The bat­tle to clean up dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing

ArabAd - - CONTENTS - By Iain Ak­er­man

Trans­parency, brand safety, ad fraud and viewa­bil­ity all plague on­line ad­ver­tis­ing. That’s why brands such as P&G, Unilever and Master­card are fight­ing back, calling for the in­dus­try to come to­gether to clean up the dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing ecosys­tem. Can they suc­ceed?

Murky Wa­ters

All is not well in the world of dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing. Deep­en­ing con­cerns over trans­parency, brand safety, ad fraud and viewa­bil­ity have brought the whole ecosys­tem into ques­tion.

Last year Proc­ter & Gam­ble cut $200 mil­lion from its dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing spend, largely due to fraud­u­lent traf­fic and brand safety con­cerns, while P&G’S global chief brand of­fi­cer, Marc Pritchard, has pulled no punches in his crit­i­cism of the dig­i­tal land­scape. De­scrib­ing the me­dia sup­ply chain as ‘murky’, he has called for the in­dus­try to clean it­self up or con­tinue to lose ad­ver­tis­ing dol­lars.

P&G is not alone. Other big spenders have called for the in­dus­try to sort it­self out, and who can blame them when last March Google suf­fered the ig­nominy of is­su­ing an apol­ogy to the ad in­dus­try af­ter brands found their ads ap­pear­ing next to con­tro­ver­sial con­tent on Youtube. It’s all far re­moved from the all-con­quer­ing be­lief in dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing of only a few years ago.

“Busi­nesses that buy ad­ver­tis­ing ser­vices of­ten don’t know how their money is be­ing spent, whether their ad­ver­tis­ing is be­ing dis­played next to con­tent which is not ap­pro­pri­ate, or whether their ads are be­ing viewed by a hu­man be­ing at all,” says Alex Malouf, a board mem­ber with the Ad­ver­tis­ing Busi­ness Group (ABG), which ad­vo­cates re­spon­si­ble ad­ver­tis­ing stan­dards in the MENA re­gion. “Part of the chal­lenge here is due to the pro­lif­er­a­tion of chan­nels, plat­forms and pro­cesses. We don’t know what is work­ing and what isn’t work­ing on­line. This has to change if we’re to get a han­dle on clean­ing up the dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing ecosys­tem.”

Ac­cord­ing to global re­search, up to 30 per cent of all im­pres­sions can be fraud­u­lent when bought pro­gram­mat­i­cally, while nearly half of dis­play im­pres­sions are never viewed by con­sumers. An alarm­ing per­cent­age of ads can also be seen in brand unsafe en­vi­ron­ments, says Waseem Afzal, gen­eral man­ager of Trans­act, OMD’S e-com­merce arm.

“The ask is very clear,” says Afzal. “Mar­keters want greater trans­parency and deeper in­sight into: 1) how agency and tech­nol­ogy part­ners act on their be­half; 2) how their money is spent in an al­ready very com­plex dig­i­tal ad buy­ing at­mos­phere; 3) whether their ad­ver­tis­ing is be­ing dis­played next to ques­tion­able con­tent; and 4) what qual­ity con­trols are be­ing ap­plied to their ad­ver­tis­ing to ef­fec­tively im­prove the net ef­fect of work­ing dol­lars on their con­sumers.”

The Global Me­dia Char­ter

Know­ing that they’re not nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to get what they want in­di­vid­u­ally, brands such as P&G, Unilever and Master­card are fight­ing back col­lec­tively, most re­cently with the Global Me­dia Char­ter, which was pub­lished by the World Fed­er­a­tion of Ad­ver­tis­ers in May.

The char­ter’s eight prin­ci­ples call for zero tol­er­ance to ad fraud, strict brand safety pro­tec­tion, min­i­mum viewa­bil­ity thresh­olds, trans­parency through­out the sup­ply chain, third-party ver­i­fi­ca­tion and mea­sure­ment as a min­i­mum re­quire­ment, re­moval of ‘walled gar­den’ is­sues, and im­proved stan­dards with data trans­parency. Steps must also be taken to im­prove the con­sumer ex­pe­ri­ence and to make ads less in­tru­sive and dis­rup­tive.

