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The consumer advertising industry is facing a crisis of confidence over digital.
The bad news piled up this summer. The top advertising company in the world, London-based WPP PLC, saw it’s stock plummet after it’s bottom line was hit by brand advertisers scaling back their buys amid growing concerns over the effectiveness of online ads.
In just one case, Procter & Gamble, a top advertiser, cut it’s digital ad spend by $100 million in the last quarter. It’s only a fraction of the company’s more than $2.45 billion ad budget, but sent a clear message.
Meanwhile, to help assuage growing concerns over ad fraud, Google recently issued refunds — in some cases in six figures — to marketers whose ads ran on websites with fake traffic.
Consultants surveyed by C&E reported that their clients weren’t on the receiving end of any of that return. But that’s not keeping them up at night.
In fact, one practitioner noted that transparency was a concern before the brand advertisers’ digital maelstrom.
“I have long felt that Google Adwords delivered suspect traffic, if not properly targeted, and that is why I recommend to my clients that they use Facebook ads when it fits their strategic objectives,” said Brian Ross Adams, a Los Angeles-based digital consultant to Democratic campaigns. “It remains to be seen how widespread this is, but marketers should always be checking the sites their ads appear on and making the appropriate adjustments.”
Chasen Campbell, a VP at the GOP digital firm Harris Media, said Google’s move wasn’t unprecedented.
“It's not unheard of in advertising, but does seem to affect the big brand world more significantly,” Campbell said. “Facebook does the same when they encounter issues with incorrectly attributing clicks and other objectives. I can't say I've personally experienced the same with Twitter, although I wouldn't be shocked if they've done this as well.”
Meanwhile, Beth Becker, a digital consultant who works with an array of Democratic campaigns and advocacy groups, said that part of the problem with brands’ use of digital is their broad targeting universes. ‘’We want to reach men between the ages of 30 and 35.’ Their universes are just too huge,” Becker said.
Now, P&G last summer announced that it pulled back from targeted Facebook ads because it found that too narrow an approach was ineffective in its marketing.
But Becker warned that the opposite is also true, and while campaigns should remain vigilant, they don’t face the same challenges as brand marketers.
“A lot of times in the political space we start with the voter database — 80 percent of the Facebook ads I run are based on a custom audience that we’ve exported either from an email list or the VAN,” she explained. “So we are super, hyper targeted and I think brands, generally speaking, are less hyper targeted and they’re more broad strokes.”
That makes them vulnerable to ad fraud and bot traffic as they chase their audiences into darker corners of the internet. “That’s a huge part of it,” Becker said.
Globally, ad fraud in 2017 is estimated to cost advertises up to $16.4 billion. That could open the door further in the campaign industry to third-party verifiers like White Ops. But Becker said that campaigns and advocacy groups can save themselves time and money simply using common sense.
“Think about where your ads are showing up and use platforms that allow you to control that, which Facebook and Twitter both do,” she said.