Chris Williams on the new walled gardens

The ACA's VP of digital warns that the rise of Amazon will start a new trend in the online ad market.
Chris Williams 2016

The Industry Wish List is back. MiC is looking back at the issues and trends of 2018 with some of the brightest minds in the business, discussing how the industry has changed in the last 365 days, what challenges lie ahead and how brands are adjusting.

For Chris Williams, VP of digital at the Association of Canadian Advertisers, 2018 was a mixed bag.

On one hand, there were some great strides made for viewability and accountability among digital advertising platforms. Infamous walled gardens such as Facebook agreed to third-party audits of their metrics, and new tools to help combat fraud and provide more accurate measurement have been introduced. Platforms have taken steps to reduce fraudulent activity, like Instagram’s recent purge of fake followers.

But there were also downsides, according to Williams. Despite the prevalence of new tools like ads.txt, many publishers still aren’t getting on board, and he would still like to see more platforms get on board with full MRC certification.

And even with all that catching up to do, Williams warns that digital media is still going full speed ahead in 2019 – and there’s a lot to watch out for. On the last publishing day of 2018, Williams offers up his thoughts on the year that was and the year to come.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What do you think people in the industry will remember 2018 for?

Did the year look that much different? We still have ad fraud, we still have viewability issues. We still have a lot of the questions about Marc Pritchard’s speech from the beginning of 2017.

So what frustrated you the most?

People are just not using what’s available to them. Quite simply, if looked at something like ads.txt, you have the e-bot that comes out and it’s clear from the statistics provided by the White Ops [report] that 80% of that problems with ad fraud could have been avoided by advertisers using ads.txt. That is a simple, industry-wide available, cheap way of dealing with this problem. Why are we not doing this?

What are some of the recurring concerns you’re hearing from ACA members?

Clearly, there is a demand to see the metrics come together and try to evaluate an apples to apples comparison of all media. There is movement on that, which is good. It’s getting better, but I think what it comes down to is, is this the year where we’re going to see actual combinations of digital video and television come together on the same playing field?

What’s something you see on the horizon for 2019?

Transactional walled gardens. That’s on the rise. The biggest example would be Amazon. We’re going to start seeing those kinds of approaches from platforms that have transactional data, and we’re going to learn what that looks like. From a data point, we’re always worried about the walled gardens, Google, LinkedIn, but they don’t have purchase history like Amazon does.

If the industry could make one collective wish for 2019, what would it be?

I want to get actual metrics, actual numbers, for video. When you look at the revenue, digital and television together is about $4.1 billion. That’s a lot of money to spend on video of all times, whether it’s conventional, specialty, digital. The metrics are not in the best shape. The wish is that we actually get numbers.

So for that, who needs to get on board and how?

This is where we actually start to see some movement. The MRC has actually been pushing. Both Facebook and YouTube are participating in opening up that data to third-party verification companies. That process of opening up that pipeline. I think we’ll see in 2019 that that’s completed, and we’ll have some solid third-party metrics from verified metrics, that allow people to understand what is the viewability of digital video.