Those like me who were early into digital marketing had great hopes 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 and what happened to those who saw, clicked and engaged with the ad. We would know it down to each and every impression, and advertising would be more interesting. The net effect would be that online advertising would appear not just 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.
How did it go wrong?
The other day I wrote about how the dream of targeting and relevance has taken shape (see Display Advertising Is A Failed State). Now we’re in an even more precarious situation, where advertisers have 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. Many believed that from a technology standpoint, it would be hard, or maybe impossible, to put systems in place that worked 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, now it seems like we’re living in a world where Facebook had misreported how much time users were spending watching videos, then there was an issue with overall video performance, then engagement numbers for links and live videos, then problems with traffic to Instant Articles and 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 all happened in this past year.
Don’t worry, advertisers.
From where I’m sitting, 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 be watching and — more importantly — what does an advertiser do in a world where they have limited choices where to put their ads? Advertisers and media companies don’t have the technological infrastructure to outsmart the Googles and Facebooks of the world, and ultimately, they need them – maybe now more than ever – to help the brands they represent reach a significant online audience.
Math is hard.
There’s 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 and these major online players, and think “just get it right!” Many don’t remember that the Internet was not built to be an engine of commerce. It has, slowly, become one over the last decade and a half. It’s not perfect. It is evolving. It was never meant to do things that we’re expecting it to do these days. Still, publishers, media companies and even the brands themselves need to be more accountable about what ads are being served, where that’s happening, and who exactly is seeing those ads (and what they’re doing after they’re viewed). It’s fine for the Facebooks and the Googles to make mistakes, to be transparent about those errors, to either compensate against these mistakes or prove that it had little-to-no-effect on overall campaign performance, but it’s not fine for everyone in the mix to simply allow the publishers 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. Does that exist? Are these solutions that Google and Facebook have put in place? Do the brands, media companies and publishers all agree?
So, 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.
- Mitch Joel is President of Mirum Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @mitchjoel.
A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.