It’s a simple truth: Digital advertising needs to perform. The world’s leading brands are constantly exploring how to best leverage it, starting with Procter & Gamble, and digital media companies are evolving their offerings in order to best cause it to change consumer behavior. Blockchain and ads.txt as solutions took center stage in 2017, served up as potential weapons in the war on ad fraud. But eliminating fraud and running a clean, safe campaign at scale is only one thing; if it doesn’t move your business, it’s simply not enough.
One underpinning of any conversation around ad fraud is actually seeing the campaign in the market. If you are a CMO driving down the highway in Los Angeles and see your billboard, you know the campaign executed as intended. In the digital world, it’s possible to spend millions of dollars a month and never see one of your own ads in the wild (i.e, not just screen shots from vendors). You start to think, am I just throwing money around? Are these buys actually happening or not, and if so, where and why, humans or bots, and will it be good for my brand?
Allegations that digital has become a Wild West are overblown. There are safe communities (publishers) watched over by lots of sheriffs who keep the bad guys at bay.
In every major economic system, there are third parties that serve as auditors. In the digital world, many companies offer services and solutions to determine whether advertising did or didn’t appear as expected: some are independent, some are owned by media companies, and some big advertisers have their own homegrown systems. Third-party auditing allows brands to look at multiple data points on any ad and identify the company that’s serving the advertising, certification, context, etc.—in other words, transparency. Any digital media company that won’t provide it should be red flagged.
Make no mistake though, unfortunately ad fraud is like death and taxes: some level of it is going to occur. The trick is to keep that percentage in as tight of a box as possible while still maintaining your ability to reach consumers with personalized messaging across all their devices. While the potential for ad fraud is everywhere, the contextual nature of ad quality is also still going to be very different.
Ad quality lies in the eyes of the beholder: it’s really important to have a balanced perspective on what exactly you define as not acceptable for your brand. There’s absolutely no room for error for a squeaky clean brand, whereas edgier brands will want to push the barriers and take some risk. Each brand and campaign will have a very different personality, and so no matter what safeguards you have in place, you have to make the decision to go where your brand fits the best.
Buying digital media and running an ad campaign in a mostly fraud-free environment doesn’t guarantee performance. We can talk about ad fraud and transparency all we want, but at the end of the day advertising simply needs to deliver results.
There’s going to be a real reckoning for companies that can’t line up all those things up: provide the transparency and the overall ad quality and brand experience that the advertiser is demanding; enable third parties to certify it; and drive performance that’s verifiable. That’s the sweet spot.
If you get all that right, hell yeah, you’re going to drive sales! When it’s aligned, it really works because you talk to: real people who are engaged and interested in the brand, who are receptive to marketing, on devices that they’re actually on at that point in time, reading, contextualizing and thinking, “That ad looks like it was meant just for me.”
That’s the magic of digital marketing.