"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 Paul Wright, CEO at iotec.
In the last few weeks I have had time to think about media before the web came into our lives. Before the first “Trainspotting” and when there were only three “Star Wars” films, media was a fairly straightforward business.
I started my career at the fledgling Sky Channel – before it became BSkyB – which was an entrepreneurial business, but one that had to comply with industry best practices to be successful with advertisers. Media roles were clear. Agencies bought media, media owners sold media and third parties, such as the Broadcasters Audience Research Board, measured activity. Clients had transparency of what they bought.
The rise of the web and Silicon Valley titans has changed all that. I, for one, am all for progress, but I sense the many issues that media faces today have arisen because we have drifted from those guiding principles.
There are now hundreds of suppliers, from the big guys like Facebook to small data providers, and many of them have taken the attitude of “our approach is best” while ignoring the needs of advertisers.
The truth is many solutions are sold using a platform-first mentality; they are designed around the vendor’s way of working, not the industry’s. Equally, there are some that impose their approach without any recourse to third-party tracking or client needs.
In my years spent working on the agency side, no one asked me what software solutions I needed – vendors told me what I could have, typically failing to mention the weaknesses of their approach. Each company would troop in with their well-rehearsed PowerPoint deck telling me that I really needed their technical approach but it would mean some adjustments to our working practices. Now, some were pretty new and useful but many others were designed by people with a business plan that was designed to be sold – usually on the back of a contract with us.
As one senior agency leader once quipped, the tech companies are the early Fords of advertising – doing ads at an industrial scale as long as it follows their rules.
Facebook recently had a bad few months of admitting that some of its data was wrong. It is surprising that a company that is now so important in the digital ecosystem is allowed to operate like this.
In my view, the digital advertising industry was so bedazzled by Mark Zuckerberg that it forgot to insist upon basic rules until it was too late. In my agency days, I had clients wanting to “get close” to Facebook so badly that they pretty much threw their media principles away. Some of these companies hailed from the same brands that a few years earlier had demanded that Sky could only have advertising bookings once BARB was implemented for satellite TV.
Now don’t get me wrong, Facebook is a great business, but as a business solely focused on advertising revenue, it needs to work with the industry and provide the types of third-party verification others have embraced.
Ironically only Apple – not a major player in the advertising space and renowned for its secrecy – actually got its mobile ad platform iAd verified by the Media Rating Council in 2013, nearly four years ago. This is now what is being proposed for all, including Facebook, which recently announced that it has committed to an audit with the MRC, although it is still unclear whether it will push for actual certification or not.
It is not just the big players where this “do as I say” approach has flourished. Many in the ad tech industry have blinded agencies and clients with this approach. This included a raft of business models where transparency became obscure in the chase for revenue growth and IPOs. Technology has also allowed agencies to become media traders in a way that they were not before and this has blurred the lines between client, agency and media owner.
So how will the market evolve?
P&G’s Marc Pritchard and the UK’s ISBA have outlined some ideas that are resonating with many related to transparency predominantly, but also the need for more stringent measures for third-party auditing and implementation of viewability standards, to name a few.
But there is more – the ad tech and mar tech industry needs to come together, be transparent and start working on a model that allows all to flourish. Standard practices, third-party measurement and a commitment to deal with ad fraud need to be prioritized. This includes Google, Facebook, media buyers, the measurement industry, clients and maybe even consumers.
It is time to go back to some good principles that served us well and for vendors to remember who pays the bills – hopefully before we get to “Star Wars 8” or “Trainspotting 3.” After all, the originals are often the best.