There seems to be a change in the air, doesn't there? I've been amazed at how stoic advertisers have always been in the face of click fraud and viewability issues. There were no doubt private conversations going on, but it rarely became the subject of a public business discussion. Unilever's CMO, Keith Weed, is changing all that this morning by telling the Times that he believes between $6bn to $10bn is spent per year on ads that are never seen. To put that into perspective, that's roughly the GDP of a small economy, such as The Bahamas or Togo, meaning that we have small countries generating as much money each year as advertisers waste on digital display ads that are never viewable to a human.
It's hardly surprising, then, that one of the world's biggest advertisers -- with a reputed $5bn annual marketing budget for brands including PG Tipps, Dove and Ben & Jerry's -- is speaking out on the subject. Very few have ever put their necks on the line and revealed how the ad industry -- and by definition every advertiser -- is being conned out of billions of dollars by systems by fake sites and click fraud. When you consider the fees that go into buying display, it's not hard to believe ISBA ('the voice of the advertiser') when it claims that auditors have confided in some brands that only half of what they spend actually goes to viewable media.
Weed outlined the three challenges to the industry as being the bots, viewability (particularly with regard to video when audio is not on) and the impact of ad-blocking software.
The wish list is very clear, and requires the agencies -- through whom the likes of Unilever operate -- to develop the tools, or work solely with people who have the tools, to only charge when ad has been viewable to a real person.
To my mind, this is the only future for agencies -- to be the sheriff in the Wild West who can assure advertisers that someone has their back and is ensuring, as best they can, that their budget goes to ads that can be seen.
The big takeaway now for agencies, however, is that big brands are beginning to openly talk about the problems and giving briefings on what they think needs tackling.
If alarm bells are not ringing very loudly in every nation across the globe, they should be.