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Transparency: Marketing’s New Currency – Part II

Last week, we looked at some of the current issues around advertising in part I of our two part series on transparency. This week, we examine why these issues must matter to agencies and advertisers and what needs to change in order to restore consumer trust.

Why are these issues a big deal?

In the case of inconsistent metrics, it’s is a problem because it could potentially impact revenue: video viewing times were used to determine how much money was allotted to video spend in with Facebook vs other video channels such as YouTube, or even TV ads. This also impacted the types of content shown to viewers. If the metrics are giving brands the wrong information about viewing audiences, then in turn, they are delivering the wrong video content and ultimately, wasting ad spend. While some marketers said the initial damage by the Facebook metrics snafu was negligible, the latest blunder where Facebook underreported the amount of traffic coming in was serious enough to merit concern with some major brands like Buzzfeed and the Washington Post who saw up to 20% as diminished traffic reporting.

Facebook marketing strategist, Jon Loomer, pinpoints the main issue with this: “On one hand we expect the numbers to be accurate, we need the numbers to be accurate. And Facebook, for the sake of perception and trustworthiness, needs the numbers to be accurate.”

Accuracy and trust are integral to any brand. While Facebook has received the brunt of the fallout from this, it isn’t just a problem with Facebook; the issue goes well beyond them. Even if marketers are unsure of where they sit in terms of the damage caused by the Facebook reporting scandal (or non-scandal), the issue remains two-fold: 1.) that companies like Facebook are viewed as operating from within a “walled garden”, a closed system with little to no objective scrutiny, 2.) With no reliable third party measurements in place across the board, it means a serious loss of trust, and that in the long run, is the biggest issue for advertisers going forward.

Fight Against Fraud

While the fight against fraud has intensified, according to eMarketer, ad fraud costs advertisers billions every year in lost revenue, to the tune of $7.2 billion in 2016, according to Ad Age. In spite of this staggering amount, many agencies display a rather ambivalent attitude when it comes to ad fraud. There is a persistent idea that it just comes with the territory, it’s just part of the cost of doing business. There is also the belief that ad fraud will never be fully eradicated because, for all its losses, it is too lucrative to abandon entirely. Ad fraud measurements haven’t been standardised, allowing agencies to pick and choose what anti-fraud companies will make their practices look best. Even fraud detection companies don’t want to combat fraud too effectively because they would essentially put themselves out of business. Fraudsters, ad agencies, and fraud-detectors are all making money, so while the complaints fly, there is still an understanding that this may never be fully eradicated. This puts marketers in a difficult position (going back to transparency) because this sort of activity is anything but transparent.

What Needs to Change?

In July, The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) released recommendations that advised brands to create a Chief Media Officer role within their organisations to facilitate better transparency between advertisers and consumers. It also included a series of guidelines to combat the unethical practices that have been plaguing the industry.

In terms of ad-fraud, agencies can also use third-party verification to ensure objective authentication that what the client has paid for will land on a credible page to prevent their ads from being shown alongside undesirable content. Third party ad verification also helps prevent any bidding on these types of auctions. Some DSPs also have built in technology to automatically detect and block bot traffic.

Citing Google’s inability to ensure ad safety as an unacceptable risk, several large companies pull ads from the platform last week. After large brands like Lloyd’s, McDonald’s and the UK government have dropped them, Google were quick to release a statement apologizing the oversight and laying out a step-by-step plan to combat the issue and ensure brand safety. Concerns were raised after ads landed on pages associated with terrorist activities. Until Google can assure brands that their ads won’t land on dangerous sites, brands will take their money elsewhere, leaving a dent in the advertsing platform’s revenue.

This signals a major shift in the industry – brands are no longer willing to put up with excuses from agencies and marketers. Expectations are higher, as is the demand for action and transparency.  If Google can be affected by such a large scale revolt, complacency and lack of transparency will invariably negatively impact smaller agencies that can’t account for their client’s ad whereabouts. Advertisers need to take their cues from Google and make similar changes in order to keep up with these new industry requirements.

 

 

Transparency: Marketing’s New Currency – Part I

In part I of our two part series on transparency in advertising, we look at the recent demand for transparency from brands and consumers, who is affected, and what needs to be addressed.

