Cannes Perspectives: Maths men are eating advertising's lunch

Online advertising has its issues, but marketers, clients, publishers and technologists should come together for a clean-up that will be to the benefit of brands and consumers alike.

Cannes Perspectives: Maths men are eating advertising's lunch

 In the 61st year of the gathering of advertising’s great and good at Cannes, yet more marketers are mingling with creative, media and digital executives in the global festival melting pot. There is also a growing group of advertising technology companies gaining traction on the Croisette, and even dining with the advertising community at the same table.

But if we are all chasing the same holy grail of customer engagement, then surely media is not still the issue?

The reality is that the rise of interconnected channels is being driven by consumer use and demand – from smart mobile devices to intelligent refrigerators to wearable tech. While the industry is playing catch-up with the pace of change and developments that are unprecedented in advertising, we should collaborate because consumers are device- and media-agnostic. What we know is still woefully less than what we don’t know.

TV is a formidable force in commanding eyeballs around appointment-to-view events – whether it’s Super Bowl XLVIII, where a 30-second spot on Fox this year reached $4 million (£2.3 million) in return for 111.5 million viewers, or the World Cup in June, when a global audience will tune in to watch the beautiful game. Depending on the report you favour, Fifa claimed either 250 million or 715.1 million viewers watched the World Cup final in 2006.

Recent UK TV viewing figures show that watching TV on a traditional set accounts for 98.5 per cent of all viewing – despite the second-, third-, mobile/tablet-screen hype. That is an extraordinary statistic. Plus ça change? Well, for now.

I am sure the celebration of creativity across all media channels will continue unabated in Cannes.

So what is keeping marketers awake at night? I would suggest "actionable insights": as data helps marketers improve customer experience, the focus is on analysis.

A Gartner survey of IT and business leaders worldwide in June 2013 said putting big data to work was the biggest challenge posed by the information onslaught. Another top goal included how to create more targeted marketing.

Digital now offers programmatic efficiencies, fundamentally changing the way online media advertising is bought and sold. With digital advertising, we are talking about millions of impressions, billions of inventory – per second. Automating this allows global marketers to adjust their campaigns in real time, with cross-device capability, in a compelling way to keep up with consumers.

Retargeting gets unfair criticism, but more efficient targeting of audience groups, reducing the need for individual targeting, will resolve this. Attribution will get better and marketers can truly understand where their advertising spend online is making a difference.

Minimal wastage, increased ROI and consumers who are actually seeing ads they are interested in and will engage with – an impossible utopia?

Well, we are not quite there yet. The online industry is still tidying up its (media-quality) environment. In fact, the more reputable and premium the advertiser or the site, the more attractive they are to fraudulent traffic (non-human interaction with ads, known as bots).

The sobering statistic published last year that 54 per cent of all digital ads are never seen by internet users highlighted the potential waste of $6 billion global digital advertising spend. No marketer wants to know their advertising is wasted, is not being seen or – worse – that they are evaluating irrelevant data.

Wastage is not confined to digital. However, as an industry, we are responsible for talking up the media based on data, analytics and, ultimately, accountability.

A 30-second TV or cinema spot will always be free from other interruptions by definition – it will be visible and as big as the screen area allows. An online impression is competing on viewability, whether rendered, visible or audible – before adding in another ten-plus advertisers on the same screen.

‘As an industry, we are responsible for talking up media based on data’

Online advertising has issues. There will always be rogues who seize the opportunity to upset any system and, while they are in the minority within the bigger picture, they are nonetheless disruptive. But technology can be the leveller. Across the board, marketers, advertisers, publishers and technologists should collaborate with industry bodies to develop industry-wide standards of transparency and best practice.

Consumers, with a raised awareness of the data that brands hold about them, are already demanding assurance of protection. The ruling by the European Court of Justice in May that search engines such as Google manage personal data responsibly is a clear sign to consumers that their concerns are being taken seriously.

Digital marketing is now omnipresent. At least one generation, maybe two, feels it was always thus, but it is still a new medium. As such, the precious interaction, access, education, wonder and beauty of the internet should be protected.

It’s incumbent on the advertising community to participate in creating a better online environment and experience while also addressing the key issue for consumers: trust.

This will benefit brands and the industry, and then consumers will join us at the table.

Bryan St John is the senior vice-president, international, at Integral Ad Science

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