‘Let’s Get Ready to…’ make online advertising more effective

‘Let’s Get Ready to…’ make online advertising more effective

What do boxing and online advertising have in common? Former Nationwide head of media Chris Ladd explains after more than 20 years working ‘client-side’.

For many years, the media industry has got together to raise money for good causes by hosting a boxing evening, with media professionals stepping into the ring.

The latest incarnation, Media Fight Night, was founded by John Maloney and last year broke the £1m mark raised for charity since its inception in 2015 — an outstanding achievement.

I’ve never attended the event and certainly am not brave or fit enough to participate. I do however, enjoy watching the online equivalent when two media bigwigs have a right royal rumble.

In the red corner, Nick Manning, The Media Leader columnist. In the blue corner, Tim Elkington, chief digital officer at the IAB UK.

Nick’s piece a fortnight ago suggested the online media bubble had burst but only two days later, Tim came off the ropes with a counter offensive defending the digital eco-system.

Having worked client-side for over 20 years, I thought I’d offer a client view as referee of this bout, to ensure the two media heavyweights keep to the Queensbury Rules with no punches below the belt.

Initiatives making a difference

Tim is right to say that there are some positives within online media. For this piece, I’m focusing on display advertising on websites which I think is the crux of their verbal sparring.

I will leave my rant about the definitions of digital media, digital marketing and performance media for another day.

The positives in the last couple of years have centred around initiatives to clean up online programmatic advertising which frustrated and concerned many large advertisers and media owners alike.

The IAB Gold Standard, as Tim calls out, is one such initiative that asks media owners, agencies and technology companies to meet standards to achieve the trade body’s mark.

Having become an advertiser supporter, my agency’s media plans flagged where the Gold Standard was, or wasn’t, applicable to each media owner. This allowed my colleagues and I to risk manage our online media investment decisions.

The Gold Standard has evolved, and seems to split opinion on purpose and process, but I always felt it was a “badge of honour” worth supporting. Interestingly though, this week the IAB website still only has 15 advertisers listed as supporters.

Through their agencies, many advertisers will be associated with the Gold Standard but it would send a strong message to those companies who have spent the time and money achieving the mark if more advertisers championed it.

PwC, that Tim quotes, have also now done their second fantastic supply chain study of online programmatic media, sponsored by ISBA and some of its members.

Whilst Sam Tomlinson and his team found the second project quicker to deliver, it still took many months and found unattributable adspend of 3% (albeit down from 15% in the first study). And the study participants were big brands, big agencies and premium publishers, so arguably the “best” possible results.

Focus on the premium web

The other golden nugget from the PwC study was the vast array of websites that advertisers participating in the study were appearing on. In the first study in 2020, this was an astonishing average of 40,000 websites.

Although this fell to a still vast 9,000 UK websites in the second study, 90% of impressions were coming from just 500 websites. Nick rightly states that “great media planning has never been more important” — so let’s start with knowing where our advertising is appearing!

The “premium web” — a phrase I’ve unashamedly stolen from Craig Tuck, chief revenue officer at The Ozone Project is one that big brands, agencies and the IAB should champion to create a more effective online world for brands and consumers.

For any UK advertiser, focusing their brand presence on a list of sites that they might recognise and where humans can randomly spot check content and creative delivery is surely common sense for most brands.

The long tail of websites probably offers few real impressions, unengaged or transient audiences and questionable content that is unlikely to deliver commercial return — the crux of Nick’s argument.

Ozone’s offering of selected premium websites, initially curated from the newspaper industry’s websites, delivers premium environments for brands where consumers are far more likely to pay attention to content and banner ads — as proven by Lumen.

This and other premium websites should be the focus of a client’s investment, even if this means sacrificing mythical micro-targeting. From my experience, this is promised but seldom delivered and besides, privacy regulation and cookie depreciation will eventually kill it off anyway.

Must do better

So I side with Tim that the quality end of online media is, and always has been, an effective and relatively safe place for advertisers to appear as part of a communications plan.

But given much of the industry is driven by people and agencies with “digital” in their job title or company DNA, it seems as if many brands have allowed machines or digital agencies to make online media investment decisions — the equivalent of turkeys never voting for Christmas.

In simple terms, commissions and tech fees with limited value cases have left brands open to risk and wastage, whilst media owners receive less revenue.

The PwC study, auditing the biggest clients, agencies and media owners, suggested 35% of advertiser money didn’t make it to the media owner and thus the consumer. So in that respect, Nick is correct and his article I felt was paving a way forward.

His evidence about the financial challenges that online media companies large (eg. Google, Facebook, Twitter) and small (e.g. Vice and Buzzfeed) now face seem a clear demonstration that the online media industry is maturing after a meteoric rise.

He and his quoted sources are right in that advertisers should take more control, focus on media owners who provide premium environments for brands and actively participate in independent industry audience and campaign measurement — subscribing and using UKOM data is a good place to start.

So as a former client, I’d say Nick wins on points but it is a split decision. Maybe like boxing, online media will always divide opinion.

But whereas boxing has processes, controls and is highly regulated, the online media world has more to do to make it a safe and enjoyable place for advertisers and consumers to participate within.

Let’s harness the expert views that they and I have referenced to build a better future.

Chris Ladd was an advertising client for over 20 years, most recently at Nationwide Building Society. He worked at Manning Gottlieb Media from 2000-2002 but has also been a client supporter of the IAB Gold Standard.  He has never refereed a boxing match.

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