Transparency in digital

James Bourner, Global Head of Display at digital agency Jellyfish comments on media transparency on the back of P&G's Marc Pritchard's speech at the IAB ALM.

James Bourner

Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard recently made an impassioned speech about transparency in media. He made the case that we need to take a serious look at the digital part of our industry and really start working towards cleaning up our collective acts. At least I assume it was impassioned. I wasn’t there. However, as I was reading the transcript that’s how I imagined it delivered. I imagined it that way not because of the prose but because if it were my speech it would be very passionate indeed. 

Why? Because I fear for digital advertising. I fear for display media. I fear for the web and all the good content that is funded, not in any small part, by advertising. I believe firmly in the concept that the consumer only sees one brand and that brands exist on a knife edge of consumer love and consumer hate - to paraphrase the marketing chief at Red Bull “brand loyalty: built in teaspoons and lost in buckets”. Where am I going with this? Pritchard made reference to digital being  “murky at best and fraudulent at worst”. He’s right, and it’s not sustainable. And I fear for something I love. 

I want to look at the “murky” aspect. There are two key contributing factors to this, which to me can be wrapped up under the transparency banner. Incidentally: Transparency – while it’s much talked about, not enough people are putting their money where their mouth is.  

Due to the way digital has exploded, things have naturally happened in silos – that’s fine. People working in digital are also conditioned to test new concepts, technologies and companies – also fine. However, sometimes not enough diligence is put into testing new players and seeing whether they stay as part of the buy, be it a new network, data source, buying platform or format. This has resulted in many parts of a media plan being executed by different companies, often doing the same thing, with virtually the same inventory, data, or whatever makes their proposition “unique”. What does this mean? An elongated value chain. 

More players taking more margin, arbitrage models, less money spent on media, more being extracted, resulting in media prices being forced down and inventory largely commoditised. In turn, publishers are being forced to generate more impressions to maintain yield, reducing effectiveness, ruining experience and more disruptive, aggressive ad formats being used to maintain effectiveness. Of course this was exacerbated by explosive growth of the web and therefore a seemingly infinite amount of impressions but now is the time to take stock. Be more diligent and do more with less – we have the technology to target and deliver amazing campaigns. Let’s start to use it better and be more accountable. And, for heaven’s sake, take the long view and get (or keep) digital as the viable, versatile medium that it is. 

I haven’t even touched on transparency in placement or transparency in cost. Nor have I spoken about how using incorrect metrics is a core issue, or not using the right metrics properly. I leave you with this thought: If viewability is important to you, which it should be, finding a vendor that will achieve 100% viewability by over-delivering a campaign (just piling on more impressions until you hit your goal) might just mean you’re part of the problem.  

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