Media transparency: significant signs of progress

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This week has demonstrated that real progress is being made by advertisers who want to improve their media performance by improving accountability. Transparency is crucial to this process.

This subject dominated industry headlines in 2016, and the centrepiece was unquestionably the ANA’s media transparency initiative. The K2 Intelligence study exposed the culture of media incentives in the US market and dominated the discourse, with its forensic revelations of how those incentives work.

If the ‘disease’ monopolized the headlines, the ‘cure’ was less controversial. The ‘Prescriptions, Principles and Processes’ recommendations document written by Ebiquity and FirmDecisions for the ANA inevitably did not achieve the same headlines as the K2 study. In fact, in the Fall of 2016, it may have appeared that the world had already moved on and the media agencies’ denial of involvement in the practices identified by K2 had successfully stifled advertiser reaction.

Now we are starting to see that reaction. After a period of reflection and preparation, advertisers are addressing the issues of media transparency, usually behind firmly closed doors.

The most significant evidence of this is the address delivered by Marc Pritchard, the Chief Brand Officer of Procter and Gamble, at Sunday’s IAB Conference in Florida. As the world’s largest advertiser, the world listens when P&G speak, and Mr Pritchard’s description of the advertising market as being  ‘murky at best and fraudulent at worst’ will resonate loudly.

Procter and Gamble correctly want to achieve media transparency as a means to improve business performance, converting inefficient investment into better business returns. They do not want transparency for its own sake.

Likewise, the recommendations that Ebiquity and FirmDecisions produced for the ANA are designed to produce an improved return-on-investment, enabled by transparency, as outlined at last Thursday’s ANA member seminar in New York.

P&G have outlined four key steps to achieve this:

  • Standard viewability metrics
  • Independent measurement
  • Transparent contracts
  • Control of ad fraud

The fifth is to only invest with publishers and through trading partners who comply with these four stipulations. These measures should be adopted by the industry as a whole.

Yet the P&G address was not the only recent sign of progress in the move towards better media stewardship and transparency. Last week saw the publication of research by the World Federation of Advertisers into how their members are organising their programmatic affairs. This research showed that advertisers are demanding greater transparency from their agencies’ trading desks and choosing not to go with opaque and undisclosed ‘opt-in’ agreements which limit their right to follow the data and money chains.

This week also saw the announcement by Nielsen and comScore of enhanced measurement of Facebook display viewability, following on the announcement of Snapchat’s partnership with Moat to measure video. Higher measurement standards are coming to the ‘walled garden’ players.

Meanwhile, Business Insider reported that several US advertisers have agreed settlements with their agency partners to avoid having to declare their media owner incentive deals, following on from stories in the same journal regarding the payment of media rebates being declared by UK publishers. The rebate genie is out of the bottle.

So there are very positive signs that advertisers are placing pressure on their media agencies and the publisher community to improve the accountability and transparency of their media investments, especially in online display where advertisers have seen so much lost value in excessive costs and poor exposure. This trend towards transparency will continue to roll forward, to the greater good of the industry as a whole.

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About Author

Chief Strategy Officer

Nick has spent 30 years in the media industry, principally having co-founded Manning Gottlieb Media (MGM) in 1990. MGM became one of the most highly respected and fastest-growing Media Specialist agencies before becoming part of Omnicom in 1997. His most recent position was CEO of OMD’s operations in the UK. Nick also co-founded OPera, the media negotiation arm for OMD and PHD, with billings of £1 billion. He joined Ebiquity in October 2007 as Chief Operating Officer with special responsibility for the Analytics division before becoming President, International, in overall charge of Ebiquity’s non-UK based operations. Nick is now Chief Strategy Officer, with responsibility for developing and implementing Ebiquity’s strategy across its three business segments.

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