Pennies Or Ten Billion Pounds? Is Google-Bashing Taking Adland's Eye Off The Big Prize?

Keith Weed, Unilever CMO, is always worth listening to, and thus is usually the star of any advertising conference. It was only Matt Brittin, Google's UK boss, that could take the limelight away from Weed yesterday at Advertising Week in London as adland waited to see what the tech giant had to say about the brand safety boycott that is making all the headlines.

In the end, the Google honcho did what he had to do -- no more, no less. He apologised and promised a review of practices was being speeded up. He also, perhaps unhelpfully, pointed out that the affected brands had only lost pennies, not pounds, by advertising against extremist videos. I think we'd all have to agree it's likely that pretending the only harm done was the cost of the rogue inventory partly undid the apology.

So I'd suggest the wisest point of the opening day at Advertising Week was Keith Weed suggesting that this should not be all about Google -- it's an industry-wide problem. That's not letting Google off the hook by any means. As far as I and many others are concerned, the tech giant is getting what it deserves. If it can't provide a safe place for advertisers to spend their billions, then it's no wonder they're making a loud point of joining a boycott that numbers more than 250 organisations. 

No, the point here is that if Google were to provide a completely brand-safe environment tomorrow, digital marketing's woes would be far from over. It is very hard to decide what the damage done to brands has been here.

Certainly in terms of budget, if Brittin is correct, they may have only lost a few pounds to extremists. How you quantify the brand damage done is quite another matter. it's certainly not the death of any of these brands because people understand it was an accident, but vicariously financing extremists, however unwittingly, has to come at some cost.

I think Weed raises a good point, however. For me, brand safety is obviously an issue, but it pales into insignificance when you look at ad fraud. When it comes to monetary values, it's an issue that is far easier to quantify.

The latest figures from Adloox, The&Partnership and m/SIX were out and in the headlines last week. Previously, the cost to advertisers was believed to be $7.2bn (GBP5.9bn) globally each year, Adloox’s figures show the real cost of ad fraud may have been as high as $12.48bn (GBP10.2bn) in 2016 -- accounting for almost 20% of the $66bn (GBP54bn) spent on digital advertising.

In 2017, if advertising expenditure grows to $80bn (GBP65.58bn), as forecast by eMarketer -- and if advertising fraud continues to evolve at its current rate -- this figure will rise to $16.4bn (GBP13.4bn).

So, we have around a fifth of global digital budgets going into ad fraud and if you throw in viewability issues, it's easy to imagine that half of all digital display spend is lost to bots and areas of a page that are never viewed.

Clearly there is an onus on advertisers and their agencies to use the latest tools available to minimise this --n and, where possible, to cite evidence that should result in a refund. Of course, the problem is always that this comes later, not when you wanted your timely message to be out there in front of people.

However, the major publishers have to do more about tackling fraud. Recognising and blocking bots, while most certainly not counting each odd-looking visit as a unique viewer, is a starting point. Another is more action by the ad networks in recognising and blocking rogue sites which bots are sent to once they have gone around the Web picking up cookies which make them look like a regular Internet user. 

So nobody is suggesting that Google should be let off its responsibilities. Unilever's Weed, however, sums it up perfectly, it's dangerous to get tunnel vision and think that this big issue of the day is the biggest issue facing adland. It isn't.

Put it this way, in monetary terms at least -- a few unsavoury ads costing a few pounds next to extremist video or ten billion pounds worth of fraud. Which do you think is the bigger elephant in the room?

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