I have long been a proponent of clarity and transparency in the digital advertising world. I have felt for a long time that, from an advertiser point of view, the market is too complex, the ROI is too hard to define and that fraud is rife. I have been criticised by some within the display world that I “just don’t get it”.
However, I know that’s it not just me. I have recently seen a notable rise of concerns expressed about the sector. Recently Robert Dreblow, World Federation of Advertisers’ head of marketing, said there are concerns among its brand members regarding the transparency and visibility around the programmatic trading process, which must be rectified before the true potential of this method of ad trading can be fully realised. He also said the rise of agency trading desks, which pump through huge volumes of programmatic inventory, has clouded the issue for some clients, given that agencies essentially now act as buyers and sellers.
“Clients want agencies to have their interests at heart but it sometimes feels like, when it starts becoming a bit like a resellers market, that perhaps they are not being represented as well as they might. Is it an agency discussion or a reseller’s discussion, as that’s a very different conversation to be having”.
Add to this the fraud and viewability issues, and it seems that there’s a lot to be sorted. And, thankfully, there are signs that things are moving. Firstly, last week we saw Google acquire Spider.io. The three-year-old company specialises in tackling online ad fraud, estimated to cost companies £6 billion each year. Spider.io identifies programmes that defraud advertisers through false traffic and other means, notably discovering the chameleon botnet that was costing advertisers £4 million a month. When Google do this, the world notices. And they will notice that the industry has been too slow to react in this area. I spoke to Niall Hogan, UK MD at Integral Ad Science, and he agrees.
“The industry has been very slow to react to the issue of digital fraud. It is important that advertisers and agencies continue to work with people that can provide them with third-party, independent analysis and reporting, on such issues as brand safety and fraud. The Spider.io made big headlines in the US, but hardy made any noise in the UK. Fraud is a big talking point in the US right now, and has been for about nine months. I think that industry in the UK is only just starting to become aware of the issue, and how we deal with it will become a big talking point as we progress through 2014.”
I’m also encouraged by the rise in companies seeking MRC (Media Ratings Council) and ABCe accreditation. The stated aim of the MRC is ‘to secure for the media industry and related users audience measurement services that are valid, reliable and effective’. It’s vital for the industry, and the trust in the industry that we have third-party verification services and credit is due to the ABCe and MRC. Hogan again agrees.
“MRC and ABCe accreditation is very important. There are many vendors in the tech space that claim that they can do everything. Unfortunately, some suppliers are over-claiming, leaving marketers having to muddle through the “smoke and mirrors”. Accreditation at least puts some standards in place”.
The other hot topic that needs addressing is that of viewability. And it’s warranted, as according to various sources in 2012, 1.8 trillion display ads were paid for but not seen. The IAB’s 3MS initiative has defined a viewable display impression as an ad where 50% or more of an ad loads onto a page and is present for at least a second. But is this enough? At first glance, the IAB’s definition of viewability, that 50% of the ad must be in view for at least one second, does look soft. However, we must remember that this is a starting point. It is a standard measure that all buyers and sellers can use to start seriously discussing and eventually trading on viewability. Integral Ad Science’s Niall Hogan again.
“Before this standard, we had nothing, and 60% of ads that were served went unseen. The IAB metric now gives us a common focal point that should provide buyers and sellers with the means to adopt viewability trading. Without this standard, there would be too many variations on viewability for it to be adopted and used in any meaningful way. It is also worth remembering that the 50% of ad in view for one second only relates to IAB standard display ad units. Do not be surprised to see different guidelines be published for video, rich media and mobile over the coming months”.
And it’s the coming months that are important. Issues are being raised, steps are being taken, and the debates are being had. I’ve been critical of the trade bodies for lack of action but they are starting to make progress, slowly but surely.