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Practically non-existent 15 years ago, the explosion of the dynamic, digital environment has given rise to many powerful opportunities for marketers to connect brands with consumers and customers. Marketers can create relationships and generate loyalty through advanced connectivity across multiple media platforms -- desktop, mobile, television and social channels.
However, such opportunity has created serious issues that undermine marketers' productivity and ROI and destabilize digital as a preferred vehicle for long-term investment spending. The most pressing of these are viewability and fraud.
There is a tendency to discuss viewability and fraud in the same breath, since they both represent digital media that do not reach their intended targets. They also both represent waste and rot that undermine the industry's goal of creating a trustworthy and productive digital media supply chain. However, a non-viewable ad is not the same as a fraudulent ad. Of course, some fraudulent ads are also non-viewable. Therefore, it's important to look at these as distinct issues so that they can be handled as such.
The difference between viewability and fraud
Viewability means digitally "served ads" that have the opportunity to be seen. Until this past year, marketers essentially paid for all the display and video ads served on their behalf. By some estimates, one-third of those ads never had the opportunity to be seen -- they were "non-viewable." This means that one-third of marketers' investments did not serve their intended brand-building function. How could this happen? Simply, an ad that doesn't load properly, or sits on an area of the page that's never reached by the viewer, is impossible to see. Marketing spending on these non-viewable ads ranges between $5 billion and $10 billion annually.
Fraud is a different matter. It is the automation of bots and other features that distort the effectiveness of a campaign by falsifying click-through rates and other metrics. This literally robs marketers of billions of dollars. It undercuts marketers' ability to confidently develop reliable and effective cross-media/integrated marketing campaigns and obscures efforts to understand where and how brand messages are resonating.
$46.8B Record U.S. agency revenue in 2015
How the industry is addressing viewability
Fortunately, the industry has done a fantastic job at addressing viewability issues. Led by a consortium of marketing trade associations, the industry invested heavily in the "Making Measurement Make Sense" (3MS) project. 3MS is overhauling the foundation for digital media transactions and moving the industry from a "served impression" to a "viewable impression." The viewable impression puts the digital platform on an equivalent basis with other media, giving marketers the opportunity to quantify ads that have the potential to be seen.
By establishing a common media measurement framework, marketers elevate the productivity of their investments and have a more scientific approach to cross-platform analytics and integrated marketing campaign analyses. Advertisers, agencies and publishers will finally have a standardized method for transacting business and tracking the effectiveness of their media spend. The richness of this innovation is that viewable impression standards can (and should) travel globally and allow us to more productively manage savings and campaigns across the digital supply chain.
We are applying the same aggressive, cross-industry pressure to eliminate fraud as well by attacking it as a supply chain issue that marketers, agencies, publishers and tech companies can remedy together. In-progress initiatives include the following:
- ANA and White Ops are conducting a joint industry study in partnership with nearly 40 marketers that will determine the level of bot fraud, including sources and types of bots as well as actionable data advertisers can use to assess and reduce fraud. The results of that survey will be shared shortly.
- The IAB, 4A's and ANA announced in early November the creation of the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), a joint marketing-media industry program to eradicate digital advertising fraud, malware, ad-supported piracy, and other deficiencies in the digital communications supply chain. Linda Woolley has been named president and CEO of TAG .
- The Media Rating Council (MRC), the industry body that audits and accredits media measurement services, recently launched a project to strengthen requirements for the filtration and disclosure of invalid non-human traffic.
There is much to accomplish. It is imperative that the industry gain its footing and push back aggressively and successfully against the forces that are promoting fraud.
As marketers, it's our responsibility to improve the management and the efficacy of digital marketing. They are fundamental to building our brands and driving business results. The issues of fraud and viewability are far from being solved -- but there are pockets of progress that give the industry reasons to be more optimistic. In the end, our collective goal is to develop a digital media ecosystem worthy of trust and primed for vastly increased investment.