They say one swallow does not make a summer, but on the topic of viewability and fraud in digital advertising there seems to have been an encouraging flurry of swallows recently, and I hope we are gaining real momentum on this industry-defining issue. I for one am having an increasing volume of engaged discussions with fellow advertisers such as Vodafone, agencies like WPP and Omnicom, media companies like Facebook and Google, and many more.
However, recently I also had a rather confused conversation with a very senior advertising agency CEO on this area – and it struck me that if he was so perplexed, no wonder we are making such slow progress as an industry.
While the digital ad industry moves like a speedboat, progression of the viewability standards and measurement system has been drifting along like a rowing boat with a dragging anchor. Some of you will know I have been a vocal champion on the need to address this at an industry level for several years. I have had more conversations, debates and arguments in this area than most, so let me try and pull it all together.
Think of the three Vs: viewability, verification and value.
In December 2014, the Media Ratings Council set a minimum standard of 50% viewability of digital ads. The following year at Cannes Lions I demonstrated how a brand would never dream of accepting this standard in the analogue world. Who would pay for seeing just half the picture on a TV screen for two seconds? For Unilever, 100% viewability of ads – digital or otherwise – is the only acceptable metric. Our position has been clear for some time.
It’s equally important that the verification of that view is independent, and we are not in a position where big players are ‘marking their own homework’. Facebook’s recent agreement to information audits and more precise data is a great step forward for all working to make our industry more accountable and effective.
When it comes to the broad topic of value, one example to get your mind around is the thorny issue of agency rebates and transparency. It’s critical that marketers have a clear idea what they are paying for with media agencies and vendors. We regularly review agency contracts and deliverables against our own minimum standards and I encourage you to do the same.
Over and above these, we need to tackle the endemic fraud which exists within the industry. Like it or not, bots, click farms and hidden ads are all part of today’s digital environment. These remove the debate around whether viewability should be 50% or 100% – it makes it 0%, a total waste of your dollar. White Ops provides a regular independent ranking of the levels of industry ad fraud and it’s one of the few rankings where I want to be at the bottom. I’m always glad to see Unilever with almost insignificant levels of ad fraud. If we can do it, so can you, and together we can starve out fraudulent activity. As an industry we are making it too attractive for the fraudsters to ignore.
It’s time for a measurement system that moves as fast and seamlessly as our consumers change between platforms. We are not doing ‘traditional marketing’ and ‘digital marketing’ separately – it’s marketing in a digital world, and we need comparable metrics which understand that; measurement that looks at a holistic audience across platforms, not just bits of an audience in bits of their on- and offline lives.
This integrated view of the consumer allows us to deliver advertising at the right touchpoints for consumers to provide a seamless brand experience. Advertising that shows the value of each platform in the consumer journey, rather than just attributing value to the final click. This is the holy grail we are seeking.
I applaud any player in our industry who steps forward to join us in the call for a cleaner, fairer and more transparent digital ecosystem. The destination is clear and undebatable – all we are discussing here is timing.