Online Ads – Robots, Fraud and Ineffectiveness Increase

Many billions (in whatever currency you care to consider) are spent every year in the on-line advertising sector. But the questions about the effectiveness of this spend, and the associated issues around fraud, just won’t go away.

The Register website reports: “Fraud checker Meetrics measures the “viewability” of online ads. If an advertisement isn’t viewable, one of several things may have happened, none of which are good. It may have appeared offscreen or in an inactive browser window. Or a botnet may have clocked up the required number of clicks. The ad intermediary pockets the cash although the advertiser has seen no return on their investment. It’s wasted spending. So “viewability” is a reasonable proxy for fraud”.

The problem has been exacerbated by the growth of “programmatic” advertising; a highly automated approach to buying ads and allocating budget. In the past couple of years, the advertisers have got wind of this potential waste of their spend and put pressure on the agencies, the intermediaries in the process, to sort it out.

But the recent Meetrics report suggests that things aren’t getting better – they are getting worse. In the UK, viewability dropped from 52% to 50% of display ads in the last quarter of 2015. In Germany, it fell from 61% to 58%, and in France, from 69% to 65%.

It is also worth noting that the definition of “viability” is not exactly onerous. Meetrics uses the ad industry (IAB) measure of viewability: "At least 50 per cent of the surface of an online ad have to appear in the visible area of the browser for at least one second (50/1)".

I’m not sure if I saw half of an advert for one second I would consider that I have viewed it! But anyway, this all adds up to huge fraud, in effect, being perpetrated on the advertisers who use online options. Many billions of dollars are being extracted in this way, plus all the money that does not disappear as “fraud” but is nonetheless wasted because consumers just don’t see it (or don’t notice it, or indeed react negatively to it).

Private Eye, the satirical and campaigning magazine, has a great little feature of examples where adverts are placed by automated systems (robots, we like to think of them) next to news stories because they have a linkage – but the end result is highly inappropriate. For example:

Guardian Headline -  "The Zika virus foreshadows our distopian climate future".

Accompanying Ad - "Puerto Rico: Direct from London Gatwick one way / inc taxes, £159 ... "

When I see these, I always wonder if there is a brand manager and perhaps a marketing services procurement manger thinking “oh no”! There really should be, because the effect of that expenditure is not helping the brand at all.

On the positive side, this must be an area where procurement can add value by our focus on real value and supplier performance, rather than being seen as simply the folk who drive down unit pricing. There would seem to be huge scope for the procurement and marketing professions to work together in order to get real value from this huge spend area; one that is not going to go away.

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