The Digital Measurement Divide

The Trade Desk James PattersonJames Patterson, general manager UK at The Trade Desk, explains how a lack of trust between advertisers and digital media is giving rise to new media buying models. 

In the wake of the news that Facebook overestimated the amount of time people spent viewing videos, the spotlight is on a lack of transparency in advertising. For years, agencies have been calling on Facebook to open up its platform to third-party measurement. The problem is that walled gardens that provide their own measurement inevitably breed a lack of trust.

The search for reliable metrics
With video now the most popular form of content on the social network, advertisers are flocking to the platform. But, in return for revenues, it’s crucial that the agencies and brands they represent are able to ascertain some sort of reliable metric. For advertisers and media partners, the view is that money goes in but there is little clarity as to where it goes, who saw the ad and what exactly is reported out.

Getting a clear picture of how ads perform online, especially on mobile, is still a challenge. Buying media space from a site that has its own properties but also sells content across other sites, will mean it is always hard to know for sure if those sites are biased to sell their own inventory. On the other hand, opting for point solutions such as one for video, another for display and social, will mean it is easy to overlap and annoy potential customers viewing the same ad across multiple touch points. This can lead to irrelevant messaging and mindless retargeting where consumers are served countless banners for a product they don’t want or have already purchased.

Using a programmatic or retargeting platform that buys its own media and then resells it will mean the agency buying the space has no control for the price paid for any given impression. Not to mention the fact that this is a very inefficient way of doing things. None of these are transparent ways of working and this is at the root of the distrust between advertisers and digital media.

A new model
Against the backdrop of an increasingly complex digital landscape and customer journey, the industry needs to recognise that media buying today looks more like equities trading. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become the main source of news for many people, especially young people, and advertisers want to buy space the same way they used to buy an ad in a newspaper.

However, the rules have changed. Because of the complexity of the digital landscape, which includes ever multiplying formats and customer journeys that span devices, variability is complex. Hypotheses need to be created and tested. Machines are good at testing. But, humans are needed to create the hypotheses.

This is why media buying will always need a human component. As a result, todays media buyers need to be more like Wall Street portfolio managers than the media planners of previous generations. This new breed of “portfolio managers” are emerging at forward-looking agencies, and they will continue to add value for advertisers requiring sophisticated partners as they navigate the ever changing digital landscape.

As a result, many agencies are turning to a technology platform that has the interests of the buy side as its focus. Connecting first and third party data to decide which impression to buy and how much to pay, across the entire digital media landscape, is a much more sophisticated and effective way of buying media space. This gives brands and their agencies a way to take all of their available data and put it to use to ensure that people see messages that are relevant, whilst being confident in measuring results.

As digital media platforms continue to grow and traditional print media dwindles, more transparency will be needed if trust is to exist between digital media and advertisers. While the internet has enabled brands and agencies to deliver personalised campaigns across multiple digital sites, the ability to extract accurate metrics is crucial. It has never been more critical for the advertising industry to showcase the importance of the insights humans can provide to the machine.

James Patterson is general manager UK at The Trade Desk