Marketers to take back control of their media spend

In the past 12 months, global multinational companies have been looking to respond to concerns that they have lost control of media activity. This extends to 35 companies with a total annual marketing spend of more than US$30 billion globally.

This was according to new research by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) which found global brands making or having plans to make major and extensive changes to their media governance practices. This was across a wide range of areas.

According to the report, more active management of media issues now involves brand safety, viewability and ad fraud as well as the transparency issues raised by the ANA’s reports from K2 and Ebiquity. The survey was conducted in May this year and saw 73% per cent of respondents having global roles. The rest were in regional roles covering Europe, North America and APAC.

Overall, transparency remained top priority for 47% companies surveyed. Brand safety is also moving up in terms of priority, with 70% of companies adding that the issue has been escalated in the last 12 months.

With regards to transparency, 65% of companies sought to improve internal capabilities through the hire of a head of programmatic, among other moves. More than 70% of companies have amended their media agency contracts and 58% have included terms that define agency status as agent or principle at law.

When it comes to ad fraud, many companies surveyed are also taking actions. 55% are now limiting run of exchange buys, 43% are shifting away from using CPM as their key metric in favour of business outcomes. Meanwhile, 40% are developing in-house resource to help tackle ad fraud.

On the topic of viewability, only now are 63% of companies investing in viewable impressions which meet industry standards, while 37% have devised their own viewability criteria.

For brand safety, 74% of companies have suspended their investments in ad networks, citing unnecessary risks to brands. In addition, 14% of companies have plans to follow suit. 89% currently limit or plan to limit investment in ad networks that do not allow use of third-party verification.

The report’s findings come to no surprise for Lynette Ang, chief marketing officer at Sentosa Development Corporation. She said:

In today’s increasingly fragmented media scene, marketers need to better account for their media investments.

This comes with the advent of digital mediums being a significant factor, Ang explained.

“Gone are the days of traditional tracking of media spend and ROI. We need to get better and sharper at understanding what our media monies are ‘buying’ us, and whether we have been effective in these investments,” Ang said.

When it comes to brand safety, Ang added that the brand recognises the certain need to safeguard the reputation of the brand. In doing so, it adopts a whitelist/blacklist approach.

“Overall, I believe regular digital audits by professional and independent third parties will assist us in assessing these areas of concerns. This is not just in terms of performance, but also in the areas of safety and fraud,” Ang added.

Agreeing with Ang is Spencer Lee, chief commercial director at AirAsia, who added that it is good to see more and more advertisers standing together and gaining awareness of the situation.

“For advertisers, not having a view on how well your marketing investment is working for your company, is taking a big risk. Just like most other advertisers out there, we were relying on CPM as a key measurement metric in the early days,” Lee said.

There are many considerations for marketers these days as well when it comes to media practices, said Lee. This includes programmatic buys, viewability, ad fraud, bots and brand safety.

“Technology is ever changing and cyberhackers are always upping their game. Therefore it is important that advertisers, agencies and publishers too are on the alert, and work together to tackle this issue,” Lee said.

Meanwhile, ad fraud is something that is of a concern to Lee and his marketing team. This is because creating real content is costly and time-coming. Fake sites however, do not incur these costs and are able to generate a bulk of web traffic generated by bots.

As long as agencies continue to buy low-cost inventory, they continue to directly benefit frauds.

“We at AirAsia believe that the relationship with agencies should be seen as a partnership and agencies should be transparent in their reporting. Ad fraud hurts advertisers, agencies and publishers alike. We should unite and work hand-in-hand to combat this problem,” Lee said.

In a conversation with Marketing, Greg Paull, R3’s co-founder and principal, said that the results from the WFA report is similar to what is currently being seen in Southeast Asia. He added:

“It should be a wakeup call for any local or regional marketer.”

Citing a famous John Wanamaker comment from 100 years ago, Paull added that the phrase "Only half of my advertising is working" is never more relevant today. This is because in many cases only half of advertising is even being seen.

“Markets and agencies need to come to the table together to resolve these issues. This needs joint action on transparency, viewability and safety,” Paull said.

Agreeing with Paull was Muhammad Yousoff, head of digital for Southeast Asia at Ebiquity, said that many advertisers in the region are now starting to question if they have fallen victim to the transparency watch-outs.

“But they do not know where and how to start addressing, or even identifying them,” Yousoff explained.

He added that in many instances, advertisers also worry about the external relationships that are at risk. Meanwhile, there have been a number of advertisers who have reduced spending on digital and even paused activity on programmatic. This was while investigations and audits are carried out to evaluate the brand safety measures on their business.

“A year on, we are looking at a very different advertiser. This is a savvier, knowledge-hungry and braver client who is increasingly immersing themselves in this complex issue. This requires technical expertise, relationship management skills and a value attached that is too large to ignore,” Yusoff explained.

He added that the report also helps to generate awareness about a topic that has been “swept under the rug” for too long. It would also be viewed by many other advertisers globally as a call-to-action to at least start considering the implications non-transparent media practices.

“The areas raised are just the tip of the iceberg as most people think it mainly covers the buying aspects of media. Transparency can be an issue on many other aspects on media, from planning to evaluation as well as governance on data ownership,” Yusoff added.

What should brands look out for changing media practices?

The first step for advertisers to revamp media practices would be to familiarise themselves on the issues on transparency, said Ebiquity's Yusoff. Advertisers should also conduct a self-assessment on their transparency levels, hire a media specialist in the organisation and find a partner or consultant to assist in the journey.

"Most advertisers don’t know what they don’t know, hence external help might be required to give an accurate view of what needs to be addressed," Yousoff said, adding that marketers should also develop a strategy or roadmap to resolve the transparency gaps and ensure they bring their media agency along in this journey.

Marketers and agencies also need to set common goals and key performance indicators (KPI), according to R3’s Paull.

“Without the right KPI’s and transparency, marketers will just choose an alternative path. This is not going to be in the industry’s interest,” Paull added.