What’s the hottest button in digital advertising?

Our roundtable says we’re playing into the hands of fraudsters

Each month, AD-Vantage will be asking experts about the big issues impacting the Canadian digital advertising industry, like advertiser investment, measurement challenges, programmatic strategies and other factors driving major changes in the evolving media landscape.

With all the buzz out there about the weaknesses of digital, and loud calls for guidance from standard-setting bodies, we decided to ask our experts which, of the many challenges out there, is the most pressing? What do advertisers, agencies and publishers need to come together to address right now? Here’s what they told us:

Andrew Casale, vice-president of strategy, Casale Media

Andrew Casale

One hundred percent, it’s fraud—driven by the rapid shift to programmatic, without the appropriate oversight over media dollars. We’ve seen an unprecedented shift in spend to programmatic in Canada; this year total spend is forecast to be $80MM, per IDC Canada. Marketers are only starting to ask questions about where their dollars are ending up, and the vast majority of them are not finding their way to major, domestic publishers. This oversight needs to grow. Programmatic brings an incredible level of advancement to digital, but it risks being stymied if we can’t stamp this out.

Veronica Holmes, Canada President, ZenithOptimedia

Veronica Holmes

I completely agree with Andrew that fraud is a top challenge for the industry. However, I believe that the issue is with the role we (the industry) have ascribed to online display and video. Our focus on front-end metrics like impressions and clicks distracts us from the real, back-end metrics that matter: brand sentiment, purchase intent, sales, advocacy, etc. Whether we’re using programmatic techniques or reserved CPM models, an understanding of what we’re buying and why it will work is essential.

Advertisers are looking for new ways to reach consumers when they are most receptive to engaging with the message. A media agency’s job is to design a plan that delivers around these moments of receptivity. No fraudulent supplier is going to be able to provide opportunities like this, so why in the heck is anyone buying it?

Matt Thornton, head of advertiser and agency media platforms, Google Canada

Matt Thornton

While I absolutely agree that fraud is a fundamental issue—and one we have invested significantly in fighting—as an industry, we’re playing right into the hands of fraudsters in how we’re measuring digital media.

From my experience, I can tell you a large percentage of marketers have access to sophisticated, easy-to-use attribution intelligence tools. Yet eMarketer released a report last year that singled out attribution as the greatest challenge marketers face, with less than 40% of them using attribution. Acquisitions of Adometry by Google and Converto by AOL show that the platform leaders are focused on smarter measurement, but most of the large performance budgets I see are still entrenched in last-click attribution. The bias we apply to lower funnel tactics is fertile ground for black hat programmatic “optimization” to game the system.

The tools exist to get smarter about how we measure brand budgets. Viewability platforms and third-party verification have proven to be effective for some of the largest global CPG advertisers. Mix in a premium programmatic strategy and theoretically an advertiser can steer away from any fraud that would meaningfully impact their performance or budget.

Craig Jennings, director of media/agency management, RBC

Craig Jennings

Great comments all around. Fraud is certainly a challenge, though it’s perhaps better thought of in terms of quality control, to include less nefarious brand safety and viewability issues.

Considering estimates that ‘suspicious traffic volume’ may exceed 40%, large advertisers are possibly burning millions from their online media investment. Overall budgets remain stagnant, while also shifting to digital channels, making this is a problem marketers can hardly afford.

I also agree that more meaningful intelligence should be applied to online performance. Not only does relying on superficial metrics enable fraudsters to thrive, but marketers miss out where they fail to set thoughtful KPIs and maximize performance using available technologies.

In addition to these key issues, the fact that online ad spend/volume measurement remains inadequate is frustrating for marketers. With multiple buying models and resellers stacked upon resellers, it seems impossible to assess accurate share of voice against the peer set and across categories. Such comparative analysis is important to the highly competitive and top-spending financial category (and others), but comprehensive measurement does not appear close. Advertisers would like to see more collaboration across the industry, particularly among supply side heavy-weights, to provide those insights in a competitive landscape.

Mark Sherman, founder and CEO, Media Experts

Mark Sherman

I don’t at all agree that black-hat fraud is the number-one issue facing the digital advertising industry. We have tools and methods to mitigate this type of fraud, and they’re improving daily.

The far more critical issue is viewability. Let’s call that “white-collar fraud.” In display, over 40% of so-called impressions reported are not making any sort of impression—they’re below the fold, vapour, fantasy, pure B.S.

It’s very “legacy media” of us to perpetrate and propagate white-collar fraud. In legacy media, inflated audiences have long been the emperor’s clothes, and in digital we make the same mistake of measuring host media content instead of ad exposure. We should be measuring what we’re paying for.

By getting off the fence and enforcing strict viewability guidelines, the digital advertising industry has the opportunity to lead the entire advertising industry out of the desert—by deflating these exaggerated audience measures and providing us with the accurate inputs required for a robust ROI model.

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