How GroupM Handles the Major Digital Ad Issues Facing the Media Industry

February 29, 2016

In this interview, GroupM’s Joe Barone talks about the progress that has been made on the major digital ad issues facing media today.

Susan Kantor, Director, Marketing and Communications

Joe Barone of GroupM

AAM: Of all the digital ad issues facing the media industry—fraud, ad blocking, viewability, measurement, automation—which is the most concerning for GroupM?

Joe Barone: It is all interconnected and we think of the integrity of the digital supply chain holistically. We’re focused on being accountable in the digital supply chain and ensuring brand safety. We work with premium publishers, know who we’re buying from, enforce terms and conditions to make sure we have clean streets for our clients to walk down. With fraud, it’s always going to be a game of whack a mole. But if we can make it harder for the bad guys to operate and reduce their margins, we’ll get a lead on them and get a hold of the problem.

In the past year, there is a lot more education and confidence that we’re heading in the right direction. You need to understand the problem before you can address it.


AAM: GroupM supports TAG and requires partners to become certified or use anti-piracy guidelines. What progress has been made? How does TAG help build a more trusted supply chain?

JB: There are a couple of levels as to why we’re involved as a charter member of TAG. On one hand, it’s the right thing to do creating brand safety as described above. From the practical perspective, we also have major content-producing clients like NBCUniversal. We have worked with them over the past several years to identify over 200,000 domains that are pirating content.

We have to constantly keep this up to date and make sure the API is working so that data is available in real time as we’re bidding. We’ve been in this space a lot longer than TAG has, but to have a comprehensive approach, we need contributions of multiple players. TAG helps facilitate that approach and will also help manage the blacklist.

When TAG was originally imagined, the idea was a self-certification program against piracy—a sworn statement to say you are acting appropriately. Now they’ve moved to the model of an actual audit, and AAM is involved in the audit process for Digital Advertising Assurance Providers. That’s part of the value. Third-party audits help us break it down into those who have been certified and those who haven’t.

This should not be something that becomes a point of difference from one player to another. We should all be doing this together as an industry solution. Those pirates can survive without our money, but not without everybody’s money.


AAM: What steps is GroupM taking to address issues like digital ad fraud and piracy?

JB: We’ve been working with Double Verify and Integral Ad Science since 2010.  We have an aggressive stance on viewability standards. In addition to our trading standard of 100% of pixels in view, we also require our preferred vendors to measure against the new MRC SIVT Guidelines.



AAM: Is digital ad viewability still a major industry issue?

JB: We’ve seen definite increases in viewability rates. Publishers are redesigning sites to optimize viewability and reconciling on viewability numbers. Viewability has moved into the mobile space with in-app ads. There has been tremendous progress in viewability. I think you’d be on an island as a publisher if you’re not transacting—or at least reconciling—with viewable impressions.

But it’s still an issue because there are still a couple of islands. There is still the need for education. There is still development work to eliminate non-viewable inventory and define the digital GRP to make digital comparable with television, which is the goal of the work with 3MS. The work goes on for sure.


AAM: Is digital ad blocking as much of a concern for GroupM as it is for publishers?

JB: From a revenue standpoint, it’s different. Most often, the way ad blockers work, it blocks the ad call, so our clients are not losing out of pocket. But it’s a solvency issue for publishers because they are losing the opportunity to sell. When you look at the demographics, IT groups (professionals) and young males are much more likely to block, so there are issues with reach and frequency. Although our clients aren’t paying out of pocket, we’re just as concerned with how to get someone to turn off an ad blocker once it is installed.


AAM: How is GroupM addressing some of the reasons why users are turning to digital ad blockers? How do the LEAN standards from IAB play a role?

JB: I think the tenants of LEAN are exactly the things we should be addressing. In the past six months, there has been a lot of news about data usage. Based on the type of data plan, you might use 75 percent of your monthly data on ads loading in the background. That’s unacceptable.

There is a lot of behavior we have to look at in the industry, and that gets into the area of self-regulation. We have to agree as an industry that we won’t use the types of ads that annoy consumers—flashy music, auto-play ads—and be responsible with data usage.


AAM: What are the responsibilities of each player in the digital ad supply chain to increase accountability?

JB: I think it’s everybody’s responsibility. We spend a lot of time sharing information with clients, and education is a big part of what I do. We have over 200 account teams, and I spend a lot of time going to those agencies to do educational presentations. We do the same things with our clients. In 2012 we had a round of education meetings to help clients fully understand the issues and what we were doing.  We think this kind of education builds trust and builds a client base informed and equipped to partner with us to resolve problems with publishers. If our clients are educated and our account teams are educated and we can put pressure on publishers, that education helped build that transparency.


AAM: Why is it important to have metrics that are independently validated by a third party?

JB: A level of impartiality is what we’re looking for. Seven years ago, we moved from publisher numbers to third-party numbers. TV has Nielsen. The concept of an impartial third party is extremely important so we have confidence to clients and clients and the agencies that support them have confidence in the publisher. An independent third party is a basic foundation of our industry.


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

JB: The first is transparency. We need to be transparent, and we need to educate clients, agency teams and publishers to build that trust. The second is continue to test. We are always holding preferred partners for what’s the latest you’ve done. Then we can communicate to our clients that we believe choices A, B, and C are good because we tested them this quarter, not because we tested them two years ago.

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