The Dirty Secrets of Digital Advertising

“With great power comes great responsibility” 
Most of us have heard this quote made famous in Spider-Man. However, it also sums up the current state of digital advertising across the globe. We live in a world that is innovating at insane speeds, and in our industry, that means the customer journey is becoming more and more complex each day. 
This world is not perfect. While I could go on and on about why (and I’m sure you could too), I want to call particular attention to our imperfect Internet and shine a light into some of the dark corners of the digital experience. The scary part? Some of this data was brought to the forefront as early as 2013 and was buried from view as quickly as it was raised.
Here are four data points to get us started:
  • Data from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) suggests that 60% of all online ad value is lost before any revenue reaches online publishers.
  • The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has stated that 77% of marketers do not fully understand programmatic buying and the process within.
  • Roughly 36% of all web traffic is non-human or bot traffic.
  • The numbers vary, but it is estimated that roughly $6-10 billion is wasted on online ad spend each year.
$6-10 billion dollars wasted. Think about your digital advertising budget for the year and picture it as a pile of money. Now, picture taking over half of it and just setting it on fire. While that’s basically the state of the union today, let’s dig in a little deeper to help explain the issue:
What is viewable?
This one is an interesting concept. A viewable daily impression for an ad is defined by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) as follows: a minimum of 50% of the pixels of the ad are viewed for a minimum of one second. While that is a step in the right direction, it still doesn’t really solve the problem. One second is not enough time to process what you’re seeing and 50% of the ad could be cutting off the most important part -- the branding or call-to action.  
Online Video
The IAB defines a viewable video impression as a minimum of 50% in-view for a minimum of two seconds. You can make the same argument about this not really being enough, but I think we would all agree it’s a step in the right direction. Previous to this definition, you simply paid if your ad loaded regardless of where the video was and who saw it.  
To give you a concrete example here, think about the auto-play feature when you visit sites that embed videos. Now think about how often you hear the video, but have no idea where the audio is coming from until you scroll down the page. Someone paid money for you to begrudgingly stop reading the article and search for the source of the sound.  
To make matters worse, the BBC recently published an article outlining bot fraud within YouTube. Essentially, Google is charging customers for these bot views as a result of their “bot detection algorithm” not functioning as intended. 
We recently ran into a client example regarding “mobile adhesion units,” which are those pesky little ads that stick on your screen while you scroll through a website or play a mobile game.  These have become all the rage from an agency perspective as a result of “strong click-through rates.” However, the reality is that most of these bounce upon arriving to the site due to one important reason: fat finger effect.
This happens to me all the time when I’m scrolling through a website. I’ll accidentally click the ad, or miss the little “x” in the corner of the ad, only to find myself redirected to something I could care less about. So, while we have the problems with bots and viewability, we also have an issue with inadvertent clicks chipping away at your ad budget.
Another issue with mobile is ad blocking. While ad blocking has existed within desktop environments, it never took off on mobile, which was great for advertisers (and the websites that rely on the advertising revenue) given that mobile continues to rise in usage across the Web.  However, Apple has announced the addition of ad blocking for Safari within iOS 9, and whenever Apple says something, the world tends to listen. This will continue to limit the ability to advertise, which will undoubtedly have an effect on marketing and branding approaches in 2016.
Regardless of device and channel, fraud is more prevalent today in digital advertising than it has ever been before. In every client audit and analysis we have conducted, we found that their ads were showing up on sites that they didn’t even know about as a result of “ad laundering.”  Taking this a step further, there are a variety of tricks happening out there in cyberspace that go well beyond the presence of bots, such as stacking ads on top of each other or making ads invisible despite loading them on the page.
While the current state of digital advertising and transparency within it is quite convoluted, there are plenty of ways to weather this storm and begin to take back control of your digital budgets that are growing year over year. At Ebiquity, we have a Digital team focused on partnering with clients to audit the existing performance of their digital ads, which couples nicely with the marketing performance optimization approach that is driven by Stratigent. That combination of expertise gives marketers full visibility into the customer journey and creates a high level of accountability for the agencies managing your ad spend.  
We’d love to chat with you about your options and how you might be able to take back control of your budgets and online presence. If you have any questions or want to meet me at INAC15, please visit the event page to find out more!
By Bill Bruno
About the Author:

Bill Bruno is the CEO - North America, Ebiquity.

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