Commentary

Viewable, Viable, Verified -- The Rise Of Transparent Social Advertising

For too long, social advertising issues have dominated the industry headlines. So isn’t it time to move the conversation on and begin to discuss how they are being addressed?

Social has undeniably had a rough ride over the last 18 months, but growing calls for transparency have not been ignored. Major players have heard demands, and are already responding to them by adjusting practices and policies to enhance key areas such as viewability. And although some initiatives are still in their nascent stages, there are signs that a stronger and more open ecosystem is beginning to take shape.

With that in mind, let’s explore the developments that are already transforming social advertising and how this ever-evolving channel is likely to change in the near future.

The real state of social

Social’s mettle has been put to the test of late. In addition to ad misplacement issues, concerns have arisen over measurement and transparency. Yet social has not only remained resilient — it has thrived. In the first half of 2017, UK ad spend on social soared by 42%, accounting for just over half (53%) of the display ad market. Globally, social giants Google and Facebook are estimated to absorb 62% of annual online investment.

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Clearly, the allure of social is as strong as ever, with unique consumer insight enabling data-driven targeting and ever-growing user numbers offering scale. In fact, ad spend on Facebook grew by 62% YOY, despite recent challenges. But the mounting budgets allocated to social — and recent events — have also fuelled demand for clarity about where advertising investment goes and how ads perform. As a result, there is a strong focus on implementing more accurate measurement. Accuracy and measurement have become the key currency of the digital ecosystem and that is exactly what many social giants are striving to deliver.  

Steady progress toward transparency

Ensuring a universal view of media quality isn’t easy, especially when this means shining a light across the tangled web of walled gardens. Nevertheless, the shift toward improved accountability and transparency is gaining momentum. For starters, Twitter and Google have actively moved to increase confidence in ad measurement by submitting to external verification by the Media Rating Council (MRC). And after a year-long assessment, Facebook (and Instagram) has been granted MRC accreditation for its measurement of ad impressions.  

Both Facebook and Google have also launched initiatives aimed at tackling wider quality issues, such as; Google’s adjustments to search rankings that prioritise genuine pages over fake news and Facebook’s action against bogus accounts, adoption of strict ad review processes, and a crackdown on dark posts that is particularly pertinent amid increasing requests for ad disclosure. By making all ads visible to everyone — rather than select users — it will remove confusion about dark ads and give brands visibility into the activities of their rivals to enable better planning. This focus on opening up the "black box" of social advertising is a rising trend. Twitter has also announced plans to not only label political ads and share buyer details, but also create a transparency centre that lists every ad it serves.

Considering all these elements, the industry appears to be moving in a positive direction. Aware that confidence among audiences, brands and their agencies, vendors, and publishers is crucial for advertising to flourish, social networks are taking steps to publicly demonstrate their value and bring back renewed confidence. 

What’s next?

At the root of current social challenges is a lack of unified, independent verification. Major platforms have already recognised the need for consistent and objective measurement by seeking accreditation, and partnering with third-party verification firms.

Independent verification identifies best-performing creative, campaigns, and environments to inform optimisation decisions —boosting viewability and the impact on business outcomes. In addition, brands can determine the impact of creative "wear out" over time, the result of frequency on viewability, and assess the prospecting vs retargeting approaches.

But until a common viewability standard is established, struggles with discrepancies and mistrust will continue. By setting a framework that social networks must adhere to, the industry can create a level playing field where brands have a clear view when it comes to viewability best practice on social and ensuring their creative agencies are building bespoke units for their social buys. Consumers too will receive high-quality, engaging ads that meet their needs in terms of both relevance and transparency. And social platforms? They will gain the greatest advantage: enhanced trust from brands and consumers that drives continuously high usage and demand for ad space. 

Now, all the advertising industry needs to do is ensure there is no let up in the drive for better social media verification, throughout 2018 and beyond.

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