David Porter, Unilever’s vice president of global media for Asia, Africa, Middle East, Turkey and Russia, delivered no-nonsense takes on critical issues facing advertisers and their media partners in a discussion at the recent Campaign360 conference. Here are some highlights of his views on viewability, ad fraud, transparency, privacy legislation, and agencies' ability to adapt—with observations about ad budgets, adblocking and more along the way.
Asked about the industry’s progress toward ad viewability, Porter spoke for half a second before covering half his face with a piece of paper—a jab at the current standard the industry has “settled for”.
“If I'm a performance marketer and I’m getting the sales I want from that, I'm fine with that,” he said. “And good luck to them. But if you're trying to build brand equity, and you're getting half a view for two seconds, it's ridiculous. And the fact that we're still having this conversation after all this time? It beggars belief. This is entry-point hygiene for our industry."
It behooves media owners and agencies to make progress on the issue, Porter indicated. "If this is going to go anywhere like it went with direct marketing and direct response advertising a generation ago, then the performance-media money that’s in the market? That's just the tip of the iceberg. The really big prize for our media partners will be winning the brand-building budgets. And they're not going to move quite so easily."
Porter suggested that rather than one viewability standard, brands should be be able to select from tiers. "We do need to start seeing a continuum of measurement, where people can buy in at the point that really works for them and their business goals," he said.
For big advertisers, Porter acknowledged, improved viewability would be a double-edged sword, albeit a welcome one. "If we want 100% viewability, we'd better be giving the public 100% viewable material," he said.
Ad fraud and client-agency transparency
While he half-jokingly allowed that "where there's mystery, there's margin", Porter drew a firm line between fair business practices and crime, and between agreed-upon terms and monkey business.
"We can have deep discussions about the technicalities and how people make their margins,” he said. “But when we get to clear ad fraud, when we move toward saying, ‘Do I need an auditor or do I need a private detective on this’, we're moving into the area of theft. So let's not put lipstick on it and call it 'ad fraud'. It's stealing our money."
On the issue of transparency, Porter said clients have no reason to rule out media rebates entirely, and must play their own role in transparency by being above-board about payment terms.
Declared rebates are no problem, while undeclared rebates are a legal issue, he said. "I'm hoping we play this with a very straight bat with anyone who works with us. And if we don't, let me know."
While the company is “tough but fair” on payment terms, Porter added that if someone simply doesn't like the terms that their head office signed up to, that’s “unlucky" for them.
China’s walled gardens present an ongoing challenge to transparency, Porter added. "We have some progress to make on the idea that verification is only verification if it's independent, if it's third party and if the brand pays for it," he said.
"For a lot of MNCs right now, GDPR [Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation] feels like something the authorities are doing to us,” Porter said. “We shouldn't look at it that way. It's them as a governing body coming together to protect the public. And the better the public is protected, the more likely they are to stay with us. So we ought to embrace that."
Noting that companies who can’t say they’re ready now for the legislation’s enactment in May are “screwed", Ported added that the industry awaits more legal clarity about how the law will be adjudicated and enforced. But in any case, the stakes are high.
"The opportunity is to get it right so you don't end up in court, you don’t get your income taken away from you by the EU, and you build a better relationship with your public," he said. "Be really explicit with the terms under which you're taking that information, what you're going to use it for, and how you're going to talk to them in the future."
Meanwhile, Porter noted how the waters may be considerably murkier for MNCs when it comes to navigating both GDPR and China’s recently instituted data-protection law.
"That data law is more about protecting the state, whereas the EU law is about protecting the privacy of the individual…” he said, “so you could find yourself caught in the crossfire of those two pieces of legislation, potentially."
For example, he posited, a large retailer could find itself in situation where one government was insisting that it surrender its servers, while the other would be insisting that to do that very thing would result in a fine equal to 4% of its annual revenue. "We really need to make sure we're getting good advice,” he said.
Client-agency relationships obviously have to evolve as the landscape changes, Porter said. But he’s confident agencies will come through.
"If anyone can change, it's the agency world," he said. Agencies have always been "brilliant shape-shifters”, adept at evolving to meet client needs. "A lot of people decry the growth of huge agency groups, but one of the benefits has been the ability of various parts to combine and reshape and offer brands what they need."
He added: "I have faith it can happen, but it needs to start happening quite quickly. If we're still talking about these issues in another year, then maybe it's not happening fast enough."
Marketing departments also face pressure to evolve. "That's the bigger challenge in some respects,” Porter said. “We're more hierarchical generally, less flat than the organisations you see in the agency world."
He pinned some hopes on people joining large consumer-product companies such as his from elsewhere. "Those people who have been in the outside world have a responsibility to organisations to really help them change to new ways of working," he said.
All of Porter's comments above came in a Campaign360 session where he was interviewed by Stephan Loerke, CEO of the World Federation of Advertisers. We talked with Loerke on Facebook Live right after the session. Here's an archived video of that conversation: