Commentary

Beyond 'Transparency': Let's Talk About Accountability

Most people in the ad-tech universe are talking about transparency in one way or another. Of course transparency means different things to different people. It involves media buys, media pricing, viewability standards, the assessment of non-human traffic, relationships among ad-tech vendors, agencies, publishers and marketers, and more.

But here’s a piece of the transparency equation we hear less about: accountability. And by that, I mean to include attribution. Savvy agencies and marketers are trying to confront accountability across as many screens, channels and formats that exist. There are many. And there will be many more, because technology is evolving every day.  

For the enterprise, accountability is no less than a call to arms for agencies and marketers, and I would include publishers in this equation as well, to speed up marketing technology decisions. Prioritizing and assessing what’s needed is essential before making an investment in ad tech or marketing cloud services from the likes of an Adobe, Oracle, IBM and others. But the faster the decision-making goes, the sooner marketers, agencies and publishers will figure out what’s working and what’s not working.

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So how do they get smarter about transparency and get reliable attribution?

According to Joe Apprendi, CEO of Collective and a veteran ad-tech executive, the biggest problem in the market today is the lack of education among marketers responsible for investments in technology. They need to know and understand much more than they do. They also need to understand what data they’ll get and how it meshes third-party data. They need to know how to use all the data and hold partners accountable.

“Ultimately, whatever service provider they choose to work with, it’s incumbent upon the marketer to get organized to make them accountable,” Apprendi says.

Overall, attribution is really the biggest problem in media. Ask yourself these questions: How will I measure success, and how do I hold my partners accountable no matter if they have an open or an undisclosed business model?

In Apprendi’s view, once you have attribution in order, you can solve for accountability. And then, you can talk about how transparency can enable better decisions about where working media dollars are going.  

While attribution is a certainly an issue for traditional media, many think digital media will hold stakeholders accountable—that digital media is more measurable. What people didn’t take into account were the issues of non-human traffic, all manner of issues around viewability and how impressions are attributed: which are seen, and which ones contribute to ROI.

“Marketers have a hard time holding their partners accountable, because until they can emphatically determine that their investment is working, they don’t have the confidence in measurement. At bare minimum, they should at least have transparency,” Apprendi said. “It provides insights on where the money is going, and the way to measure success.”

Once you solve for data and attribution, you can see what’s working and what’s not.  There’s an overarching need for marketers to get smarter and get attribution nailed down. For digital display and video, marketers need to understand the quality of the impression they’re getting. Does it have the opportunity to be seen?  And, that impressions needs to be served to a human being, not a robot! No credit for non-human impressions. Then marketers can ask: Is my media working? Waste needs to be filtered out to determine whether media is working properly.

“It’s shocking to me still how few marketers are ensuring they’re getting the appropriate information to measure success,” Apprendi said.

Beyond the basics, marketers also need to ask: Which impressions matter and which don’t? How do I give credit to those that matter and are viewed—by screen, format, partner and/or service provider?

Another important piece of the puzzle is gaining a unified view of all data. Marketers are struggling with this and are finding they have too many platforms. The result? Silos, and a lack of interoperability.

For example, marketers may have a DMP (data management platform), a SSP (supply-side platform), DSP (demand-side platform), exchange and providers that are walled gardens. All of these platforms may end up handicapping marketers even after they have their data in order. Selecting the right partners is important—but Apprendi argues that interoperability between platforms may be even more so.  

Companies that provide marketing cloud services will increasingly acquire attribution platform and data companies. Attribution is where everything comes together in terms of media measurement and, ultimately, performance. Companies like Adobe, Acxiom, Oracle (with its integration of Datalogix and BlueKai) and IBM are in a good position to provide attribution services. Attribution leads to accountability.

1 comment about "Beyond 'Transparency': Let's Talk About Accountability ".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 17, 2016 at 9:17 a.m.

    Again, we are---or seem to be--- talking mainly about digital advertising, not TV, radio or print media. In this respect the "legacy" media have it easy in regard to "accountability", Tobi. Advertisers using such meda develop what they believe are effective branding campaigns---after testing various approaches--- then, they buy media in various reach/frequency and total tonnage configurations. No one expects every ad exposure to be accounted for in terms of ROI---that's a direct response marketer's metric, not a branding marketer's way of appraising the impact of an ad campaign. The typical branding campaign is "read" quite differently---usually in terms of how well it performs in generating ad awareness and sales motivation as the GRPs pile up and various levels of reach are attained. And then, there are the actual results in the marketplace---sales.

    One would think that exactly the same methods of measuring and defining "accountability" would apply to any medium---including digital---however this does not seem to be the case. I submit that the reason is simply that we are comparing apples and oranges. "Accountability" and "attribution", as defined in most of the articles on this subject, are almost exclusively direct response ROI concepts---yet there is a concerted effort to apply them to "legacy media"---notably TV---- and to branding campaigns, which march to a different drummer. That's why there is so much confusion and quite a lot of resistance.

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