By John Nardone
The World Federation of Advertiser's Global Media Charter lays out eight "principles for partnership in the digital media advertising ecosystem." The list is a solid articulation of the top problems online advertisers face today.
It is a daunting list, but many of the issues on it can be addressed both as a matter of cost and strategy by individual brands. Others can only be addressed collectively, as an industry.
To effect real change, marketers would be wise to prioritize the WFA's list based on the issues that require an industrywide approach. With that in mind, here is a point-by-point look at the WFA's list, with a particular focus on those issues around which marketers must rally together to demand more and better options.
1. Zero Tolerance of Ad Fraud
This is the point in the WFA's charter to which brands will want to give the most careful consideration when setting their individual policies for working with publishers and demand-side platforms (DSPs).
Quite simply, ad fraud is not perpetrated by publishers, nor by ad tech partners.
Ad fraud is perpetrated by third-party criminals in places like Russia and China, and in other countries where fraudsters set up shop and use bots to mimic humans or spoof publishers to steal their traffic. In that regard, the publisher is the victim. The marketing industry must ensure it does not point the finger of blame at the wrong person.
2. Strict Brand Safety Protection
This point requires a little restraint from the individual brand. When there are concerns about brand safety, the issue is most often related to user-generated content. The biggest brand safety threats do not exist on professional content properties, such as news sites. They are on sites like Facebook, where a brand's ad could be next to Uncle Bobby's racist rant, or YouTube, where an ad could appear next to a terrorist's video.
There's little doubt these platforms are trying their best to address the issues, but the problem itself is endemic of user-generated content. So, if a brand really cares about brand safety, why would it buy ads around user-generated content?
3. Viewability Thresholds
Thanks to the diligent work of the Media Rating Council, the marketing industry already has minimum viewability standards. The question for individual brands is whether they agree that they are enough.
As the WFA's charter notes, "Advertisers should be able to trade against whatever viewability level delivers the required outcome for the business, including 100 percent in-view for full duration, if desired." In other words, brands can accept and apply the current industry definition of viewability, or they can demand more.
If a brand wants its own viewability measurement — one that lets it go beyond the industry standard — then it's going to pay a premium for it. Like so many points within the WFA's charter, this one comes down to an individual brand's willingness to pay incremental costs to achieve its goals.
4. Transparency Throughout the Supply Chain
The marketing industry wants transparency throughout the supply chain. As with viewability and brand safety, there is a solution — but it comes with a price.
If brands want full transparency within their supply chains, then they need to set up direct deals and funnel their demand through private marketplaces. It's a simple solution, but it's also an expensive and time consuming one to manage. Determining if it's worth a brand's time and money will require a cost-benefit analysis that needs to be performed by each individual brand, and communicated directly to their partners.
Everyone wants transparency, but what are they willing to pay for it?
5. Third-Party Verification and Measurement As a Basic
This is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to issues that advertisers need to band together to address.
Of all the points in the WFA's charter, this one about third-party verification and measurement should be elevated to an industrywide priority. It is an area where industry cooperation and alignment among major brand marketers can have the most affect.
The industry can no longer allow the largest advertising platforms in the world to hide behind privacy as their excuse to avoid third-party verification. The GDPR and other privacy initiatives have given companies like Google and Facebook a convenient excuse to lock down their ecosystems further, to the detriment of unbiased visibility for their advertisers. Brands that spend on these platforms should find that unacceptable.
Google is touting its Ads Data Hub as "next generation insights and reporting," but what it's really saying in closing off its ecosystem to third parties is, "You're just going to have to trust us."
The only way anything is going to change in this regard is if major brands step forward and together loudly declare, "That's not good enough."
6. Addressing "Walled Garden" Issues
Building off of the previous point regarding third-party verification, the issue of walled gardens represents the second priority area toward which marketers need to direct their collective attention. This is not an issue that any brand can tackle by itself.
When the WFA talks about the walled garden issue, it states, "Limitations placed upon inventory and/or data access, based on the DSP used, are not acceptable." And yet brands accept these limitations every single day.
On the data access side, one consequence of the walled garden approach is that a brand's understanding of the identity of its audience is woefully incomplete. The portability of IDs is not technologically impossible, or even difficult to do. It's a choice being made by the walled gardens to prevent marketers from using third-party tools. If that is to change, brands must vote with their wallets to show the walled gardens they are serious about the alternatives.
No single advertiser — not even P&G — is big enough to move Google or Facebook to open up their platforms to more flexible buying and data access. Change will require pressure from brand leaders throughout the industry.
7. Improving Standards with Data Transparency
As the WFA notes, "The way data is collected and used by some in our industry has played a part in reducing trust in online advertising. We need a fundamental shift toward an ecosystem built on trust, control, and respect for people's data." This is a broad notion, but in short, the impetus is on individual brands to do their due diligence on where their data comes from and ensure that it's reputable and of high quality. This is easier said than done, but brands will see more value from their data when they raise their standards for data quality.
For the most part, brands today are negotiating data on cost, and as a result, quality gets compromised. The WFA's call to do better here is a noble, albeit demanding, mandate to brands.
8. Improving the User Experience
Who doesn't love this final point?
The best thing a marketer can do is focus on better creative. Creativity has taken a back seat to technology over the past generation. It's time for creativity to reassert its place at the table. This is not just a question of allocating more money to creative (though that is a good start). Rather, marketers must restructure the process of creative development in a programmatic context and force creative and media agencies to work together as partners.
Within the WFA charter, there are areas that require education and areas that call for activism. When it comes to issues around the supply chain and data quality, a great number of challenges can be solved at the individual brand level through time and resources — should the brand decide to dedicate that time and resource.
The issues that require broader industry coordination should be the ones that take top priority.
The WFA's calls to action around third-party verification and other walled garden issues will require the greatest effort. These issues are the most foundational to our industry's future. To answer the call, advertisers need to focus their power not just on proclamations, but on concrete actions.
Hopefully, the continued leadership of the WFA, along with the ANA and 4A's, can lead the way.
John Nardone is the CEO of Flashtalking, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.