Are You Protecting Your Marketing Investments From the Threat of Online Piracy?

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Over the past decade, marketers rushed to leverage digital media in all its forms to bolster consumer relationships, build brands and drive businesses forward. The ecosystem rapidly evolved, creating a business system that provided interactivity, video and the raw power of consumer and customer dialogue. Relationship-building skyrocketed, enhancing the brand loyalty that marketers craved.

It wasn't all smooth sailing, however. Despite this growth, online publishers often complained about not getting their "fair share" of the marketing mix. Marketers, for their part, had plenty of questions about digital ROI with specific concerns about measurement.

But with increasing momentum toward the adoption of the viewable impression for currency, GRP development and cross-platform analytics, it is conceivable that many measurement issues will be behind us within the next 12 to 18 months.

There is still one area in which digital is seeing its value siphoned off by bad practices. Practices that negatively affect brand value and create inherent waste of precious financial resources. Practices that fall under the general umbrella of online piracy, something of increasing concern for the industry.

Blatant violation

In response to alarming reports, the Association of National Advertisers and 4A's jointly issued a statement of best practices in May of 2012 to advise marketers and agencies on how to avoid ads appearing on rogue sites. Such sites blatantly violated copyright laws on entertainment and other material. It is now well over a year later, and this guidance has been insufficient to effect the necessary change. Rogue sites still draw substantial traffic. Worse, they are marked by legitimate advertising from top brands that are positioned side by side with pirated content.

Unintentionally, marketers are helping legitimize intellectual-property infringement. Leaders in our community are quickly realizing that if we do not curb this problem, it will generate negative outcomes for brands.

USC Annenberg's Innovation Lab, a media think tank, tracks instances of legitimate marketer advertising that appear on rogue sites. These studies reveal repeat offenses from multiple ad networks, with a disturbing number of high-value brands represented. Most concerning is the futility of those fighting to keep legitimate work off rogue sites. Advertisers and their suppliers must become far more proactive in combating this growing problem.

This situation is fiscally unacceptable. Some estimates indicate that piracy could be valued at more than $10 billion worldwide. This substantially erodes marketing ROI and threatens brand reputation and value.

So what can we do about it?

First, marketers must become more involved in the piracy issue. They and their media buyers must include clear language in contracts and insertion orders that forbid placement on rogue sites. We cannot allow our businesses and brands to supply financial life-blood or lend an air of legitimacy to illicit business models that threaten the well-being of creative industries worldwide.

Second, advertising agencies must proactively monitor their buys to help ensure that ads are not winding up in undesirable places. Two of the largest media agencies -- GroupM and Omnicom Media Group -- are using master exclusion lists for insertion orders, web-crawling technology and ad-verification techniques to address this issue. Forthcoming measurement and analytics standards will further enhance these efforts.

Assurances needed

Finally, we need to provide a word of caution to digital ad networks. ANA members have $250 billion dollars of marketing to invest each year. We need assurance that the partners and places we invest in are safeguarding our brand and financial assets. The Interactive Advertising Bureau has taken a strong stand against internet piracy and the ad networks need to step up to meet this challenge.

It is imperative that ad networks examine their placement and buying practices, and reform them if needed. The volume and availability of traffic on rogue sites may be tempting. But rest assured, it is in everyone's best interest to demonstrate support for brands by protecting them from compromising situations.

Our industry must combat and halt the content pirates hijacking our ads. In a report last month to the White House and Congress, the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator specifically cited the leadership pledge of the ANA and 4A's.

It is bad enough that content piracy has gained such an economic foothold worldwide; it is worse that marketer dollars are diverted in support of that enterprise. The future health of digital media is at stake -- and we owe it to ourselves, our industry and its brands to attack the issue head-on.

Bob Liodice is president-CEO of the Association of National Advertisers.
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