Of bots, fraud and content: Media360Summit Academy

HONG KONG - Brand marketers and agency practitioners today have a multitude of opportunities for growth and creativity with digital tools, but serious thought about strategy and discipline in execution is required.


That was the overarching message from The Academy, an inaugural one-day event yesterday preceding today's annual Media360Summit. The Academy saw 50 attendees participate in a series of intimate workshops hosted by industry practitioners.

Zarina Stanford, head of marketing for APAC and Japan at SAP, set the scene by citing research conducted by the company highlighting the disparity in digital experiences offered by brands.

She added that the report found that if a brand can provide a strong digital experience, 73 percent of customers surveyed would remain loyal.

“Therein lies the opportunities for marketers as it's become about ‘marketing to one’,” Stanford said. “But to do so you need to know the customer and then engage them.”

The core engine powering this shift to more personalised messaging and the delivery of more engaging content is the availability of software and solutions that offer such capabilities to marketers.

The deal with data

It’s no longer enough to simply acquire software solutions, effective marketing is about ongoing efforts to harness data to reduce customer attrition, said Stanford.

During the workshop’s panel discussion, Lisa Penelton, SVP of marketing science at Critical Mass, said that marketers can’t afford to wait for things “to get perfect” with every eventuality predicted in order to start testing existing data.

“Sometimes, marketers get caught up in one little tactical piece of the puzzle or wait for perfection in one element of customer data,” she added. But markets are subject to change, she said, and advises marketers to just reset those priorities as they go.

An Academy attendee, Stephanie Silvester, group manager of marketing at Verizon Enterprise Solutions raised the possibility that it may be a cultural issue, as people in Asia “don’t look at the big picture first.”

“They tend to start from individual building blocks without strategic intent,” she added. “But it’s not enough to have visibility on a dashboard.”

William Chan (陈志虹), sales director for customer experience management and e-commerce at SAP Hybris Greater China, said his clients are facing the problem of making meaningful interpretations from collated data.

“Technology is an enabler for them to do that, but not an answer,” he added. “The key thing is how marketers want to wield data to do what they envision.”

The Holy Grail remains the ability to draw upon a single view of the customer, but that remains frustratingly elusive for many marketers grappling with multiple data streams.

Silvester said she feels the pain, adding that her company sits in a position where it has numerous systems feeding data to the team.

“It drives me nuts,” she said. “It’s the questions you ask of the data that guide insight in a predictive rather than responsive sense, but it’s about managing it and getting there.”

Stanford notes that from data points that represent implicit actions (browse, click, open, close, ignore, hover), the correct questions should be how they lead to explicit behaviour (buy, register, subscribe, return, complete, send, share).

A holistic data strategy can be visualised as a four-level pyramid, with the technology platform at the bottom and data measurement the layer on top, followed by learning and optimisation and finally activation.

Chan’s advice to marketers is to procure a solution that is simple enough to use, that covers what the brand wants to achieve and has flexibility to scale. “Don’t look for the perfect platform with all the bells and whistles, get what you need to do what you want.”

Penelton also cautioned marketers to not spend all their time on the bottom two portions of the pyramid, as some thought also needs to be devoted to optimisation and activation.

From left: Stanford, Penelton and Chan

The bit about bots

During the second workshop of the day, Rohan Philips, regional VP of products and strategy at Xaxis Singapore, gave an overview on one of the biggest issues facing programmatic and digital media: Ad fraud.

“Ad fraud has been happening for a long time,” he said. “But it is only recently that the tools to measure its extent and diagnose the problem have become available.”

In a recent study conducted by Xaxis, the company found that video inventory contained over twice as much bot fraud (non-human traffic generated by machines or bots) than display ad inventory.

Overall, bots accounted for 23 percent of video ad views while bots accounted for 11 percent of display ads. In one case, a video supply-side platform was found to have 62 percent of its views coming from bots.

Rohan Philips

“Bots were not deterred by the technical challenges of consuming video inventory, which fraudsters have gravitated to as it yields higher profits,” Philips added. “Bot activity was also found to be higher at night and during weekends.”

