It was hoped that the shift towards digital consumption would mean media measurement becoming more accurate. Yet for all the advanced technology that’s meant to determine exactly who is consuming what, where, when and how, brands are more confused than ever.
Dentsu Aegis Network has forecast that Asia-Pacific will lead global digital ad spend this year, with growth expected to increase by 4.2%. But with more argument and incongruity regarding measurement stats than ever before, the jury is still out on how much of that spend will offer true value. Even as we settle in to 2018, brand safety, ad fraud and transparency remain at the top of every marketer’s list of concerns.
Juniper Research estimates that global ad fraud will cost advertisers US$19 billion in 2018, representing 9% of total digital advertising spend.
Viewability standards are also a prevalent challenge, especially when it comes to the digital supply chain and giants like Facebook, Google, Tencent—collectively known as the ‘walled gardens’.
Thomas Hebditch, senior digital business director at media agency OMD Hong Kong, describes feeling “exasperated” by Facebook’s recent series of measurement errors. “I’m aware of around 10 measurement miscalculations over the past 18 months—to the point they are refunding brands for a miscalculation in video views.”
Measurement inaccuracies are of particular concern in Asia where platforms such as YouTube and Facebook dominate buys, according to Niall Hogan, managing director of Integral Ad Science South East Asia. In the Philippines, for example, they count for as much as 90% of all digital spend. “Social media platforms don’t provide adequate transparency in terms of the levels of viewability or the levels of brand risk, and fake news is on the rise,” he says.
Growing need for external partners
However, both Hebditch and Hogan feel that some of these measurement and transparency issues could be improved if publishers integrated third-party measurement partners.
“I think one of the biggest problems is the lack of third-party ad-serving in Asia,” says Hogan. “As little as 30% of ads are third-party ad-served in Asia. As a result, the local clients do not understand the benefits of third-party ad-serving and measurement. If there is no third-party ad-serving, there is no verification. Another big problem is the lack of education, so there is no demand for media measurement.”
While some brands are beginning to do due diligence when it comes to digital ad spend and are expecting verification metrics in their reports, Hebditch has found that not all local publishers
are willing to allow third-party measurement, something he sees as “suspicious” and a block against the verification of any data. “We really need our suppliers to spend time on measuring the efficacy of their solution, and not think about measurement as a secondary issue.”
“Advertisers and agencies need to stand strong...We can’t slip back into a position where these platforms are marking their own homework."
—James Lewin, Mindshare
The other side of the issue is getting brands to understand that they need to remunerate fairly for such verification, he continues. “Brands must understand that there will always be additional tech fees for these services,” says Hebditch. “Fair remuneration for the available third-party technology that already helps us monitor, and block, a huge percentage of the fraud we encounter is a stumbling block we must overcome.”
Others in the industry also stress the importance of accepting and adopting third-party verification technologies. “MOAT, IAS, DoubleVerify and the like have become staple stack elements when activating a campaign,” says James Lewin, head of innovation at Mindshare, APAC. “Advertisers and agencies need to stand strong on the need for access to these third parties to the likes of Facebook, Google etc. We can’t slip back into a position where these platforms are marking their own homework.”
Getting advertisers and publishers worldwide to agree on the standards of what constitutes a viewed video ad, for example, hasn’t always proved easy. Organisations like the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) in the States and GroupM have forged ahead, supported by a host of media and technology partners. In 2014, GroupM required that 100% of the pixels in a display ad must be in view (for any amount of time); and for video, that 50% of the video must be played at the user’s initiation, with the sound on, while 100% in view. GroupM has since strengthened its standard and now requires a one-second duration for the time a display ad passes through the viewable screen.
“Advertisers are being increasingly vocal around viewability. More and more clients are experimenting with their own prescribed levels of viewability, often at a higher threshold than the legacy 50/1,” says Matt Green, global lead, media and digital marketing, World Federation of Advertisers.
“As this happens brands become more familiar with the implications of a higher baseline viewed impression level, and become more engaged in the debate. And ‘debating’ these issues is probably the best way to address them in the end.”
Tech and governance driving change
Many in the industry see the way forward for digital media measurement as a combination of better governance and new technology. But new technology can also create new problems. For instance, there appears to be little faith that facial or voice recognition verification will help to solve the issue of who is actually watching the content or ads.
“The question about facial and voice recognition verifying who is watching is a bit tricky because it leads to privacy and privacy will always be a problem,” says Simon Talvard-Balland, head of digital solutions at Reprise APAC. “I couldn’t imagine many consumers would agree to have their face tracked when they click on an advert.”
However, there is some interest in the development of technological solutions such as blockchain to address ad fraud. Blockchain would enable ad impressions to be tracked along the supply chain, and record where an ad is delivered and to whom. The technology could help reduce fraudulent traffic, and add greater transparency to the programmatic ad-buying process.
“Blockchain offers transparency and immutability, high and consistent data quality—without the need for third parties,” says Green. “Projects being mooted such as the ‘Basic Attention Token’ talk about a whole new way of transacting between publisher, advertiser and user/consumer, and potentially provide industry fixes beyond just measurement.”
Green says blockchain could hold significant potential to help combat the current environment, “which is known for intermediaries and middle-men, and is not the most efficient ecosystem”.
Overall, the sophistication of tools to detect fraud appear to be improving and initiatives such as Blockchain and ads.txt are making inroads. “IAB’s ads.txt initiative is a very simple, but very effective way to ensure that the media is bought from an official seller of that inventory, eliminating a large percentage of domain spoofing,” says Hebditch. Ads.txt allows the DSP to cross-match a bid request that claims to be from a publisher with an account ID on an authorised sellers list, to prove that inventory to be authentic. If the account ID doesn’t match the publishers ads.txt file, that means the ad won’t appear on their website and the impression will be blocked.
“Blockchain offers transparency and immutability, high and consistent data quality—without the need for third parties."
—Matt Green, World Federation of Advertisers
Good governance is also required to set the framework for more accurate measurement. “I truly believe that better governance can help us. It’s really similar to the way that the finance industry has evolved over recent years,” says Talvard-Balland. “In finance, they still have to use the new technology and they absolutely don’t neglect it—it’s what enables them to do business faster, more efficiently and accurately—but at the same time, because of the data and potential to commit fraud on such a big scale in a short time, the answer that they brought was better governance and better compliance.”
2018—year of clarity?
After a challenging year in 2017 for digital advertising, Hogan believes that these challenges will drive transformation and change the industry for the better. “It’s positive to see walled gardens continue to open up and work with third-party measurement partners like IAS to provide the transparency that is much needed by advertisers.” In January 2018, YouTube announced third-party brand safety reporting for greater transparency and simpler controls over where ads appear, and Hogan is confident that there will be more progress of this nature to follow in 2018.
“With 305 million active social media users across Southeast Asia and 31% YOY growth, at Integral Ad Science we have invested in heavily enhancing the video measurement and mobile app measurement to meet the market demand,” says Hogan.
Elsewhere, Hebditch also remains upbeat that 2018 is the year of change and greater precision when it comes to digital media measurement. “I believe that 2018 is the year of supply-side clarity and that the pressure is being applied not only to walled gardens, but the wider digital ecosystem on the importance of measuring accountability, viewability, brand safety and fraud in our digital campaigns. There is a firm threat of withdrawing spend from those who do not comply.”