2018 – the WFA’s year of transparency

Towards the end of January last year Marc Pritchard, P&G’s chief brand officer, opened his speech at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual conference stating that the introduction of online advertising had brought with it an ‘exponential increase in crap’. Much of the media supply chain could, he argued, only be described as ‘murky at best and fraudulent at worst’. Despite this being so early in the year, this call to advertisers to ensure transparency in all aspects of their digital marketing activity was hailed by commentator Mark Ritson as ‘the singular marketing moment of the year’.

To assess how much progress had been made by the end of the year, asi invited Bob Hoffman (more widely known to many in the industry for penning the AdContrarian blog) to share his views with David Wheldon, President of the World Federation of Advertisers, at our annual International Television & Video Conference in Nice in November. In a joint session with delegates to the companion Radio & Audio event, Bob and David were then joined by the CEO of Kantar Media, Andy Brown, in a discussion chaired by Brian Jacobs which ranged over what had been achieved since Pritchard’s call to arms and what further needed to be done.

Bob Hoffman acknowledges he has never been a fan of online advertising, but his concerns are now much greater than simple frustration at the folly of those who readily commit their advertising budget there. His scorn at those who believe that consumers want to establish a ‘relationship’ with their brand online has now developed into a fear that the amount of data being gathered on all of us represents an abuse of trust in which the marketing community is complicit. Hoffman believes this is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently and that action needs to be taken to rein in the overwhelming power and influence of the major media players.

David Wheldon felt that the extent of some of the fraud being perpetrated by online advertising was ‘beyond belief’. He emphasised the views of the WFA’s membership and highlighted the extent to which transparency in their dealings with media agencies was their greatest concern – where is all the money going, who is making money and how are they making it were the questions being asked? These concerns extended to brand safety and, of course, viewability and reliable metrics. David conceded that progress had been made by Google, but argued that there was a great deal more for Facebook to do.

As the subsequent discussion at asi in Nice highlighted, 2018 needs to see a great deal more progress towards the objectives set out by Marc Pritchard last January.

In Wheldon’s view, many of the problems the industry now faces could be laid at the door of advertisers responsible for a headlong rush to embrace a digital promise that didn’t have the data to back it up. In an address to WFA members at the beginning of the year, he has called for 2018 to be the year of transparency and a year when lasting relationships with business partners are built.

There is likely to be a great deal of focus on developing a better and more measured understanding of how the promise of online advertising can be realised. Further studies on the optimal balance between online spending and other media will be conducted along the lines of the recent work undertaken by Ebiquity and Gain Theory. Building on the work of Les Binet and Peter Field, this area of research will help deepen understanding of the relationship between short-term, activation-based advertising and advertising seeking to build long-term brand values.

There is no doubt that the force of Marc Pritchard’s intervention in late January of 2017, together with the further actions of the WFA under David Wheldon’s stewardship, will continue to have an impact throughout 2018. The year has opened with a bunch of large international advertisers reviewing their media agency arrangements whilst the major agency networks themselves are engaged in significant restructuring. Meanwhile, pressure is beginning to mount on the major digital companies with a number of influential voices echoing the concerns raised by Bob Hoffman. Very recently George Soros at the World Economic Forum in Davos suggested that regulatory authorities can no longer ignore the problem of the tech giants. And, as Stephan Loerke, the CEO of the World Federation of Advertisers, argued recently in AdAge, the introduction of the GDPR data privacy rules by the EU could be just what the industry needs.

As Bob Hoffman states, The Problem Isn’t Technology. It’s Us.

Other links to reactions to the Pritchard speech at the time:

ID Comms published their reaction on #63 of their MediaSnack series here:

Brian Jacobs on The Cog Blog at BJ&A:

Procter Leads, 2nd February 2017
A Period of Introspection?, 9th February 2017
On Trust, 23rd February 2017

See also ‘Plea for a new era of advertising responsibility

Originally posted by asi
30th January 2018