Rising awareness of bot networks and how they work has enabled agencies and marketers to get a better handle on mitigating the risk of media spend wastage, such as whitelists and a checklist of red flags, but Philips pointed out that the fraud game is ever-changing.

To illustrate, he referred to a recent case involving a food content website called cookthefood.com, which features recipes.

“Looking at the site, it looks clean and has a lot of innocent content,” Philips said. “If an analyst looks at it, he or she would probably clear it as it doesn’t raise any obvious red flags.”

It’s a different story behind the scenes, with a Video Ad News report pointing out that while the site has an Alexa traffic rank of 2,620 for the UK, it still garners 11 million impressions per week and somehow boasts more inventory available for AdX than the Daily Mail.

The report also found that traffic sources for the site are mainly a collection of porn-sites and pop-up ad networks.

Philips said that it demonstrates how even one of the cleanest marketplaces in the world, Google’s AdX, isn’t immune to such fraudulent acts and shows the pace of innovation when it comes to how to game the system.

“Our advice is to ‘go local’ with marketplaces, talk directly with publishers and sign contracts with them,” he added. “It may not be possible for all, especially the performance players, but as much as possible, you want to build a direct relationship with reputable publishers.”

Philips urges marketers to focus on results in measuring impact and offers three changes:

  • CPC to vCPM
  • Landings to conversions
  • On-platform video views to third-party audience measurement

When asked by an attendee what the motivation is for agencies to “defraud our buys” when the work is driven by client briefs with CPC metrics and the pressure is on to deliver on them, thus walking the path of least resistance, Philips noted that such an approach is a zero sum game.

“Being proactive and educating everybody is probably going to put you in a better position than ignoring the issue and being comfortable with the current situation,” Philips said. “It’s only a matter of time before a fraudulent publisher gets called out and new data sources that highlight this gets shared. Clients themselves are starting to understand the issue better.”

The curious case of content

The top-most layer, overlying the technology platforms for brands to measure and the programmatic tools in play driving better media efficiencies, is content.

Anathea Ruys

In her workshop on content marketing strategies, Anathea Ruys, head of Fuse Asia Pacific, Omnicom Media Group’s content unit, shared that having a clear strategy or approach to content is crucial for any brand today.

“As marketers or agency partners, we have this tendency to drink our own Kool-aid,” she said. “We believe our own stories about our products and what we want people to believe.”

But today’s landscape is drastically different, and consumers no longer want to be talked to by brands, they want to have a two-way conversation and consume compelling content.

“It’s easy to say that consumers aren’t interested in consuming brand content, as there’s so much choice in terms of the content that can be consumed,” said Ruys. “But consumers are open to it. Your content just needs to resonate and it needs to be integrated into the entire marketing mix and overall strategy.”

Ruys shared four things for brands to consider when taking on content marketing:

  • Bravery – to embrace out-of-the-box or potentially radical ideas.
  • Continuity – to ensure brands don’t build up disparate ideas which go nowhere or leave consumers hanging when a brand stops their side of the conversation.
  • Insights – to get to the heart of an issue and not embrace broad or shallow generalisations about target consumers.
  • Curiosity – to always be on the lookout for the next new thing tap new ways of telling stories.

“Content doesn’t land when it’s too ‘brand-y’,” she said. “It only lands when it resonates with people, and to better achieve that, content needs to be integrated into the entire marketing strategy.”

Channels also have their roles to play in any content marketing strategy, and Ruys breaks down the four: Awareness, engagement, driving action and encouraging sharing.

“Your choice of channels and the content you put out through it should fulfil all these roles as part of your wider strategy,” she added. “If it doesn’t, then you need to think about the opportunity costs.”

The most important thing for marketers, Ruy said, is to be clear on how each piece of the puzzle fits together in order to fulfil the larger objective.

“The actual channel is irrelevant as long as you know where it fits in within a larger picture and what it’s supposed to do to in terms of achieving that goal,” she added. “For example, how does a hot air balloon event tie in to an online video or a microsite? What roles does each piece play that leads in to the next?”


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