New Sheriff Carries A Loaded Pen

Where the Suckers Moon is a book I recommend to anyone in our industry asking for one. "In his engaging deconstruction of the advertising business, (the author) discovered the essence of Madison Avenue," quotes The Observer on the book's jacket. Published in 1995, it was written by Randall Rothenberg, who was appointed this past January to the post of president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

The IAB, much like other medium-based organizations (like the MPA, for example), performs in unforgiving roles. The expectations from their respective members are to move mountains, making the success of moving pebbles feel thankless.

To date the IAB has done a nice job with the pebbles. The standardization of advertising display units comes to my mind first. Early on, this was a total mess. The sizes differed as much as the language describing them. Today, we have standardization everyone benefits from.

Recently the IAB announced an effort to move a huge discrepant rock. It issued a formal request for research companies Nielsen and Comscore to have their reported figures audited. When I read this announcement, I thought it had the IAB's new president's handwriting all over it.



The discrepancies between the numbers reported by Web analytic tools reading publishers' log files and those by Nielsen and Comscore are football fields apart. The reasons provided for this spread seem to make sense -- but why not validate them or uncover potential flaws through a third-party audit. Either outcome would be good for business, no?

Before the IAB takes on any more rocks in the way of saner success, there is still one pebble from the past that needs further raking: cancellation clauses. These are addressed in the IAB standard T&Cs, but this document lacks the level of compliance ad unit specifications enjoy and lacks clarity on the issue of when a contract can be cancelled. It reads like a 30-day out is the norm -- but can be as little as 15 days after the first impression is served. Huh?

The reality is that agencies are insisting even less time on out clauses (in some cases, as little as 48 hours), in order to conduct business. The issue is that out clauses of any time frame are part of the conversation.

Opting out on impressions buyers have contracted to purchase is like ordering a meal and then refusing to pay for it after eating the appetizer -- opting instead to just cover the cost for the shrimp cocktail and the Diet Coke. Buyers will tell you this is fair. If the appetizer doesn't work for them, why should they pay for the whole meal they ordered? I would tell them not to choose a restaurant if they can't commit to finishing the meal.

Instead of debating the length of a cancellation clause, can it be removed completely? What if publishers told buyers to hold on to some of their money? For example, if buyers want $50,000 of inventory at a $10 CPM, five million impressions are all theirs. If they "require" a cancellation clause with their order, offer to lower the spending amount to a level they are willing to fully commit to. If the answer is zero, the buyer probably didn't see enough value with your offering to begin with.

I would bet buyers would flinch more than they walk if tendered this option. And if a compromise is struck at $25,000 in this example, with no cancellation clause and an intention to spend the other half once the first round is completed, that resonates as reasonable too.

Buyers like to have their cake and eat it too. When has that ever been a good thing for anyone else besides the one eating?

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