The Bean Counters Are Watching: Programmatic About To Get Scrutinized

With all the talk of ad fraud, transparency complaints, double-dipping, crappy creative, viewability woes and running jokes about stultifying complexity, you'd think that the programmatic ad field had borne its fair share of skepticism and critical pounding. Hell, it's just getting started. Wait until the money guys get a look at all of this.

That is one of the biggest takeaways I got from Kevin Rettig’s keynote on Saturday at MediaPost's RTB Insider Summit on Kiawah Island, S.C.  Rettig,  senior manager, global media management for the business consultancy Accenture, advised the ad tech ecosystem to prepare for a lot of questions coming from different parts of the corporations buying into these platforms, not just the media buyers themselves. “Often it is the procurement people,” he advised. “They really care about where the money is hiding. They will start looking at this and want to understand where the money is going in the chain. We have to get it figured out. With all the money coming in, scrutiny will follow.”

Rettig outlined the breadth and depth of marketers’ concerns over an obtuse programmatic ad field that stops being a funny Luma chart when serious money is involved. The lack of clarity is no joke when 40% of a $1 million ad spend went to un-viewable ads and bot traffic. That is $400,000 that just got burned away. “Black box obfuscation is not a winning sales strategy,” he quipped. “The industry has been built on it.”

Rettig echoed a number of people at the Summit who said that advertisers don’t mind spending on quality and effective  impressions. But they need to see where the money is actually going.

Transparency is both a problem and an opportunity for the industry, as Rettig frames it. Agency trading desks have been guilty especially of “obfuscation,” he argues, and they deservedly took much of the heat. “I don’t get what they are doing” he says CMOs are telling him. Hardly a week goes by without another marketing executive asking Accenture if her company should bring programmatic in-house in order to control costs and also hold onto its own data.

He recommended that ad tech vendors keep this transparency concern in mind as they try to gain more direct relationships with the brands. “The transparency questions are going to come back to you in a big way,” he says. “Be ready.”

As a media auditor, Accenture sees the inventory issue first hand, and Rettig countered industry complacency. “Ad fraud is real,” he says. “We see bot problems at major publishers at 5% to 25%. 25% to 60% we see as un-viewable in any given campaign.” And location targeting is not up to snuff either, with 1% to 6% of impressions going to the wrong geo-target. For those who think fraud and viewability has been overblown, Rettig answers, “I think they have been under-reported, quite frankly.”

Still, the potential of programmatic advertising is not under question. In fact, brands' enthusiasm for programmatic's theoretical efficiencies and accountability is driving the interest and greater scrutiny. But more confidence in the platform and the industry is needed in order for marketers to fully embrace and make best use of these technologies. Not surprisingly, given Accenture’s own role as a media auditor, Rettig urges advertisers to insist on independent auditing and analytics and be wary of tying either to media spend.

But perhaps most critical is the strategic perspective on programmatic, which Rettig argues has not been discussed enough. “Put it in the context of everything else,” he argues. “We get a lot of talk about bid price and getting to the right impression, but did it impact the business?” 

There has been a tendency to silo programmatic, focusing on its discrete technical capabilities and even its weaknesses apart from other channels. In fact, one interesting line of argument Rettig raised is that contextualizing programmatic might actually make some of its legendary weaknesses appear a bit less dire. After all, TV has its own longstanding viewability, transparency and accountability problems, too, doesn’t it?

Programmatic advertising didn’t invent these issues -- but it did accelerate concern about them.  

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1 comment about "The Bean Counters Are Watching: Programmatic About To Get Scrutinized".
  1. Seth Ulinski from AdTech Advisory, LLC , June 18, 2014 at 10:38 a.m.
    Scrutiny will no doubt add to the "in-sourcing" of ad tech / programmatic by clients. The #'s above don't like, I touched on some of the strategic implications here: http://bit.ly/STJf9O