Trust and transparency issues remain key concerns for the industry. According to the latest report from Integral Ad Science (IAS), consistent measurement (47.3%), ad fraud (42.8) and brand safety (36.9%) are top concerns for marketers.
“I feel that a way for us as an industry to break through these trust and transparency issues is to really focus on quality,” says Laura Quigley, MD, Southeast Asia, Integral Ad science. “We need to ensure that we’ve got the tools and the controls to buy quality – I think that’s the way to counteract this industry challenge that we’re having.”
But in an ever-murkier digital ecosystem marred by muddled metrics and black boxes, who—or what—should drive transparency, and thereby rebuild trust between advertisers and digital media agencies?
“The agency should be there as your kind of guardian, as your gatekeeper, to keep publishers and all the other networks honest,” says James Keady, director digital engagement regional marketing for Citibank. He also feels that some of the onus is on the brand to keep the agency in their guardian role, and points to a need for subject matter experts in house “so that you don’t farm off all your thinking, doing and buying.”
Connecting campaign exposure to ROI
Finding a clear correlation between ROI and brand spend remains a key point of concern. According to IAS’s latest report, 75.4% of advertisers see not being able to connect campaign exposure to ROI as the strongest threat to digital advertising budgets in 2019.
“The agency will often come back and say they’ve delivered a billion impressions, but a billion impressions that don’t translate to sales mean nothing,” says Roshni Chatterjee, marketing director, Kraft Heinz.
Concerns around media agencies setting their own targets, and in a way “marking their own homework”, loom large in the mind of marketers.
“They give me a report saying that they’ve overreached their target by 30% – but they set their own target and they are grading their own paper,” says Xian Yu, brand director at Shiseido. “At the end of the day, we’re told something by the agency and we believe them because we don’t have other ways to verify the data."
There’s an overall consensus that impressions alone are no longer viable. “If campaigns don’t generate something tangible in terms of leads and customer data, it’s not worth the money and effort,” says Marion Gillich, vice president sales & Marketing Africa & APAC, Daimler Financial Services.
At Adidas, sharing sales data with agencies about whether or not digital campaigns actually are driving sales has proven to be an effective strategy. “We do share a seven-day report with our agency and say ‘hey, our sales are up to expectations or not, let’s do something about it if it’s not working, or maybe we even do some a/b testing in terms of the creative,’” says Adidas’ Liliane Sek, senior director, brand activation. “I think just getting eyeballs for your campaign but not driving conversions is not what the key stakeholders in the business want to hear. They are only going to give you more marketing budget if it’s also resulting in some conversions.”
Combating overreliance on metrics
The digital ad industry’s overreliance on metrics including CPC's & CPAs have led to a lot of distrust in the medium itself. But in a bid to look for ways to combat this overreliance on metrics, marketers are branching out to find new ways forward.
"We’re really looking at what else is out there and pushing the publishers as well to come up with something new," says Sek. "At the end of the day, what you want is to really resonate with the consumer in some sort of emotional way. That then leads to purchase as opposed to just trying the same things and expecting different results."
Agatha Yap, director of marketing for McDonald's, makes a clear distinction with her agency between what's ‘hygiene’ and what's ‘innovation’. "Hygiene means that for 80% of spend I need to see that traffic at the door because this protects everybody’s job. It keeps the CEO happy to sign off the business dollars and give us the spend. With the remaining 20%, we have to invest in innovating and having the guts to try new things and even if we fail, we can learn from it."
Keeping up with changing consumer behaviours
But with consumers increasingly fragmented and engaging with brands in various different ways all the time – how are marketers keeping up with the changes in consumer behaviours?
The consensus is that the key to engagement is about understanding the consumer first and foremost, and then giving them the content that they are actually interested in.
"I am trying harder to understand what consumers are looking for with respect to my product and category and be more informative in that respect, rather than just saying I am 120 times better than a similar product or whatever. It’s a change of mindset," says Chatterjee.
Meanwhile, over the course of building some of their recent running campaigns, Adidas has been proactive about going into different communities to ask their customers about what they want to see and hear from the brand.
"It really all needs to start with the consumer," says Sek. "A lot of teams say they are consumer obsessed but actually they are not. There is so much internal politics and too many cooks in the kitchen that we often forget about who the recipient of the campaign actually is."
Next phase of growth
Marketers and brands are preparing to address the next phase of growth in the digital media sphere as they embrace emerging technologies. Although many brands are still at the early stage of discussion and awareness around technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), they are keen to get more involved and are excited about the immense potential these technologies offer the industry.
With ad fraud and its mounting losses being a massive problem for the industry – in Singapore alone, IAS calculates this year’s ad fraud to be in the region of $1.3 million – many experts are understandably excited about AI and its effectiveness as a weapon that can fight ad fraud.
"For me, in my entire career, I've never been as confident as now about what's coming next and that's AI and machine learning," says Tony Marlow, CMO, Integral Ad Science. “The bad actors in our industry are using AI and ML to commit fraudulent schemes. So, in some sense, perhaps the best way to think of it is that it takes a bot to catch a bot – so we need sophisticated AI / ML in order to proceed and prevent that kind of fraud. For me, simply put, the future is about the robots, AI, and the rise of machines."