Calls for Digital Accreditation Miss the Point

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According to most industry analysts, 2017 will be the first year that brand advertisers and marketers in the U.S. will spend more money on digital advertising than on television advertising. This goes hand in hand with the assumption -- held by many until recently -- that digital marketing is more efficient and ultimately more verifiable than traditional media.

However, in the first two months of 2017, several leading marketers have publicly called for digital publishers to be more accountable for the ads they are delivering and the audiences they are selling against. Specifically, there has been a call for publishers to implement safeguards, independent verification and a minimum standard for viewability. There has also been a call for independent verification, so that publishers are not "grading their own homework." Finally, and most importantly, there has been a call to show value to advertisers across platforms, rather than attributing all of the value of an ad to the final click.

Several of the largest digital publishers have responded by agreeing to Media Rating Council audits of their self-generated published metrics. But the resulting back and forth between publishers and advertisers is headed in the wrong direction for four key reasons.

1. Accreditation is not the same thing as independence. The MRC audit process seeks to verify that a metric is what it purports to be. MRC accreditation enhances transparency of a metric's methodology and underpinnings. However, claiming, as some have, that MRC accreditation absolves a publisher from being considered a "walled garden" is misguided. While we are supporters of the MRC process, there is a risk that the MRC audits simply provide comfort to marketers, who'll make spend-allocation decisions based on captive data from walled gardens. Even if accredited, these metrics are neither published by an independent measurement provider, nor are they comparable to other publishers' metrics.

2. Measuring the viewing of actual people is what really matters. We believe in measuring real people. There is a difference between viewability and audience measurement. Digital advertising is still plagued with ads that are "below the fold," adjacent to inappropriate content, or fail to load. As a result, much of the dialogue today is around viewability as a core metric. But verifying that an ad is seen by a human -- and understanding the demographics of this person -- is equally important. Many metrics provide counts of devices, not people. An ad that is fully viewable to a fake consumer or the wrong audience is no more valuable to a marketer than an ad that's not viewable.

3. The marketer's dilemma is not just about which digital outlets to spend money on. The bigger issue is how to reach target consumers -- no matter where they happen to be -- in order to drive results. Leading marketers are no longer talking about TV or digital video as alternatives, but are instead thinking in terms of video, regardless of screen. This requires that both buyers and sellers can compare media platforms with verifiable measurement that spans all forms of media. Therefore, the metrics required are ones that show all forms of media, including video, in an apples-to-apples comparison -- not just those isolated to digital media.

4. There is a difference between total and deduplicated reach. Having an ad seen by the same consumer 30 times versus 30 different consumers is a key distinction in terms of impact on target consumers' decision-making. In addition, measuring and attributing the impact of total exposure -- deduplicating exposures across platforms such as television and digital video -- matter just as much, and perhaps more, than exposure within a single platform to the marketer's end goal, which is usually increased sales.

The solution to these issues is an independent measurement standard across platforms that includes both audience measurement and viewability. It is right for leading marketers to lead the call for greater accountability, but viewability and MRC accreditation of walled garden metrics is insufficient.

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