“When you look at the eight prin­ci­ples of the char­ter, it’s con­cern­ing that these are not al­ready in play as stan­dard prac­tice,” says Afzal. “This is where ev­ery­one in the ecosys­tem – from mar­keters and agen­cies to pub­lish­ers and plat­form and tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies – have a role to play to re­gain the trust, cred­i­bil­ity and trans­parency in the in­dus­try.

“The crux of the is­sue is the sup­ply chain and the ac­tive par­tic­i­pants within it. We need to hold all those stake­hold­ers ac­count­able for their ac­tions and change the way we mo­ti­vate and in­cen­tivise

- Alex Malouf, board mem­ber with the Ad­ver­tis­ing Busi­ness Group (ABG) Part of the chal­lenge here is due to the pro­lif­er­a­tion of chan­nels, plat­forms and pro­cesses. We don’t know what is work­ing and what isn’t work­ing on­line. This has to change if we’re to get a han­dle on clean­ing up the dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing ecosys­tem.

them. Once we are able to iden­tify the good and bad play­ers in the sup­ply chain, we can ei­ther re­ward or pe­nalise them. It won’t be easy as the in­dus­try is still at the start of a long and ar­du­ous jour­ney, but I’m con­fi­dent we can build on such a char­ter and inch to­wards a more trans­par­ent and sim­pli­fied dig­i­tal ecosys­tem.”

For a More Trans­par­ent On­line Space

Ex­act fig­ures for dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing spend re­gion­ally are hard to come by, but Afzal quotes the fig­ure $1.2 bil­lion an­nu­ally, which ham­mers home the se­ri­ous­ness of the is­sue. The ques­tion, how­ever, is whether clients can win their strug­gle to clean up dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing.

“One of the rea­sons our found­ing mem­bers es­tab­lished the Ad­ver­tis­ing Busi­ness Group was be­cause they un­der­stood that by work­ing to­gether they’d have more lever­age to push for the change that we all want to see in the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try,” says Malouf. “We’re en­gag­ing with gov­ern­ments, reg­u­la­tors, and in­ter­net com­pa­nies – some of whom are mem­bers of the ABG – as we push for more trans­parency on­line. We’re see­ing re­sults, but we do re­alise that this will take time. It is in ev­ery­one’s in­ter­est to have a more trans­par­ent on­line ad­ver­tis­ing space, oth­er­wise we’re go­ing to see de­clin­ing con­sumer trust, which will re­sult in lower ad rev­enues be­ing spent on­line.”

Malouf be­lieves re­gional brands and reg­u­la­tors should be in­volved. Af­ter all, the Mid­dle East is a large ad­ver­tis­ing mar­ket and Ara­bic is one of the world’s most widely-spo­ken lan­guages.

“For me, it starts with the tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies,” says Afzal. “They must take the lead in build­ing trans­parency to de­liver ac­count­abil­ity. We must push for adop­tion of one viewa­bil­ity stan­dard, em­brace greater em­pha­sis on brand safety so ads ap­pear in an ap­pro­pri­ate en­vi­ron­ment, elim­i­nate fraud so hu­mans see ad­ver­tis­ing, and, more im­por­tantly, al­low for third-party ver­i­fi­ca­tion of in­ven­tory sources and at­tri­bu­tion met­rics. And it must nat­u­rally cul­mi­nate with clients re­fram­ing their suc­cess in no clearer terms than ROAS [Re­turn On Ad­ver­tis­ing Spend] amid all other mean­ing­less met­rics.”

“The role of tech­nol­ogy is para­mount in earn­ing the trust of the ad in­dus­try,” he adds. “The ob­jec­tive is to work to­gether as op­posed to work­ing against each other. Ul­ti­mately, we must en­sure the in­ter­est of the key play­ers – ad­ver­tis­ers, pub­lish­ers, agen­cies and, of course, the con­sumers – re­mains in­tact. Progress has been made, but I hope to see fur­ther co­op­er­a­tion as we make the ecosys­tem stronger and cleaner.”

- Waseem Afzal, gen­eral man­ager of Trans­act, OMD’S e-com­merce arm Tech com­pa­nies must take the lead in build­ing trans­parency to de­liver ac­count­abil­ity. We must push for adop­tion of one viewa­bil­ity stan­dard, em­brace greater em­pha­sis on brand safety[…] And it must nat­u­rally cul­mi­nate with clients re­fram­ing their suc­cess in no clearer terms than ROAS [Re­turn On Ad­ver­tis­ing Spend] amid all other mean­ing­less met­rics.

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