This time last week, Procter & Gamble's (P&G) top marketer Marc Pritchard gave what some are hailing as the most important marketing speech in 20 years. In a call to arms, Pritchard revealed that he would be reviewing all agency contracts in 2017 in a bid to bring transparency to the "murky at best, fraudulent at worst" media supply chain.
Pritchard has put in place an action plan that P&G believes will bring clarity to its media buying. The first stage has been to adopt one viewability standard (the Media Rating Council-validated viewability standard of an ad being at least 50 percent in view for at least one second, and two for video).
The second step in the four-stage plan is to be no longer reliant on media owners to measure their own inventory, with the FMCG business expecting every media supplier—including publishers and measurement vendors—to adopt MRC-accredited third-party verification during 2017.
The third point will be a review of all of the FMCG-giant's agency contracts in the coming year in the quest for greater transparency.
And finally, action four is to prevent ad fraud, which will see P&G insist that any entity touching digital media must become TAG-certified during 2017 to help ensure that it is free from fraud.
In June 2016 the WFA reported that digital ad fraud alone is expected to cost advertisers as much as $50 billion by 2025. Looking at our own global benchmark data from H1 2016, we can see that there is an additional brand safety risk of 7.8 percent (ads appearing on inappropriate pages) and that 44 percent of ads that are served are never seen (using the MRC standard of 50 percent for 1 second). Inefficiencies that are reducing the results of paid advertising for the likes of P&G and others.
Why viewability alone is not enough
Viewability has been the hot topic for the last 24 months, but as Pritchard's speech shows, brands are waking up to the fact that you cannot improve media quality by focusing on viewability alone.
No one can say that viewability isn’t important—if ads can’t be seen by users they won’t have the chance to engage audiences, and that means brands are investing in vain. Indeed, viewability is a vital factor of campaign measurement. Greater awareness has already fuelled a rise in viewable ad rates across the globe, according to media quality data from the first half of 2016.
Yet viewability isn’t everything. It’s a starting point and can guarantee the opportunity to reach consumers, but it can’t ensure ads will capture their attention and make a tangible impact. To gain a complete view of advertising performance, it is therefore important for brands to consider other key factors, such as whether ads are seen in a contextually appropriate environment that aligns with and reinforces campaign messaging, or how many times ads are viewed before consumers are inspired to take action.
In short, if brands and agencies focus entirely on maximising viewability, they may find they have invested heavily in ads that are 100 percent viewable but largely ineffective. What’s more, they could also discover those viewability rates have been falsely inflated by fraudsters.
The perils of tunnel vision
Where the money flows, fraud will follow and as brands, agencies, and publishers have set their sights on viewability, so have fraudsters, deploying bots to generate fake views (or non-human traffic) that artificially boost rates and take a cut of advertising revenues.
In 2016 alone, global brands lost $7.2 billion to non-human traffic, almost a $1 billion increase since 2015. This makes it even more essential for brands across the world to establish a system of measurement that doesn’t simply take a binary approach to whether ads are seen or not, but also verifies whether they are seen by humans. In doing so they can guard against wasting advertising efforts, and spend, on fraudulent activity. For example, as part of its clampdown on media quality and transparency, P&G is taking a stand on fraud, insisting that the Trustworthy Accountability Group must accredit all companies involved with digital media transactions.
The factors that do boost performance
We’ve established that viewability alone is not a passport to advertising success, and there are many other elements brands should be considering to optimise their campaigns:
1. Pick the right format
In a bid to keep ads visible, many brands and publishers have focused on filling pages with multiple, attention-grabbing ads. While this might raise viewability rates, it can also clutter up sites and diminish the user experience, especially on mobile where screens are smaller and ads can disrupt activity, absorb data, and drain battery power. Instead of aiming for as many views as possible, brands should track which formats produce the greatest levels of engagement on each channel and make quality their number one priority.
2. Centre on creative
Putting ads in front of users is one thing, piquing their interest is another, and that’s still the job of high quality creative. If brands want to stir consumer interest, they need to spend time finding out what works: a/b testing campaigns, tweaking design and adjusting messaging to determine the ideal mix for individual consumers. This may mean being more realistic about the costs of delivering high-quality creative. Some brands are revising their media-agency fee structure to ensure fees are matched to services so its agencies remain profitable without resorting to questionable practices.
3. Refocus media quality perspective
In-depth, accurate campaign analysis that can be used to optimise performance is the holy grail for all brands. Yet if they only measure whether ads are seen, this goal will remain unfulfilled. To establish what produces the best results, brands also need to track exposure—the length of time consumers view ads, and how many times they do so across media placements. These measurements should be independently verified, and with major brands leading the way by adopting MRC-accredited third-party verification and expecting their media suppliers to do the same. The resulting insights can then be assessed, in conjunction with conversion data, to pinpoint the right formula for advertising effectiveness: the frequency level and exposure time that leads to uplift in desired conversions (such as purchases or ad recall), as well as which publisher sites can achieve this.
4. Develop publisher models
The way in which ad performance is judged is starting to change, with publishers such as the Telegraph and the Economist starting to use cost-per-hour (CPH) metrics, rather than just standard viewability. Yet it will take more than a few innovators to drive an evolution in performance measurement. We need a wider change of mindset. If brands are to gain a detailed, accurate understanding of campaign effectiveness, the industry must work as a whole to ensure we look at user exposure and how this translates to both online and offline sales, as well as viewability.
As P&G’s Pritchard summarised: “We have a media supply chain that is murky at best and fraudulent at worst. We need to clean it up, and invest the time and money we save into better advertising to drive growth.” Brands have finally woken up to the need for more transparency and better media quality within digtal marketing, it is now upto the industry to respond, and to give marketers the confidence to keep investing in digital media.
|Niall Hogan is MD of Integral Ad Science Southeast Asia.|