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Advertising transparency and trust: the case for independent verification of audience data

Glenn Hansen ()

In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace where media buyers are being held ever more accountable for buying decisions, margins and best industry practices, there is the danger that they may be relinquishing control of the process. This while those selling advertising solutions may be offering promises they cannot deliver. This begs the question, writes BPA Worldwide’s Glenn Hansen in this piece for FIPP: What traits and behaviours does the next generation marketer need to survive and thrive?

The answer is simple: transparency and trust – the two words which are heard more frequently now than ever before. There has been a shift of marketing spend in recent years to digital channels which, through technology, has given the marketer multiple measurement metrics which were not available in other forms of media. However, transparency and trust have not walked in step with the advancement in technology.

Consider the example of Facebook, which reported discrepancies with its ad measurement. I believe advertisers regarded the social media giant as simply too big to be incorrect, while Facebook continued to cultivate those old-school “trust me” relationships with advertisers. 

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Marc Pritchard of Procter & Gamble is known for infamously calling out Google and Facebook’s “walled gardens” and demanding transparency from the digital supply chain. Pritchard concluded. "It's time we come together to solve these problems," he said. "Let's realise the enormous potential of this amazing industry."

Keith Weed at Unilever joined the competitor, P&G, in the call for greater trust and transparency in adland. Improved viewability and metrics that mean something and are industry-wide are what is needed. In the UK in the meantime The Times exposed brand safety issues, where advertisers were inadvertently supporting terrorist groups by unknowingly advertising on their websites or videos.

With so much technology at hand, how could marketers not possibly understand or question their digital supply chain? 

The fact is the data was inaccurate and technology giants are still not adhering to industry best practices by allowing independent technology auditors to verify their systems. The industry placed trust and transparency without any reason for it to exist. 

It was the lack of oversight that allowed the situation to get to this point for advertisers. Metrics were being provided and they looked great, never questioned. But ads are not much use if they are viewed by non-human traffic, not relevantly placed when a human is on a website, or not viewable at all.

Now is the time for buyers to flex their muscles and stop investing precious advertising dollars until media platform owners – no matter how big or small – submit their processes and data to independent audits.

Marketing is complex and fragmented. Technology and working practices have led to a lack of accountability and transparency. What I have learned from my time in this industry is that advertising performance needs to be measured and optimised so that ad budgets are put to the most effective use. More importantly than this, measurement needs to be verified externally, not by those selling solutions or those buying. If we can get back to this point, trust and transparency can return. 

Marketers need to ask questions and be more proactive.

• Demand agents provide transparency. 

• Demand accountability for advertising spend that your ads were viewable by a real qualified audience. Demand accurate metrics.

• Demand one universal measurement system to one set of standards. 

• Do not be afraid of the automation that is sweeping through the media landscape.

• Learn more about how agents’ systems work.

• Make sure these automated solutions work – and work properly. 

• Make sure those systems are independently third party verified to industry standards. 

• Take responsibility for ad spend decisions; do not abdicate to agents. If you do not do so, you do so at your own peril.

BPA Worldwide is an independent, industry-owned, auditor of media and ad technology platforms. We call on the marketing community to help us to help them in bringing back trust and transparency to the media industry.

Get involved. 

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