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Digital needs to be fairer – here’s why and how

Programmatic will “die on the vine”, according to Damon Reeve’s (CEO of The Ozone Project) keynote, unless the industry embraces significant change to address users’ complaints and improve transparency, measurability and visibility

Digital needs to be fairer – here’s why and how

Why change is needed
Digital advertising is growing strongly with the market estimating a Covid-adjusted growth rate of 15% year on year for 2020 so what’s the problem? “According to the Advertising Association public favourability in advertising has almost halved from 48% in 1992, to 25% in 2019,” explained Reeve. “Users hate the intrusiveness, the bombardment, data exploitation and fraud.”

More than a third of internet users now use an ad blocker. Safari and Firefox introduced tracking prevention in 2017 and 2018, and Google followed this year. This is “forcing a rethink on how we track, target and measure the effectiveness of digital advertising, which is a good thing”, insisted Reeve, adding “the death of the third party cookie and tracking is the first big driver of change”. 

Where does your money even go?
The ISBA Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study, carried out by PwC, revealed some shocking statistics. The average campaign in the study ran on 40,000 websites, showing, says Reeve, the concerns over brand safety as a driver for change. Of the campaigns that were measured only 12% of the impressions were measurable and of those impressions that were actually measured 15% of the advertiser budget disappeared. “Visibility and transparency are the next drivers of change,” said Reeve. “At The Ozone Project, we have a direct engagement with nearly all 13 of the brands who participated in the study, who apart from being embarrassed that they don't even know the extent of the issue, are angry and frustrated at the negligence and structural failures.” 

Redefine reach
Reeve does not seek to blame Facebook and Google for a situation “where two companies capture 90% of the total digital advertising spend, and who don't actually publish content themselves and who have convinced regulators and tax officials that the rules that everyone else abide by do not apply to them”. But nor does he think it's a sustainable situation. He added: “Of the remaining 10% of the digital spend the news publishers I work with capture a little over 2% and they have a higher UK readership (45.1m) than Google (45m), Facebook (44m) and Amazon (43m). Are those tech platforms driving 40 times the value, compared to the news publishers? For smaller tactical advertisers that’s probably true but for the remaining 55% of the market, the latest ISBA/PwC report would indicate otherwise.” 

“Information and education is key”
Reeve wants a fairer system but defining fairness isn’t straightforward. “It depends on your perspective, and the role you play in a system,” he said. “If you're a supplier and you think the system is unfair you want the buyer to know about it. But if you're the buyer, you don’t want to be told what to do. You want information to be able to make an informed choice of your own – information and education is key.

“I don't think most brands have really engaged enough or cared about where their digital ads appeared. They received PowerPoint presentations from their agencies that had the usual premium publisher logos on it and they never asked where the other 98% of their budget actually ran. But I do think this is changing and changing quickly brands are increasingly realising that this is not just a supply chain problem. And that they have to engage to solve these issues.” 

The alternative future
“With third party cookies and tracking changes, data is disappearing,” Reeve said. “We need to rethink how we measure success.”

There are frameworks already in place. The Attention Council, the Global Disinformation Index and ISBA’s five-point plan can “point us in the right direction”, according to Reeve. 

He continued: “Imagine a world where brands know where their ads actually appear, where their measures of success build real business value, where all the actors in the supply chain are fairly remunerated for the value they bring and where vendors are working in the best interest of their customers and not the other way around. 

“That’s the world that I want to work in. It’s one thing to talk about what needs to change but another to believe that change is possible.” And, Reeve believes, the “forced change” of working practices driven by the Covid crisis have “taught us that anything is possible.” 

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