On that later point, Weed, writing in Marketing Week, blasts adland for continuing to offer a viewability metric that even digital marketing execs usually acknowledge is pointless. Where in the analogue world would an advertiser pay for half its message being seen for a second?
100% viewability remains Unilever's demand, and to be honest, it's difficult to argue against, isn't it? OK, so page takeovers and massive background ads that go below the fold on a long, mobile-friendly home page are the fly in the ointment here. But it's likely that there is a workaround for an ad that has clearly been seen -- even if the user has not scrolled to the bottom of a horizontal page to reveal the whole message.
The issue that makes viewability almost null and void, however, is ad fraud. Here Weed is clearly trying to put a proverbial rocket up adland, publishers and advertisers alike, to do all they can to ensure they can detect and avoid fraudulent bots and sites. He claims that Unilever's fraud rate is significantly lower than the industry average, and so if they can do it, why can't others?
Interestingly, the talks he has been having around transparency, fraud and metrics include fellow massive advertisers such as Vodafone, as well as agencies, including WPP and Omnicom, and the tech and advertising giants, Google and Facebook. At the moment, he is reporting just conversations rather than promises to mend ways or do more. But it certainly sounds as if, reading between the lines, the transparency debate has seriously moved on. It has been there in the background for quite some time, but it has gathered some serious momentum in just the first two months of this year alone.
Adland, I think, needs to realise that the cat is out of the bag. Transparency used to be a debate in conference halls but now it's headline news in the marketing press, and it can't be far off becoming a boardroom issue. Which advertiser's board is going to keep on forking out for millions of pounds worth of display when anything from a fifth or quarter to as much as a half of that budget might be wasted on ads that are never seen by a human? The figures vary hugely, depending on who is doing the measuring, but there's a huge problem there, whichever metrics you go with.
Here are some unsettling truths for agencies. They can't keep on posting record annual results while claiming to be poor. In particular, WPP can never plead any form of financial distress when it employs the UK's most highly paid chief executive. At the same time, they can't hide reduced margins in media on other less transparent areas, such as tech vendors and miscellaneous services -- particularly if those third-party people fail to do their job.
You can't bump up margins with brand safety, viewability and fraud detection if they don't work all that well. And even if they do work well, advertisers will get wise to the margins. Here's a word to the wise -- they're already wondering if they really do have all those people working permanently on their account. They're also wondering, even if they do have them all, whether they need them.
The uncomfortable truth for advertisers is that the more they squeeze margins on the thing they're buying, such as media, the more they encourage an agency to find other ways to make up the difference. As for publishers? There are the good guys who want to protect their reputations and give advertisers a fair deal, but you can imagine that when so many are incentivised to provide more and more traffic, they're not necessarily the best-placed people to ensure it is bona fide.
Nevertheless, it really is time for the agencies, ad-tech vendors and publishers to create a more fair ad landscape where the giants, and smaller players, feel they are getting what they paid for and aren't left feeling they've been short-changed.
We're moving into a mobile-first world, and there's nothing to say that display advertising will make the transition to the smaller screen unscathed -- particularly if those being asked to fund the move are feeling they have been conned.