Can The ANA Save Digital Advertising?

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spanfeller-sell-siderThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell-side of the digital media community.

Today's column is written by Jim Spanfeller, CEO at Spanfeller Media Group,

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) recently joined online fraud-detection firm White Ops for an effort called “The Marketers’ Coalition.” Together they will look into the issues of impression fraud in the digital advertising ecosystem caused by bots. This is the most direct move yet by America’s major marketers to fully engage in the transactional elements of the digital space.

Can the ANA and its members save the digital advertising business? Not only do I believe they can, I think this is just the beginning of the process. What’s more, this might be one of those “just in time” moments.

First off, why do they want to? Well, that is a fairly straightforward thought process.  To some extent, any company that counts on mass consumer adoption to be successful (and depending on how you define it, this means just about every company, of any size, out there  whether it is B-to-C or B-to-B) counts on advertising success as part of its core business model.

Now some companies might call this something else but, at the end of the day, for a company to grow, it must do two fundamental things. It has to retain current customers and it must attract new ones. Advertising is a core tool to increase consumer trial and, assuming you have a good product or service, grow customer ranks.

Back in the late '90s, Ed Artz, then CEO of the world’s largest advertiser, said P&G’s core competitive advantage was, in fact, advertising. He went on to say that P&G, and just about every other marketer, was going to have to figure out the Internet or it would face a very difficult time. His reasoning was centered on the already-growing percentage of time consumers spent online. Of course, since that time online has exploded and is rivaling TV with just about everyone suggesting that we are marching undeterred towards a fully digital media future.

So marketers must figure out how to use the digital ecosystem in the most optimal ways possible. They have to be where the consumers are.

Clearly a huge impediment towards that goal has been the rise of fraudulent traffic, unseen ads, inappropriate ad placement and the other negative outcomes that can, and often do, come with programmatic planning and buying.

This is not to suggest that the concept of programmatic is wrong but simply that we have gotten a bit ahead of ourselves in rushing to this promise of a more efficient future. Our current executions, as I have said on more than one occasion in this space, lack the real regulation and transparency that we see in the financial markets. This is funny, in and of itself, in light of some of the issues that our financial markets face around these very same issues, albeit in a much more nuanced way.

The real problem is that the folks who are ultimately spending the money have been loath to jump into these issues until now. This is understandable on a number of levels, but was no less debilitating. If we think about the marketing and media process as a whip (depending on where you fall on this analogy, an increasingly apt metaphor) with the client (marketer) as the handle and the publisher (TV channel and so forth) as the tip, it is hard to imagine wholesale change being forced through the ecosystem without marketers’ fulsome involvement. There is simply too much inertia around profit model focus and chasing the next new thing.

When the web was young, it was changing at a rate that made just about everyone’s head spin. The further away from the epicenter you were, the harder it was to understand what was driving these changes or what they really meant. For an emerging medium, this was a great thing. We saw huge advancements, seemingly on a monthly basis.

But now, with scale, clarity and understanding are needed. If we want marketers to spend huge money in digital, and consumers to spend huge time with it, they have to understand and trust it. Neither is fundamentally true at this point.

With the recent announcement from the ANA about its program with White Ops, it would appear that we now do indeed have the marketer’s involvement in this growing problem, which, if left unchecked, would eat the entire digital advertising industry. They are moving toward understanding and defining the issue, and then, hopefully, generating some ideas for solutions.

I am told that just about every major medium that has come before has had similar moments. Magazines needed the Audit Bureau of Circulation, networks needed the MRC and overall back-end accounting in the supply chain needed some regulation or, perhaps better stated, standardization.

These efforts worked to not only improve the understanding and trust of marketers, but also to make consumers more comfortable with what they were spending their time with.

Perhaps now we are ready for the digital world’s version of this, which is not to suggest that I have the answer. I don’t. It is simply to say that I for one am very happy that the ANA and its members are now fully in the game. I think it means that we are at the beginning of the end of this issue, and perhaps at the beginning of digital truly becoming a mature (read: even bigger) medium.

Follow Jim Spanfeller (@JimSpanfeller) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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