Home Data-Driven Thinking Sometimes, The Numbers Lie

Sometimes, The Numbers Lie


marcgoldbergData-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 Marc Goldberg, chief revenue officer at Trust Metrics.

Bad actors in digital media know that media buyers rely so much on numbers that they are often blind to obvious problems. For example, manga and anime sites carry millions of page views but can also have problems, such as ad clutter, user-generated content, copyright infringement and even porn.

These sites are likely to be on many media plans right now because anime “performs” incredibly well if you’re just looking at impressions or clicks and buyers often don’t look beyond these numbers. The data-driven decision-making that rules much of media buying today – particularly for programmatic – isn’t able to catch the problems on these sites or many other unsavory features of the internet.

The web has a seedy underbelly that is hard for advertisers and media buyers to wrap their arms around to control. Advertisers who simply follow top-line data findings actually encourage worst practices online.

Viewability is another example. A Goodway Group study found that viewable ads that meet the MRC standards convert better than nonviewable ads. But if you look closer at the data, the websites that fall into the “100% viewable” category are actually the worst performers for conversions.

Integral Ad Science recently found the same thing. All you have to do is navigate to a few of the URLs in the 100% viewable group to see that they are clearly fake sites created to capture media dollars ruled by overly stringent viewability thresholds.

In addition to viewability problems, advertisers must contend with nonhuman traffic, bad-quality content and attribution scams. Consumers block ads and visit illegal content sharing sites, porn and other ad-unfriendly places, which encourages URL masking and ad stacking. Many advertisers have ditched decent publishers in favor of these scammers just because the numbers tell them to.

I recommend to all advertisers that they implement easy rules of thumb for their media teams to encourage logic over data craziness.

It’s Simple: Look

The bad guys are always one step ahead and looking at how to take advantage of whatever data currently rules advertiser buying decisions.


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Advertisers need to bring back a human element to their media planning and actually look at what they are buying. They should visit a few of the sites and apps on their plans that drive crazy conversion rates. 

This and other issues are often plain as day – to a person. It’s easy to spot the bad guys once you know what to look for.

Be Exclusive

Using a blacklist to stop bad placements from entering a media plan is like putting up a gate at your front walkway but not fencing in the yard. It might look secure, but it’s not going to keep the bad guys out.

New sites pop up, URLs change and none of that can be stopped with a blacklist. Instead, advertisers need to be exclusive and start with a whitelist. The whitelist should be used to hold partners accountable. The clearer the requirements are to stay on the plan, the easier it is to hold them to these standards.

Keep Good Partners Close

Advertisers should think twice if new data suddenly points to ditching a great media partner with whom they have successfully worked for years. As with viewability, the data tells a story in layers, and when they peel the layers back, they will find that their best partners are probably still their best partners.  

Loyal, content-rich publishers that attract a real human audience and give real make-goods are the best bets for the long term. It is possible to work with them over time to find ways to increase viewability or drive better conversion rates.

Many premium publishers, vendors and platforms have been caught gaming the system to increase their reach or performance metrics because media buyers blindly chase the data. If advertisers find that a good partner is engaged in bad practices, it’s better to call them directly and talk about a solution than leave them in favor of an unknown that could be worse. They’ll stop if they see a media budget is on the line.

Math Men Need Mad Men

The past few years have been hailed as the passing of the Mad Men in favor of the Math Men. But, the “math” in media is enough to make anyone “mad.” Too many use data that doesn’t equate to campaign value.  

In an IDG study [PDF], nearly half of marketers said they struggle to make sense of campaign data. The other half may believe they know what the numbers mean, yet many still plan around unattainable metrics.  

Half of the industry may be ignorant of the truth behind the numbers, but some are taking the first step by recognizing the problem. The next step as an industry is to recalibrate and set goals that incorporate some logic, bringing a bit of the Mad Men back to the Math Men.

Follow Trust Metrics (@trust_metrics) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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