Building transparency in digital ad buying

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New Delhi | Published: April 9, 2018 10:44 PM

Issues like digital ad fraud or viewability miscalculations can be handled with closer ties to analytics, performance monitoring and third party verification.

digital ad buying, facebookFor digital media, ad buying is changing quite rapidly.

According to Juniper Research, advertisers will lose an estimated $19 billion to fraudulent activities in 2018 globally, equivalent to $51 million per day. This figure, representing advertising on online and mobile devices, will continue to rise, reaching $44 billion by 2022. On top of it, big global platforms Facebook and Google that operate as walled gardens — accounting for more than 60% of digital ad spend (industry estimates) — are not open to independent measurement of performance.

“So while, publishers suffer from insufficient revenues due to lack of viable means of monetising their data, advertisers get poor RoIs due to lack of accurate user behaviour data for targeting,” says Sumit Gupta, chief operation officer, Zohem, a blockchain start-up.

Shifts in media ad buying

For digital media, ad buying is changing quite rapidly. “From the importance of pricing to the importance of quality — brand safety, ad fraud and viewability are taking the front seat, along with audience buying over placement buying,” says Vinod Thadani, chief digital officer, Mindshare.

Marketers are increasingly concerned and want to know where their ad dollars are being spent. “We ask platforms to deliver 60-70% viewability to start with. If they are unable to deliver that, we do not get them onboard,” says Gopa Kumar, executive vice president, Isobar India.

For FMCG major Nestlé, key concern areas for digital advertising are accountability, transparency and attribution. “We attach a lot of importance to viewability. We partner with top technology service providers such as MOAT to ensure that each rupee spent is tracked for viewability,” says Rashi Goel, vice president, consumer communications and e-commerce, Nestlé India. The company also has global tie-ups with agencies such as Double Verify and Integral Ad Science to ensure it works only with credible vendors and partners.
“We have a very transparent working relationship with all our agencies, with clear guidelines, approval and audit processes in line,” adds Goel.

Then there’s health insurance company Max Bupa, which has invested deeply in building a brand through digital. Today 40% of its marketing spend is on the digital medium. “We have tied up with Vizury to use AI for personalisation and creating consumer personas, and target consumers accordingly. It gives deep insights about consumer preferences,” says Anika Agarwal, SVP and head — marketing, digital and direct sales, Max Bupa Health Insurance. “We have reduced the customer acquisition cost by 50% using programmatic and creating consumer personas.”

Experts insist that the digital medium still works best since the most popular advertising medium — TV — ends up bombarding people with a brand’s message. Digital, on the other hand, gives a more filtered approach. But programmatic has its share of concerns owing to its murky media supply chain.

Programmatic dilemma

Increasingly, more and more marketers are moving from an inventory-based strategy to an audience-based one and are leveraging data, in order to build a more robust, programmatic and insightful audience strategy. But is programmatic transparent? Lotame, a leading data management platform (DMP), announced in February that it had removed 10% of its over four billion profiles after identifying them as fraudulent accounts (source: Adweek). So is there a trust deficit due to unreliable data? Probably.

In fact, Unilever is reported to be testing blockchain with IBM in media buying to address issues around transparency and trust (as per WARC). “Blockchain can empower advertisers by helping them take control of their media spend and can at the same time open up new direct revenue streams for publishers, which till date are non-existent,” says Gupta of Zohem. Blockchain could be an open ledger of transaction data and is being increasingly coined as a new ad tech solution to programmatic woes. It could also reduce the burden of ‘tech tax’ which advertisers have to pay due to automated buying and selling of digital media.

“Quality is top of mind even while we are buying programmatic. We screen brand safety metrics thoroughly and then add another screen of ad fraud and viewability tracking to ensure complete accountability and transparency,” says Goel of Nestlé India. “The key pain points in programmatic buying range from running campaigns on unknown/ unwanted sites, to inadvertently running them on malicious sites. We deploy a mix of technology and human intelligence to minimise these.”

Max Bupa believes that from an accuracy perspective, data is more accurate in programmatic by almost 80%. In terms of RoI also, it tends to perform better. “Even if data accuracy is 80%, on those 80% data sets we get greater results — three times the targeting and conversions we get from spending offline,” says Agarwal, while cautioning that programmatic works for brands that have an RoI-driven marketing approach. “A big pain point in programmatic is scale. If you have to scale up really quickly and reach out to more number of people, it is a difficult tool to use,” she adds.

Clearly, the need of the hour is greater control, trackability and a transparent marketplace. “Accuracy of data from the DSP (demand side platform) and DMP side, and issues of inventory at the exchange side are some of the key issues with programmatic ad buying. If you need to buy audiences, your data should be right across the ecosystem,” says Rohit Sharma, CEO, Pokkt.

But with issues like Facebook data breach and ad fraud, are large advertisers rethinking their digital plans in India? “Clients are asking more questions but advertisers are not stopping money on digital. They will continue to spend but with more questions in mind,” says Raktim Borthakur, media director, VML India.

Facebook has some tools that allow for sending customised offerings to users, but that means uploading data. “We are wary of uploading customer data and sensitive about customer privacy. We use DMP tools and Vizury to target customers on the basis of lookalikes and behaviour,” informs Agarwal. Perhaps advertisers need to take transparency more seriously; third party verification could be the best way. However, some large global platforms are not open to third party verification and clients are not willing to go the extra mile as it costs money.

From a more creativity-driven realm, digital marketing has turned into a data-backed, research-driven industry with strict performance metrics and various side tools that provide analytics on every marketing activity. But it is not foolproof. “So, for digital marketers, occasions like ad frauds or viewability miscalculations can be handled with closer ties to analytics and performance monitoring,” sums up Olga Andrienko, head of global marketing, SEMrush, a digital marketing platform.

Disappearing ad dollars

* Advertisers will lose an estimated $19 billion to fraudulent activities in 2018 globally, equivalent to $51 million per day

* Lotame announced in February it had removed 10% of its over four billion profiles after identifying them as fraudulent accounts

* Accuracy of data from the DSP and DMP side is a key issue with programmatic ad buying

* Advertisers get poor RoIs due to lack of accurate user behaviour data for targeting

* Walled gardens — accounting for more than 60% of digital ad spend — should be more open to independent measurement of performance


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