Multiple areas in the digital media world have started commenting on the reliability of certain industry “norms” that currently exist. Digiday published an article covering digital media buying audits and poked holes in the strategy, results and overall system that digital media auditors have implemented. Adweek covered the latest venture of five leading marketer groups in the U.S. that have had enough of the ambiguity and uncertainty that comes with third-party marketing data. Now that digital media is an established platform for providing content and reaching consumers, there is an attitude shift occurring that everything may not have been set up in the smartest, most trustworthy way.

Media Buying Audits Are Unfairly Affecting Digital Publishers

Recently, a lot of media buying has transitioned to in-house jobs rather than contracting with agencies in an attempt to cut down on costs for ad purchases. During this transition, brand advertisers have started to question the process of pricing and analyzing digital ad placements that media audit agencies claim to do. Digital advertisements have become more complicated than the basic CPM price points that digital audit firms want to place on these ads, especially with the amount of programmatic buying that is now occurring. The number of variables that currently exist for digital impressions is way larger than anything a CPM benchmark could cover, and the CPM is giving a false impression on the agency’s and the ad’s performance.

More so, there have been a lot of questions surrounding how reliable some of the digital audit firm’s tactics are for determining the cost of ads. The “pool benchmarking” media auditing technique is outdated and rumored to not be very honest. The strategy is supposed to include a large number of clients in the pool and then compare an individual brand’s advertising costs and performance vs. the entire pool. The issue is that a lot of times, the pool doesn’t include enough clients to provide a reliable comparison on the individual brand to the “industry.”

Why Should Digital Media Publishers Care?

The publishers are being impacted because they are trying to sell advertising space on their websites through digital ad buys. The problem is that when the media auditors are reporting exaggerated and false results for digital ad performances, then the publishers end up having to offer better prices that match those from the audit pool results. Publishers are being bullied into offering the lower price for their ad space that the media auditors are reporting as industry average. In reality, the price should be higher, so publishers are losing out on that advertising profit.

The positive is that because of the callout that media auditors are outdated, and with the shift to in-house media buying, the agencies are trying to make changes to keep up with media advertising. They are trying to steer away from auditing and towards effectiveness modeling to help their brand clients perform as best they can in the digital ad space. This will hopefully result in fairer price negotiating for digital ads moving forward.

Third-Party Data Clean Up

Advertising space isn’t the only topic in question lately. Recently, industry professionals have had enough with messy datasets as well. As the number of datasets available continues to grow, marketers and advertisers are overwhelmed with options and are uncertain as to which data is the most reliable. Details about where the data comes from, what audience is included in it, how it was acquired, etc. can be hard to come by. When advertisers want to buy third-party datasets, they are basically in the dark for which they can rely on. Five of the leading marketing groups – the ANA, the ARF, the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, the DMA and the IAB Tech Lab – are trying to fix this by establishing data labeling standards.

The aim of the data labeling standards is to provide insight into four questions that commonly go unanswered:

  1. Which provider did the segment come from?
  2. What is the source of their data?
  3. Who is in an audience and which audiences on the market are comparable?
  4. How was the audience built?

By implementing structure to the data and requiring information on each set be provided, this will help to clean up the industry and help to bring good data to the forefront for marketers and advertisers.

How Publishers Can Benefit

The emphasis on the current issues with third-party data and datasets in general is a positive thing for publishers. Legislative initiatives such as GDPR and CCPA started the momentum of demanding better practices for using consumer data, but that alone isn’t enough. Structuring and monitoring the way third-party data is sold will help to weed out bad datasets and will further emphasize the importance of pure data lists.

While skepticism and scrutiny for ambiguous data lists are high, publishers should act on the opportunity to provide better data. An advantage they have  is their built-in audiences that are comprised of first-party data. Even if the third-party data becomes more regulated, first-party data is still the most ideal for targeting consumers. Publishers are in a unique position and should take action now. One of the best ways to do so is by ensuring their data is already clean, organized, and unified under one platform. The value and the opportunity is there, publishers just need to make sure they are acting on it.

A Brighter Future Is on the Horizon

While separate topics, each of these situations is encouraging for publishers. The industry is starting to hold one another accountable for services and offerings that are being shared between advertisers, marketers, and publishers. The value that digital media publishers have is large and hopefully these initiatives will help to give publishers a fair place in the industry.


Articles Inspiring this Piece:

It’s Time to Implement Data Labelling to Boost Transparency for Marketers

‘Auditing as We Know It Is Dead for Online Media’: Advertisers Seek Auditing Alternatives

Confessions of a Media Auditor: ‘Agencies Often Manipulate the Numbers’


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