Media Transparency, Ad Blocking and Programmatic Buying from the Agency Perspective

February 15, 2016

Brandworks International’s Ted Boyd shares his experience with ad blocking, programmatic buying—the pitfalls and benefits—and his views on accountability in the age of automation.

Ted Boyd of Brandworks

AAM: Of all of the issues facing media transparency in the industry—fraud, ad blocking, measurement, programmatic buying—which do you think are the most concerning for your organization?

Ted Boyd: I would say fraud and ad blocking, largely because of the uncertainty associated with those two topics. Marketing automation is good because it allows us to focus more on strategy and less on the rigor of involving people in what could be automated processes. Yes, there are challenges with that, but generally automation is a positive thing because it allows the human being to focus on more value-added deliverables. Ad fraud and ad blocking remain front and center because they are things that can fly under the radar in an automated environment and are really detrimental to the reputation of the industry overall.


AAM: What is your opinion in using measurement provided by a publisher versus third-party metrics?

TB: I'm always inclined to look for census data—server-side data from a publisher or a partner—but I do prefer all things being equal and to see the data that is valid, verified, audited. Depending on the nature of the publication and the size and frequency of the buy, there are shades of gray in terms of how much rigor needs to be associated with the transaction. Given the nuances and complexities of the digital media marketplace, a less rigorous verification process may be appropriate. Verification is absolutely necessary, and then it becomes a conversation with your publishing partners to decide the mutually acceptable level of verification.


AAM: Could you share any best practices, pointers, advice to build more media transparency and industry trust?

TB:  It doesn't matter if you're an agency, an advertiser, a publisher, an ad tech player or analytics or research house, all of us have challenges understanding how to build an ecosystem as close to perfect as possible. Full disclosure in an honest, transparent and timely way will build trust among all players and ultimately an environment where we can transact with trust. The only way this industry will ever get to where we hope it can be, is if the person who is paying the freight for the majority of the ecosystem to exist—particularly the advertiser supported by thought-leadership from their agency—is the driving force toward media transparency.


AAM: Since we're talking about disclosures, what do you think of TAG’s Inventory Quality Guidelines (formerly the Quality Assurance Guidelines)?

TB: I think that putting parameters around the quality of inventory—what goes into the exchange and what comes out—really makes sense. With IQG you have a common understanding across the ecosystem of what quality means. The industry needs a clearly focused initiative around those two things because without media transparency how do you know that you have quality? You don't. It really helps to remind people of that constantly and therefore IQG, to me, is hugely valuable.


AAM: What have been your experiences when it comes to programmatic buying? What's the good, the bad, the ugly?

TB: We have a trading desk in the agency that is very effective for us and we are completely transparent in our transactions. We disclose all of our fees, partners—everything. We're proud of being transparent and it's worked well for us so far.

Programmatic buying is automated, but you still need some very smart human interaction on the optimization side and interpreting the data. It's cumbersome to turn data into insights without over burdening your media group. Also, structuring our teams to deliver on the value versus the numbers themselves is a constant point of vigilance for us. So I'd say that's both good and bad.

The ugly is you just don't know what you don't know. There's a certain irony that the more automated we get, the more we have to go back and validate when we discover something has gone awry. We've never had so much cost savings delivered by automation of marketing. But once you realize there's an anomaly, you have to chase the piece of string to where it goes to honor your clients’ trust and so you're also very manual at times.


AAM: What questions should advertisers ask their agencies to make sure they have a good level of transparency set up, especially in an RTB environment?

TB: “Explain the money trail.” Following the money always gives a very clear answer because people will not put money where they can't understand how it's going to be used and where it's going to be placed. If the money becomes opaque at a certain point, then you're probably into some gray or potentially dangerous territory.

Clients should also ask, "What sorts of places should our brand be exposed in via the programmatic buying space?" If the answer is even vaguely hesitant, I would push pretty hard on that. We as agencies should expect our clients to push us to deliver on those programmatic buying questions, challenges, insights because that drives better outcomes and may frankly better relationships.

Lastly, I would ask, “What don't I know that you should be telling me?” Really challenge that and ask your agency to introduce their partners to clients. Have a healthy skepticism and a really healthy interest and curiosity about where your brand and money are going.



AAM: What’s your perspective on ad blocking? How is the user experience being disrupted by a lack of media transparency?

TB: We got ourselves into this problem by designing ads that were increasingly intrusive. Then players like Apple came along and left us exposed as an industry for some propriety system to flank us and say, "OK we're going to change the user experience." Having said all of that, we need to align around standards that allow for an ad to be appreciated while not ruining the consumer experience. Ad blocking actually offers the industry an opportunity to get its act together. And we need to do it in the next six to 24 months or the industry will be at great risk because I don't think ad blocking is going away.

If an ad is properly structured and built, there should be a social contract between the visitor and the publisher. Content is exchanged in return for looking at these ads. It's been a very long-term social contract and right now the social contract has been broken—not by the consumer but by the industry, by the publishing side of the business, by ad tech. We now have to take full responsibility and fix it.


AAM: What work do you think still needs to be done to make viewable impressions the currency?

TB: There are still disparate points of view as to how long an ad should be on the page before its deemed viewable. The same is true for video. The biggest opportunity is to continue to hammer out what, from a user’s point of view, constitutes a viewable impression of any kind of media. We need to continue to force those conversations to a conclusion where everybody's not quite happy. If one group is very happy and another one isn't, that's not a perfect deal. But if everyone comes away from the negotiating table a little bit unhappy, we're probably pretty close to something that works.


AAM: What steps is your company taking or planning to take to address issues like fraud and piracy?

TB: We are involved with as many stakeholders as possible to try and understand the implications of what we're doing for our clients on a daily basis. We work with the IAB, AAM and Vividata, the stakeholders who have an interest in shining a light on fraud and piracy. We have a healthy respect for what we don't know. I would never be comfortable saying to a client, "We can guarantee you that fraud and piracy are not going to occur.” I’d say something like, “I can tell you that we're very vigilant and that if we learn something, you'll be the first to know.” That's all we can do, is be brave enough to tell the truth when we learn the truth.


AAM: So the final question. Do you think that everyone in the supply chain is willing to step up to the plate to provide the level of media transparency that we've been talking about, the type of transparency to ultimately help promote digital advertising's success?

TB: The more conversations that are had in public, the more it encourages people to shine a light on places in the ecosystem that are unknown. If you're somebody who has figured out a way to make money from the ecosystem without being transparent, the odds are you're not going to be transparent. I really like to think that we're going to have an ecosystem where, unless you're certified or are known to be of character, you’re not going to be able to participate or, at a minimum, advertisers and their agencies will be able to make an informed choice. The more that we expand that circle of trust, the less room there is for the untrustworthy.

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