I have probably written more about the challenges of digital ad fraud than any other topic in the little over six years I have been writing for MediaPost. And the sad thing is that in those six years, we have not had a great amount of positive news to report.
We are still seeing digital ad fraud at an industrial scale. We are still seeing certain players — cough, Facebook, cough — not really addressing some of the most pervasive issues.
There are also positive developments to report. First and foremost, advertisers have gotten a whole lot smarter. Many have adopted placement guidelines, better digital agency contracts, and more robust, reliable and relevant measurement.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Association of National Advertisers, the World Federation of Advertisers and other organizations have worked hard to educate their memberships and create guidelines and data to help advertisers to build in as much safety and transparency as possible. And fair is fair: Some of the platforms have also worked to clean up and improve their environments.
It’s also good news that the supply side is making at least partial moves to improve the digital advertising world. A recent Media Daily Newsstory reported the Media Rating Counsel is going through the process of auditing the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google, Snapchat, Instagram and other key ad platforms. I did not see Amazon Advertising mentioned in the overview, which might be because it is too new.
Anyway, the first progress report on the digital ad platforms audit is a big deal. It shows that the platforms are at least in part taking the industry criticism to heart and are willing to work toward some level of ad transparency. It is slow going, and that is not necessarily a criticism, as this stuff is complex. And what’s happening is better than nothing.
Then there are moves by platforms that seem, on the surface, aligned with the move to better transparency and greater consumer protections. Fellow Media Insider Ted McConnell had an excellent overview piece yesterday on the implications of Google's decision to rid the industry of third-party cookies. He writes: “The Google Maneuver could destroy thousands of jobs, erase billions in investment, or cripple digital advertising accountability.… Companies (like Google) that rest on first-party data will be fine.” And there, in two sentences, is the rub: Are you, Google, REALLY doing this to protect consumers, or is there an ulterior motive that is more self-serving?
Advertisers have long lamented the impenetrability of digital walled gardens. It seems Google’s move is simply to strengthen its wall.
Still, though, the digital advertising juggernaut seems unstoppable. Twitter and Digital Radio Ads both announced they had hit $1billion in revenues respectively, YouTube disclosed it made $15 billion in ad revenues, Disney Plus can’t stop growing, and the newcomer/darling of the internet, TikTok, is growing like weeds as well.
Where does this all leave us, one month into the new decade? Well, pretty much where we left the last decade. Advertisers are being defrauded — but at least less so than before. Platforms are trying to do at least some cleaning up, but most can’t help themselves, and choose self-serving solutions above anything else. And we are still mostly in the dark about what all those digital dollars are doing for brand equity.