The term ‘transparency’ has been bandied about the advertising industry for years but will take on exceptional importance in 2017. After a dismal year plagued by fake news, fake news ads, algorithm blunders, improper metrics attribution, security breaches, and an unwillingness to quickly act on hate speech, marketers will feel the backlash from disillusioned consumers fed up with murky tactics and feeble apologies.

Advertisers are more concerned than ever with where their ads land with regards to ad fraud, viewability, and brand alignment, i.e., is this the image we want associated with our brand? We’ve seen large brands begin to take action as public opinion has forced their hand. The threat of financial loss has finally caused brands to mobilise and do something about transparency, or risk losing future business.

Who is Affected?

In short, everyone. Politicians were not the only casualties in 2016’s trust fallout, social media brands, agencies, and marketers were also caught in the fray, and will continue to pay the price for missteps in the coming year.

Brands were recently taken to task for (unwittingly) appearing on sites that are deemed controversial for their political views. Advertisers are being asked to be aware of their social and political footprint, to be accountable for where their ad dollars land, and for stepping up and admitting any wrongdoing. Brands that don’t comply are swiftly, and publicly denounced. The Twitter account,  Sleeping Giants, names, shames, and call outs brands for appearing on hate sites and right wing publications such as Breitbart.  Sleeping Giants’ campaign has witnessed unparalleled support as consumers quickly jump behind their initiative and boycott brands that show ads on these sites.

Even as brands cry foul and claim surprise that their ads have landed on such sites, saying ‘we didn’t know!’ is no longer an acceptable excuse.  Advertisers are expected to know where the company logo lands.  Consumers have moved beyond just being happy with ‘great low prices’ and ‘excellent customer service’. Shoppers have higher expectations and want to feel good about where they spend their hard earned cash. They want to be assured that they aren’t supporting a potentially harmful organization that runs contrary to their political beliefs.

In early February, Procter & Gamble rolled out a transparency charter, adopted MRC standards to implement third party verification, and created ‘transparency contracts’ with its suppliers. If suppliers don’t conform to P&G’s new policies, they simply won’t do business with them. The announcement sent shock waves through the industry, but also saw many other brands immediately follow suit.

More recently, large brands like Lloyd’s, McDonald’s, the Guardian, and the UK government have pulled their advertising from Google amid concerns of their ads showing up beside terrorist content. Brand safety is now top priority and the reprecussions for inaction are swift and severe. These aren’t small companies, they are major players that will impact Google’s reputation and revenue.

But is this really surprising? It is no coincidence that this has occurred alongside public outcry over corporate accountability. With grassroots campaigns like the one initiated by Sleeping Giants, companies can no longer hope to sweep social and political issues under the rug. Their feet are being held to the fire ,and announcements like P&Gs, no longer seem ‘revolutionary’ but more ‘reactionary’, in a climate where if brands do nothing, they can watch their revenues fall as consumer vote with their feet and shop elsewhere.

Fake News

Fake news has not only plagued social media and Google search, but has been a bane to brands and advertisers as well. In addition to landing on hate and extremist websites, brands have seen their ads land on dubious “news” sites. There is an industry wide crisis now with fake news generators selling ads on fake news sites via programmatic. According to The Drum, marketers aren’t always sure that ads won’t end up on these pages, ‘due to the automated nature of programmatic’.  The problem is also that controversial sites, like Breitbart,  are part of the Google Display Network. Even more problematic, according to Marketingland, is that ‘Google has no publisher policy against sites running fake news stories’. Although Google claims to be combating fake news, and hate sites, a lack of strong policy indicates this is nothing more than lip service.

Ad Fraud

An attack by Russian hackers in late December 2016 shook advertisers across the globe. The hackers made between $3-5 million USD per day with fake clicks on video ads. This was digital ad fraud of an unprecedented scale, by creating fake domains, they managed to trick  algorithms into displaying their most lucrative ads on these dummy domains instead of legitimate websites. Bots were deployed to click on these ads and supposedly “watched” 300 million video ads per day. What is disconcerting is that this ploy was so well thought out that they managed to bypass traditional anti-fraud detection measures, causing massive losses for advertisers.

