A year on from Pritchard's 'rallying cry': how does the industry score?

On 29 January in Florida, P&G's Marc Pritchard threw down the gauntlet at the US IAB Annual Leadership meeting and demanded full media transparency.

"The days of giving digital a pass are over – it’s time to grow up. It’s time for action," he said, and issued a call to action, outlining four action points P&G would be insisting on. 

It’s been a tumultuous year since then for the digital media space, but arguably, one of considerable progress in this arena, Richard Foan, chair of Jicwebs noted.

"Over 80 companies are now signatories to the Jicwebs principles. Transparency on how organisations are reducing risk for their trading partners is key. Support from the key trade bodies and their members is more visible and, therefore, suppliers are increasingly delivering the accountability the clients demand," he said.

Pritchard would appear to agree. Nine months after his speech, he commented at Dmexco that the industry was "60%" of the way to implementing the things necessary to usher in a new era of digital transparency. 

To examine this progress in depth, we asked the industry how it thinks the UK scores on each of the four action points Pritchard outlined in his speech:

Action 1 - Adopt one viewability standard

While there is debate as to the usefulness of this action point, the industry feels the UK’s doing pretty well on the whole, giving an average score of 8/10.

"The UK market agreed on a viewability standard in 2014 through cross-industry consultation and has since added video standards," Dee Frew, ad tech manager for the IAB commented.

However as the standards set determine the minimum threshold an ad can be considered to be in view, "effectiveness is a separate issue, and not something that will be resolved with a unified metric," he added.

"P&G’s own research into this has led them to stop using 30-second ads online altogether. When marketers stop equating viewability and effectiveness they can begin to adapt their messaging to the unique environment digital offers," concluded Frew.

The IPA has instead proposed that 100% of pixels should be in view but, unfortunately, even brand advertisers can’t all agree on this standard either, IPA director general Paul Bainsfair said.

It’s true that not all advertisers want to trade on a single viewability standard, Phil Smith director general of ISBA agreed. "However, we believe advertisers should be able to buy fully viewed impressions, if that is what their goals require."

"The debate goes on and absolute agreement doesn’t seem to be any closer," eMarketer senior analyst Bill Fisher concluded. "However, there’s at least agreement that ads need to be seen and it’s a standard consideration even if there’s no universal accord on the exact mechanics."

Action 2 - Implement accredited third-party measurement verification. 

A good deal has been achieved in this area, but there’s still work to be done the industry agrees giving the UK an average score of 6.5/10.

"There has been a welcome increase in transparency about which commercial third parties are being used by key players," Foan said, adding that it is important that the accreditation be held to industry-agreed standards.

"Both Google and Facebook have opened up their walled gardens in the past year to allow third party measurement platforms such as Integral Ad Science and Meetrics to check their own self-reporting measurements," Frew said.

Nevertheless, both Google and Facebook still have some way to go, Bainsfair commented:  "The IPA issued letters to Google and Facebook in August calling on them to clean up safety, measurement and viewability. Significant progress has been made in third party verification but there is more to do in audience measurement."

Action 3 – Get transparent agency contracts

"Good progress in a complicated area," Foan commented, echoing a general consensus that scored the UK an average of 7/10 on this action point. 

It’s been 18 months since ISBA launched a Media Services Framework in response to agency-client misalignment in the media buying chain and it has proven "highly successful and been adopted by a large proportion of our members and by some agencies", Smith said.

"In June last year, we carried out a review which identified £6bn of spend that has been negotiated or is planned to be negotiated using the framework terms. We see this as a really positive indication of the desire by agencies and their clients for mutually beneficial alignment," he added.

Stephen Broderick, chief executive of FirmDecisions Global, however, was less positive: "The industry has made a little progress on securing transparent contracts, but there’s still a long way to go."

Clients, he said, still need to fully understand the implications of contract amendments, some of which fundamentally change the nature and level of transparency in the contract.

"The other challenge is that while there have been some improvements, it’s now a game of cat and mouse, with contracts constantly needing to evolve to keep pace with the ever-more complex ad tech ecosystem. We want to avoid a situation where clients take one step forward and two steps back," he concluded. 

Action 4 - Prevent ad fraud 

While the IPA's Bainsfair believes the UK to be at the forefront of combatting ad fraud, other industry bodies and observers are less sure of the nation’s progress, leading to an average of 6.5/10 in this area.

"The industry has woken up to ad fraud and is well on the way to minimising the criminal damage that can be done. But it’s still a major issue and much more needs to be done," Fisher said.

Nevertheless, the focus on transparency, particularly in client-agency contracts, can only help remedy things, he continued. "When there’s so much obfuscation in the advertising supply chain, everyone in that chain can operate with a degree of "deniability." That’s why there’s fraud. If you don’t know who’s doing what at which point in the chain, then it’s ripe for fraudulent actors to slip in undetected." 

As of January 2018, 74% of the UK top 200 ad-funded websites had implemented an ads.txt file, which is great progress, said Frew, as is the partnership between Jicwebs and US-based TAG.

However these steps are reactionary and, "much more needs to be done to proactively address fraud including increased industry funding and tackling fraud at the source by working with law enforcement," commented Smith. 

"Ad fraud mechanisms are constantly evolving, and they’re reported as a cause for concern by almost three-quarters of all advertisers [ 2017 WFA and Ebiquity Report],"  Dietmar Kruse, managing principal media measurement at Ebiquity said.

In fact, Kruse believes that when GDPR is implemented, the problem will get worse: "The GDPR will likely to make ad fraud more difficult to detect and eradicate. This is because GDPR will make it harder to track individual-level data and IP addresses. As a result, it will also become harder to identify bots that are at the heart of ad fraud. The trick for brands will be to regularly assess the market to make sure they are working with the best providers and technology, and to regularly assessing ad fraud risks."

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