Close Your Eyes, Make A Wish

Last month the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) dropped a little bomb: eight principles designed to improve partnership in the ad industry. “Partnership” means the relationship between advertisers, agencies and media companies.

Members of the WFA include country-level advertising organizations (like the Association of National Advertisers), and many huge advertisers.  Thus, the WFA is a little like a fancy country club: It doesn’t have a lot of money, but its members sure do, with more than  400 billion in ad spend last time I checked. Here’s what they say they wish for:

Zero tolerance for ad fraud, with compensation for breaches. That would be wonderful — except nobody can agree on a standard system of detection. Asking media companies to fix ad fraud it is like telling your hospital you have zero tolerance for cancer, and demanding your money back upon diagnosis. The bad guys are smart and hide behind international boundaries.



Strict brand-safety protection. Great, except there is a different definition for every brand. How much boob-laden clickbait would qualify as unacceptable adjacency, anyway? (Most of it should.)

And, with You Tube receiving submissions of 400 hours of video every minute, humans could never solve this problem efficiently. Certainly, Flickr never solved it, and it’s relatively easy with still photos. Bottom line, don’t hold your breath. Brand safety will get better, but perfection is not within reach.  

Minimum viewability thresholds. Non-viewable impressions will happen, but if you only pay for the viewable ones, who cares what the threshold is? It’s time to get over this one.

Transparency throughout the supply chain. This is a fine aspiration, but is unlikely to happen until we can all agree what transparency means. Also, transparency regarding what? People get all jacked up about supply-side-platform server logs, but forget that the main thing buyers buy is an audience.  Where is audience transparency?

Third-party verification and measurement. This is a good one. If a seller measures itself, and then uses those measures to take money, and then the payer finds out the measures were misleading and favoring the seller, how is this not fraud? Fraud is broadly defined as deception for gain.

Addressing walled-garden issues.  Here, the WFA is asking for the unbundling of technology and data so that advertisers can use (quoting from the document), “third-party buying platform of their choice in all environments.” In other words, advertisers want to make buying simpler for themselves. They want a consistent buying system across all media. Imagine that!

Fortunately for agencies and walled gardens, media companies are too proud to collaborate with each other, and if they did, advertisers would cry foul, anyway. So, agencies have a cozy little niche as aggregators — and, you can bet, minimal interest in investing in platforms to minimize labor.

Improving standards of data transparency. What the WFA means here is not what you might think. They mean transparency toward the consumer, as in the GDPR. What I wish they meant was that media suppliers and agencies would begin to focus on audience quality, which is identical to data quality, since data defines audiences.

Improving the user experience. Less-than-helpful user experiences are common complaints of advertisers and consumers. We don’t need an industry mandate to clean up shady publishing practices. We just need to stop making it profitable. This is a pretty clear shot across the bow of link-bait sites, and the content discovery/native ads that get people there.

Let’s be clear. It’s not unusual for advertisers to submit, with gravitas, what amounts to a litany to the rest of the industry. It’s also not unusual for other industry bodies to say they are working on it — or, better, it’s solved! Then the excitement dies down until next time.

The problem of course is that advertisers are not saying what it's worth to have the problems fixed, and that’s because they don't really know.

The requests are squishy anyway, when they need teeth —  like measures, accountability, and line of sight to a certain outcome, etc.  

Measuring stuff takes money, and it makes media costs go up, and accountability sometimes forces an uncomfortable look in the mirror. At least, if we knew how much it would cost to fix, we could have the right argument.

My next installment will suggest countermeasures that might be feasible if advertisers want to get serious about fixing these issues.

1 comment about "Close Your Eyes, Make A Wish".
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  1. Andrew Susman from New Value Associates, August 8, 2018 at 4:56 p.m.

    Strong.  (AF).

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