Op/Ed: Ad tech, whose side are you on?

Past IAB Canada president Chris Williams asks whether Canadian companies will step up and define their digital future, or defer to U.S. decisions.
Chris Williams, IAB Canada President - headshot July 2012

By Chris Williams

Last year, at age 20, digital media claimed the largest share of the media investment. Let’s paraphrase Churchill and say that this is not the end or even the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.

What comes next will be just plain hard work. While digital media always claimed measurement as its strength, the metrics are now assailed by bots, at a time when the industry is working through a change in currency from served to viewable impressions.

It is assumed the digital media programmatic trading model will evolve into other media. The issues of viewability, non-human traffic fraud, and efficient frequency have been examined individually, however few dare to call out the cumulative result of all three on a campaign. If you were to take all the impressions purchased, reduce the ones served to bots, the ones served but not rendered on screen, then remove the ones that were visible to your target but at an ineffective frequency (too low, too high), you’d be left with a scary ratio. Once plugged back into CPM calculations, few are happy with the number. We can’t let these problems fester and evolve into larger ones as other media are drawn into a programmatic, addressable and transactional future.

No media currency should include media generated by bots or other types of fraud. However the process of defining, implementing and governing a media currency are complex and take time. Digital media currency in Canada does not have the same tripartite governance model that other media channels have developed. This leaves the market open for multiple solutions, quicker development and implementation, more akin to the U.S. free-market approach.

For instance, bot fraud has been placed into the hands of the Trustworthy Accountability Group formed by the ANA, IAB and American Association of Advertising Agencies. Eventually, the U.S.-based Media Rating Council will audit the technologies and solutions will migrate into this market. There are advantages to this approach – not re-inventing the wheel, an international standard of measurement and technology, and it allows Canadian stakeholders to focus on something else. But the downside is clear. The amount of direct input into the process by Canadian publishers will be zero unless a different path is charted.

It’s time for a Canadian approach that does a better job ensuring publishers (meaning content producers) and advertisers have more control into governing the terms of trade in this market.

So where is this solution going to come from? In the past our media market was nearly entirely domestic and therefore any problem was solved here, usually through a tripartite, not-for-profit approach. A referee function was created, funded and operated as a governor. This is the basis for BBM (now Numeris), PMB and NadBank (now merged into Amalco). The important feature is that the governing body and its ad technology and methodology are not owned by any one of the stakeholders that also offers media products.

Digital media, as the newcomer, didn’t have the volume, the backers or the stability of market to follow this approach. Instead, it was the area for the innovators and the risk takers to invest in building measurement tools, and some have been very successful at delivering industrial-strength products that are commonly used. Since digital media is borderless, we have a mix of domestic and international solutions in the tool kit. These innovators aim to set a standard that will become as widely adopted as possible, becoming, in a way, the defacto standard through market share. For digital, this made sense, since competition drives fast innovation.

However, as stated earlier, we are at the end of the beginning. The next stage is about nailing down the currency because the problems of a loose supply chain and governance have overwhelmed the advantages of innovation. The problem for the next 20 years, but hopefully sooner, is a move to transparent neutral currency that helps advertisers focus their efforts into the most effective placements, publishers, sizes and creatives.

The question is not whether the media currency solution is developed by tripartite not for profits or private enterprise but instead will there be a separation of media products from metrics providers. Simply put, ad tech will have to answer are you a player or a ref? It’s an important distinction, because referees are paid per game, not per goal, and there is only one on the field.

Chris Williams is the former president of IAB Canada, and currently works as principal at Chris Williams Consulting.