order to protect brands, publishers need to be able to demonstrate to advertisers why their inventory is valuable and should command a higher price.

Inventory that was once labelled ‘remnant’ and considered to be rather low quality was in fact inventory a sales team couldn’t sell and offloaded into networks and more recently ad exchanges. The cynic and ex media buyer in me might thinks this would be a goldmine opportunity for publishers. Remnant inventory is now valuable again.

So has the shift to data driven marketing and the popularity and promise of programmatic buying through exchanges (both open and private) caused a significant decrease in viewability rates?  In my own experience, this is not the case. The opposite is true.

We need more education for those users who download ad blocking technology reportedly 22% of UK internet users (over 18 years old) have downloaded the technology equating to 9m people. Most content websites (not ecommerce) still rely on advertising as a major source of revenue however the value exchange of free content for advertising should be respected, just as it is across all other media.

I agree with Guy Phillipson, chief executive of IAB UK who stated that “If they realise it means they can’t access content or that to do so requires paying for it, then they might stop using adblockers. It requires reinforcing this trade-off message – ads help to fund the content they enjoy for free.”

We all have a responsibility to deliver great customer experiences and successful advertising outcomes.

We have adopted the term ‘Black Friday’ from our special friends across the pond. Traditionally the day after Thanksgiving Day although in the UK, it seems to last a week!  Historically it represented the point in the year when retailers began to turn a profit, thus going from being "in the red" to being "in the black". The point in the year where serves are tested to the max (sweaty palm time for any digital operations team).

Where am I going with this? Nothing would say ‘unity’ to all publishers and websites suffering from Ad Blocking software, than a ‘Blackout Friday’. No access to websites for a day just a simple message about why a symbiotic relationship exists, an exchange of value that we have become accustomed to today. Responsible advertising is the key message here.  Yes, some websites have a policy like this already but we need the might and power of the larger media owners to get involved and show support for the message to really hit home.  

We also cannot tackle the problems by going it alone.  We need everyone represented at the table and not holding back, sitting behind their brand, technology, agency trading group or large media owner status. We need action to tackle our nemesis.

Leaving egos at the door, working together is the only way we’ll make progress.

As a basic requirement:

1. Advertisers need to ensure they have ad verification, fraud and blocking technology deployed across their campaigns. Monitor reports and act on the data.

2. Agencies should be held to account for the quality of the inventory they are buying on their clients’ behalf.

3. DSP’s, ad exchanges, publishers and media owners across the ecosystem should allow their inventory to be verified to source. Enough black box behaviour.

4. Industry bodies must do more. Are the current standards tight enough?

This article is in no way bashing the progress that has been made by various advertisers, agencies, publishers, technology companies and industry bodies but surely we can’t be happy with the statistics reported and progress made so far.

Are we really working together to cut through the red tape and tackle the biggest industry problems? 

The problems are complex but not insurmountable. I’d like to see real action to send a collective message back to the people who matter most; users, visitors and subscribers. You and me.

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