Math Is Hard… Or How To Make Your Advertising Count

Posted by

At what point will advertisers hold the publishers really accountable?

Those who were early into digital marketing had many hopes (like me). That advertising would be highly targeted and relevant. The net effect of this would be that online advertising would not only be better than other media formats, but that it would be worth more to advertisers, because consumers would appreciate it more. That advertising would be super-accountable and measurable. The net effect of this would be that online advertising would know where ads were served, what happened to those who saw, clicked and engaged with the ad. We would know this down to each and every impression. That advertising would be more interesting. The net effect of this would be that online advertising would not just appear on three television networks (like we had back in the day), but that there would be thousands of publishers with niche and unique content that could foster an ecosystem, where both diversity of content and relevant ads could live side by side. 

Wow… how did so much go so wrong?

Yesterday, I wrote about how the dream of targeting and relevance has taken shape (check out: Display Advertising Is A Failed State). Now, we’re in an even-more precarious situation, where advertisers shifted dollars from a world of three major television networks, down to a place where the vast majority of online advertising spending is happening in (primarily) two places: Google and Facebook. With that, many believed that from a technology standpoint, it would be hard (maybe impossible) to put systems in place better than these two Silicon Valley behemoths. Groups like the IAB (full disclosure: I sat on the board of directors for IAB Canada many years back) could create some form of industry standard, in terms of ad serving, ad formats, etc… Well, it seems like we’re living in a world where Facebook had mis-reported how much time users were spending watching videos, then an issue with overall video performance, then engagement numbers for links and live videos, then problems with traffic to Instant Articles and some other measurement challenges. A few days back, Twitter came forward and admitted that their Android app overstated video advertising metrics by as much as 35% due to a technical error. These were not the only instances, and these all happened in this past year.

Don’t worry, advertisers.

From my view at this keyboard, it didn’t seem like the advertising community pushed back all that hard against these two media publishers. And, while Facebook has launched third-party verification and viewability initiatives, it does beg the question: who will really be watching and – more importantly – what does an advertiser do, in a world where they have limited choices for where to put their ads? Advertisers and media companies don’t have the technological infrastructure to develop/be smarter than the Googles and Facebooks of the world and, ultimately, need them (maybe more than ever) to help the brands that they represent to reach a significant online audience.

Math is hard. 

There is no doubt that this is a complex world of advertising, and that many of us never saw these problems coming. It’s easy to look at the Internet, these major online players and think, “just get it right!” Many won’t remember that the Internet was not built to be an engine of commerce. If has, slowly, become this over the last decade and a half. It’s not perfect. It is evolving. Still, it was never meant to do the things that we are expecting it to do these days. Still, publishers, media companies and yes, even the brands, need to be more accountable for what ads are being served, where that’s happening and who – exactly- is seeing those ads (and what they’re doing after that moment). It’s fine for Facebook (and others) to make mistakes. It’s fine for them to be transparent about those errors. It’s fine for them to either compensate against these mistakes or prove that it had little-to-no-effect on overall campaign performance. It’s not fine for everyone in this mix to simply allow the publisher to hold all of the cards. 

A better third-party system.

The analytics should not lie. The analytics should do more. The analytics need to know the difference between a real view and a spam farm. The analytics need to know the difference between an ad being served to the right consumer, instead of being diverted to a fake news site via some kind of bot hack. The analytics should know (and agree) on what an actual “view” means (and this should be universally accepted). With that, maybe we need to take the analytics away from everyone (the brand, the media company and the publishers) and let all of it reside with a true third-party source, that can be solely responsible for serving this media trifecta with what happened? Does that exist? Are these the solutions that Google and Facebook have put in place? Do the brands, media companies and publishers all agree on the solution? 

If you want to look at what might be one of the biggest marketing trends in the coming year, you may want to focus on accountability and a better system of analytics.