Survival Guide 2017: Get Raw Data, Not a Raw Deal

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Credit: Illustration by Tomasz Walenta for Ad Age
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Ad Age's Survival Guide maps the changes and challenges in the year ahead, from new ad-tech wars to shifting policies in Washington, D.C.

As digital marketers confronted rampant problems with online metrics last year, they were especially jolted by Facebook, which revealed in a series of confessions that it had been inadvertently giving faulty numbers to publishers and brands, misstating how well posts and videos performed.

The figures didn't directly affect how much marketers were billed for anything, but they were the stats on which brands relied to figure out where their money went. If Facebook video sees the greatest audience, then that's where a brand or publisher will focus its energy and its budget. There are billions of media dollars waiting to pour into Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Hulu or, as many brands are again considering, good old-fashioned TV.

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It all just depends on accurate information to inform those choices.

That's why in 2017 brands and publishers are pushing to tap into the raw data behind walled gardens at Facebook, YouTube and the rest. They need more confidence in what's being reported: how many people see their videos, for how long, who they are and other key data points.

"Brands and agencies are being more suspicious," said Zvika Netter, CEO of Innovid, a third-party measurement firm. "They are being more cautious about assuming all the numbers they get from platforms are accurate."

It's true that independent firms like Innovid, Moat and Integral Ad Science get reports from the platforms. But increasingly advertisers want these third parties to plug directly in, so they can verify reach, engagement and audience data for themselves.

It seems like a simple request, but agencies and brands say Facebook and others are holding back, to varying degrees, full access to reporting mechanisms, all of which threatens confidence in the digital video ecosystem. Independent measurement firms are given mostly generalized reports about campaigns. They aren't able to put their own tracking technology into brands' posts to provide visibility into the campaigns on a deeper, impression-by-impression level.

"They are completely reliant on Facebook giving them their data," said one agency executive, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Why even bother having these viewability partners? They cost money."
Marketers are treated similarly on YouTube, according to people familiar with parent Google's reporting policies.

Facebook declined comment for this article. The company, however, is necessarily careful when it comes to allowing outside parties visibility into its platform, because of privacy concerns and performance issues with its app and website, which are affected by giving entry to outsiders.

YouTube is working on new measurement opportunities that would expose the platform to even more third-party scrutiny, according to the people familiar with Google's plans. It will open its application programming interface, or API, to enable more outside tracking, the kind that can report on the impression level, these people said.

Both platforms and marketers hope to move the conversation beyond just reach and frequency, beyond how many people saw how much of an ad and for how long. They want to be able to measure down to the individual who saw an ad and how often before making an actual purchase.

But as the industry tries to evolve to even more sophisticated levels of data analysis, basic metrics in the walled garden are still causing problems, said one ad tech executive whose company works with brands to measure Facebook media.

"We're still flying blind," the ad tech exec said.