Staff Writer
Aug 8, 2017

Joining forces to salvage money down the drain

With great digital spend comes great leakages. This is especially true in Southeast Asia, where there are still gaping holes in terms of media quality. Managing director Niall Hogan lends his perspective

Niall Hogan Managing director, Integral Ad Science
Niall Hogan Managing director, Integral Ad Science

Ad dollars are squandered due to poor viewability or fraud that impedes campaigns from being served to human users. Another major issue is brand safety—ads risk appearing next to web content that may be illegal, indecent or incendiary.

More money is likely headed down the drain. According to a forecast by eMarketer in collaboration with IAB Singapore, digital spend in Southeast Asia will hit double-digit growth to a total of about US$2 billion this year.

Integral Ad Science (IAS) is working to plug the media quality holes in the region, but widespread apathy is standing in its way. Managing director Niall Hogan lends his perspective in a recent chat with Campaign.

In April, IAS released a media quality report that highlighted gaps in brand safety and viewability in Southeast Asia. Nearly half a year has gone by. Can you give us an update on the state of media quality in the region?

The easiest way to think about media quality is in terms of its wastage. Advertisers stand to lose the most when they pay for campaigns that are served into a problematic web environment, or are served to bots and not actual humans—or are never even viewed.

To put this in perspective, I’ll share a sneak peek of our upcoming media quality report in September. We have found that, in Singapore, 12 percent of programmatically-purchased ads are fraudulent. What this means is that if you have a US$100,000 budget for digital spend, US$12,000 is already in the bin before you get going, because bots can not buy your products or services.

Or, let’s look at viewability. Our April report showed that video viewability in Singapore was low at 38 percent. This means that 62 percent of videos were never seen. In other words, US$62,000 is in the bin out of a US$100,000 budget. If you tell this to brands, they’d be horrified. But I don’t think many Asian marketers have thought about it in these terms.

Do you mean the region’s advertising industry is oblivious to the wastage?

Yes. When advertisers think about brand safety, they are thinking about reputational damage. They are not thinking about wastage. Most advertisers in the region do not realise how much of their ad spend is wasted. The only way to know this is to work with third-party specialists like IAS to track and analyse media quality data. But nine out of 10 advertisers are not even aware of such services.

How can Southeast Asia put a cork in the outflow?

The whole ad supply chain has to step up. Take the UK, for example. Four years ago, ad viewability in the country was only 39 percent. But our latest report showed that it has climbed to about 50 percent. That improvement started with the advertisers demanding for less wastage, and the digital media industry listened. The collective will was the key—everyone, from agencies to media sellers to publishers to vendors like IAS, played a part in boosting media quality.

Such collective will has not happened in Asia. Until advertisers demand loudly for higher media quality, they will continue to be sold risky, fraudulent and low-view media.

How is the digital ad industry in the region responding to media quality threats?

When I first arrived in Singapore in February, viewability was the hot topic. In March, the controversy about ads on YouTube being shown with offensive content exploded, and everyone shifted their attention to brand safety. What we are seeing is agencies scrambling to deal with front-page issues of the day. It was like a game of Whac-a-Mole. An issue pops up, and you hit it with a hammer. Up pops another and you go for that one instead.

For the next 12 months, we expect this fire-fighting mentality to continue in Southeast Asia. But we are calling for brands to learn about ad misplacement and what questions to ask their agencies, while having a pre-emptive plan in place to protect themselves.

Designing a plan sounds wise, but where do advertisers start?

The first step is to work with third-party vendors like IAS to audit the campaigns. We examine all the impressions that an advertiser is spending on—be it a publisher, YouTube, Facebook or programmatic buys—and we analyse the data for brand safety, viewability and fraud issues. Once advertisers are aware of the health of a campaign, they can fine-tune its yield with our models and technologies, such as real-time impression blocking and pre-bid targeting.

Having a proper plan in place means advertisers can graduate from fire-fighting to being confidently prepared when the next threat to media quality strikes.

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