Fake Metrics

Another pressing issue that rattled brands and advertisers was the revelation of the fake metrics scandal that rocked Facebook from September to December 2016. The social media giant came clean about incorrectly reported video metrics that miscalculated viewing times by counting views of only three seconds, thereby skewing reporting by as much as 60-80% according to Publicis.  Then, between September and December, another three blunders surfaced, leaving publishers and advertisers questioning the veracity of claims being made by Facebook, and platforms like it.

Stay tuned for Part II of our series on Transparency soon…

Ignorance is Not Bliss: Steps to Protect Your Brand from Bad Advertising

There has been a recent spate of articles calling out brands whose ads have appeared on political websites, sometimes event inadvertently funding terror or hate groups.

This should never happen. So how has it been happening?

Brands are paying a lot of money to have agencies place ads for them and since this issue keeps cropping up, something is clearly broken. Accusations have been levelled at YouTube, unscrupulous advertisers, and shady programmatic advertising practices. So who is really at fault and what should agencies be doing about it?

Why This Happened

This issue became newsworthy as the line between brands and politics became blurred during the recent US election. The ripple effect has become a tidal wave, and brands are being affected globally as consumers are taking cues from the US and aligning their shopping habits with their personal and political beliefs. A pair of jeans isn’t just a pair of jeans anymore, who made them? Who owns the company? Where is the company’s money going in the political arena? All this matters to consumers now.

Public opinion in a heated political climate can make or break a brand. Advertisers have been quick to react to their customer’s political leanings by donating money to certain causes and groups, boycotting merchandise, or taking a stance on government policy.

Who is Responsible

Many brands have been caught off guard when their image has been tarnished by appearing on sites that don’t align with their political or brand beliefs. Sleeping Giants, a Twitter account that names, shames, and encourages consumers to call out brands for appearing on hate sites, has witnessed an unprecedented following. Consumers have been quick to condemn and boycott brands that are found wanting in their political leanings. The claims of ‘we had no idea’ ring hollow when ads appear on Neo-nazi websites or under ISIS videos. Brand managers, advertisers, and agencies are expected to do their due diligence before the company’s logo appears on a terrorist or hate group website. There has been plenty of hand-wringing and finger-pointing, but the truth of the matter is, from a programmatic viewpoint, it’s preventable.

Prevention

The underlying issue is that RTB programmatic buys an audience, and it’s easier to reach people where they appear online rather than targeting specific sites. There is also the problem of fraudsters pretending to be legitimate sites and bypassing Google’s controls, but in the majority of cases, it’s simply down to inventory that has yet to be classified, or a site not declaring their URL. Where advertisers can run afoul of their clientele is that by not bidding you could lose up to 30-45% of your inventory options. Unknown inventory isn’t always the proverbial ‘bad guy’, it’s just uncategorised. Google isn’t able to keep up and categorise every single site by the time bidding occurs, and not all sites have adequate content to be classified.

Even given the speed at which programmatic buying and selling takes place, there are steps that can be taken to make sure your (and your clients) are protected from landing on dubious websites. Tools exist that provide pre-bid ad-verification, which intercepts the auction, and, based on data passed during the ad call such as, the publisher’s ID, the site ID, or publisher’s site URL, will prevent the buyer from bidding all in a matter of milliseconds. This also taps into third party ad-verification providers who have databases of unsafe sites that are constantly updated, doing the heavy lifting for you so that you don’t have to manage the process manually.

DoubleClick also contains preventative measures to protect clients from ending up on nefarious sites. DoubleClick categorises websites when they receive ads and can quickly scan the site for words or URLs that are problematic. It also will exclude categories of websites when problems are found.

If All Else Fails…

Post-bid, if your ad slips through the cracks and lands on an unwanted site, ad-verification partners can help by preventing your ad from showing. This means that while your ad still lands on the page, it will serve a white box that protects the brand’s ad from being seen by users if it detects unsafe content. While this is far from perfect, since the client is still paying to end up on this site, the good news is that their brand is protected from being inadvertently associated with something that in this climate could, quickly and negatively, impact their reputation. Finally, advertisers and agencies can be more proactive by creating exclusion lists which they are consistently reviewing and updating.