Log-Level Data Isn’t A Silver Bullet For Transparency

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by John Nardone, CEO at Flashtalking.

There is increasing demand from large brands and agencies for log-level data directly from publishers and exchanges. The original impetus was to audit the auction dynamics and fee structures in exchanges.

And while sophisticated brands and agencies are excited about how log data analysis might help optimize their media buying, the most common invocation of log data that I see is still as a check against a murky supply path. In that respect, log-level data has been touted as the latest currency in the drive toward greater transparency in the ecosystem, one that could “lay the groundwork for a mature phase of programmatic.”

Personally, I doubt it.

Log data holds some utility for large brands with the size and infrastructure to ingest, process and analyze it. That’s a small minority. For most brands and the digital ecosystem writ large, we should be wary of treating it like a silver bullet.

I’ve already heard brands express the sentiment, “If I just get the log data, then I can trust my partners.” Putting aside the considerable and often prohibitive cost of processing log-level data, and assuming everyone had access to it all the time, would it solve the problem of trust? Would ubiquitous log-level data allow us to move past a decade of lapses in trust into a more “mature phase of programmatic?”

That’s wishful thinking. Brands shouldn’t expect log-level data to provide a single guiding light through the entire supply path. And they can’t wait for trust to be standardized into our ecosystem, either. For all the consortia, standards and layers of verification, we all operate against a backdrop of distrust. That’s the scar tissue from a decade riddled with scandals around fraud, hidden agency fees, nonviewable impressions, daisy chaining and everything else.

What brands need is a multilayered approach for building trust into their own supply chain. At the recent ANA Trust Summit, I presented a number of suggestions for what this might look like:

Commit to private marketplaces, and pay agencies for the extra effort it takes to do the work: Roughly 60-70% of marketers’ open web spend should go to publishers that they proactively choose to work with. They can still get the benefit of their programmatic pipes and data. But they don’t have to be blind to their inventory sources.

Work with tenured players – both companies and people – and choose as if you were investing in the company. Over time, quality players tend to stick around while those with questionable models or inability to execute fall by the wayside. That is not to say that marketers should not try new entrants, but they should be skeptical of magical claims and not expect new players to handle scale quickly, if at all.

Have a media-independent partner to count and audit: Marketers should establish their own objective source of truth. Avoid letting buying platforms and inventory suppliers grade their own homework.

Run post-campaign fraud audits: Marketers are already using verification partners such as IAS, DoubleVerify or Moat to identify potential fraud before the bid. But the bad guys are smart, motivated and well-funded, so verification partners will always be playing catch-up. Therefore, marketers should run periodic post-campaign fraud audits with a recognized specialist, such as Marketing Science or White Ops. These will help marketers understand what fraud is still getting through and take corrective actions.

Narrow the role of procurement: Trust is a two-way street. Potential partners can’t trust marketers if their interactions are funneled through an intermediary, especially if the intermediary is less than knowledgeable about the services they are buying and are determined to restrict information and define objectives based on costs, rather than value. Granted, quality is hard to define in marketing tech and services ­– but practitioners know it when they see it.

Spend time on creative: We spend a lot of time stressing about wasted money spent on low-quality inventory, and with good reason. However, we don’t spend nearly enough time focused on making sure our creative makes effective use of the inventory we purchase. But there is far more juice to be squeezed from the creative lemon than the media lime – and it is totally within the brand’s control. The quality of the creative is by far the biggest factor in advertising’s impact on sales lift, according to research from Nielsen. That’s where marketers will find the most return on effort.

Log-level data may indeed precipitate a more mature version of programmatic. And as large brands forge the way, it may become a more democratized currency that creates a more transparent ecosystem.

For all the promise, this isn’t anything brands should bank on. They should focus on what they can control today, with the tools and the leverage at hand.

Follow Flashtalking (@flashtalking) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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