4A's Conference

Viewability, Fraud, Ad Blocking and Transparency Dominate 4A's

Resurgence of Old Media Practices Is Causing Confusion Over Transparency Issue, Said OMD's Kathleen Brookbanks

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Viewability, ad blocking, fraud and financial transparency dominated "Media Day" during the annual 4As Transformation Conference in Miami. But if the attendees were hoping for a magic solution to any of these issues, they picked the wrong conference.

Rather, panelists charted incremental progress, commiserated over digital dollars lost and transparency woes, and discussed the need for a shift from buying digital media with a focus on efficiencies to a focus on effectiveness.

"[There are] criminals who are literally costing the industry at least $8 billion a year, just in the U.S. alone," said Michael Zaneis, president and CEO of TAG, which stands for Trustworthy Accountability Group. He was on a panel called "Viewability, Fraud, Transparency and Ad Blocking."

"I think I have you guys beat," added Donnie Williams, chief digital officer at Horizon Media, a few minutes later on the topic of ad blocking. The industry faces $20 billion in the amount of revenue loss potential, he said. "As an organization, I think the end goal is better user experience, not because we want to create more revenue, but we want to create more powerful advertising," he said. "Folks like Forbes and the Washington Post are doing research to determine what folks find intrusive."

Rishad Tobaccowala at Transformation 2016
Rishad Tobaccowala at Transformation 2016 Credit: Ari Mintz/Courtesy of the 4A's

Agencies have to think beyond advertising to get around ad blocking, said Rishad Tobaccowala, chief strategist of Publicis Groupe, speaking earlier in the day. "Millennials are more brand conscious than anybody," he said. "However, whoever said you have to advertise to build a brand. And that's the big issue."

John Montgomery, chairman for GroupM Connect in North America and the moderator of the session attacking viewability and fraud, emphasized that in order to make progress on those issues, they must be discussed as separate and unique issues. Agency-client transparency is no exception.

"A little over a year ago, the conversation around transparency and the relationship of transparency between a client and media agency, really started to heat up. And I would suggest it heated up around the wrong particular set of words -- rebates," said Kathleen Brookbanks, chief operating officer at Omnicom media agency OMD. She was referring to a speech by former media agency exec John Mandel alleging that media agencies were collecting rebates. The speech ignited a continuing battle over transparency between the 4As, the trade association for ad agencies, and its counterpart among marketers, the Association of National Advertisers. The associations had created a joint task force, but collaboration fizzled when the two disagreed over language in a set of guidelines and principles.

Part of what's creating tension, she explained, is the return to buying practices that haven't been talked about in a long time, such as the agency buying media as a principle and then reselling it to the client, as opposed to buying it as an agent on behalf of the client.

"The transparency piece around it we all agreed on was that clients should know those models exist and have an opportunity to opt in with the full understanding of the benefits of those opportunities," she said. "What they don't see is the underlying cost structure because we're doing so as principle. Those are models that had existed and hadn't been talked about in long time. But the world has become more complex and these offerings have significant benefits to the client."

Among those complexities is programmatic buying, which adland too often associates only with efficiency in pricing and resources. Now, there's a need for a shift from thinking about efficiencies to effectiveness, agreed panelists on a panel about programmatic trends.

Megan Pagliuca at Transformation 2016
Megan Pagliuca at Transformation 2016 Credit: Ari Mintz/Courtesy of the 4A's

"Marketers have been pushing on efficiency," said Megan Pagliuca, CEO of Omnicom's trading desk Accuen. "The value programmatic brings is actually that you can cherry pick or look at individual impressions, and that means you may pay a publisher more. So it should be more of a value exchange between the advertiser and publishers. As we evolve, we hope the pendulum is swinging back to effectiveness."

Carolyn Everson, VP of global marketing solutions at Facebook, said earlier in the day during a fireside chat with Horizon CEO Bill Koenigsberg that the company only wants to help advertisers create real change, with real outcomes. She shared a case study for an Acura launch in which Facebook targeted enthusiasts, retargeted people who had engaged with the original digital content and then resent them content with a link back to the car launch site and an offer to do a test drive. The Facebook initiative drove a 9.3% increase in vehicle sales, she said.

As agencies, marketers and media aim to make progress on driving business outcomes in an increasingly complex business, the effort doesn't even compare to the amount of progress needed in gender diversity.

"I don't think we're in a good place at all," said Ms. Everson. "It feels like Groundhog Day. There's not a single country with more than 6% of CEOs as women. We're not in any industry with women in senior leadership roles. Not only are we not moving or getting women into senior roles, when we are there's a pay gap of a 21% difference between male and female pay."

The solution? Talking about the issues and training people to weed out their "unconscious bias" in hiring practices and in the workplace, she said.