What’s New For 2018? Nothing

"Brand Aware” explores the data-driven digital ad ecosystem from the marketer's point of view.

Today's column is written by Belinda J. Smith, global director of media activation at Electronic Arts

I realize I’m late to the game with the year-ahead predictions, but this year the annual ad tech soothsaying has hit a nerve.

The slow collective realization that we’ve overengineered an ever-impending, digital-only future has finally started to spread, and I think it’s important to capitalize on that momentum. With that, I’d like to offer my own perspective on what’s really ahead for us in 2018.

First, let’s remember advertising is not a discipline unto itself. It’s 20-25% of the marketing equation. Advertisers’ goals are not to get in front of the right person in the right place at the right time for the lowest cost. Our goals are to promote awareness, encourage trial, inspire loyalty and find sustainable ways to build competitive advantages.

But there are a few obstacles to us accomplishing those goals.

Context

Over the years, context has taken a back seat to our obsession with data and automated buying.

Context isn’t simply the keywords from an article or the metatags on the video; it’s the larger consideration of media consumption habits, consumer mindset and the when and how of where we decide to advertise. In relying on automated tools to declare contextual fit by scanning keywords on a page, we’ve failed to consider the context of the actual experience.

We need to differentiate creative, messaging and targeting for places where users are engaged in one-to-one sharing with close friends versus gathering around a screen to be entertained with long-form content versus visiting a platform often to fill gaps in the day.

Creative

Another issue is our overreliance on media science at the expense of creative. We’ve taken the art out of creative by dynamically inserting pictures of things people have seen or purchased. Or we mix and match copy and images until we see a .001% lift in click-through rate.

Much of the creative testing done in programmatic is really audience testing. We match a few creatives to vague third-party audiences and wait to see which performs best to declare a winner. Or we A/B test a biased audience and let bidding algorithms optimize for performance, making whatever inferences we want about the results.

We need a better way to understand the impact, quality and effectiveness of creative programmatically, whether it’s through better KPIs or other measures that are more prescriptive and highlight how to improve outcomes.

Measurement

We have been talking about measurement for decades but are still not where we need to be.

How do we decide where to spend our next $100? Attribution fraud, walled gardens and performance fraud aside, I’ve never heard a compelling discussion of evaluating investment opportunities across all media. That would look like, “Investing this $100 in TV would deliver X% lift in awareness and favorability. Using the same $100 on Facebook would give me an X% lift in awareness plus a Y% return in online sales. Spending that $100 programmatically would yield Z.”

Most partners report the positive return delivered by their single platform or solution, ignoring the impact of your organic efforts, mass media, walled gardens and other externalities. This is not good enough. We need a consistent system of measurement that allows marketers to make better decisions about all of our investment vehicles.

Moving Forward

What I will really be thinking about this year is how to create strong brands in today’s world. My remit as a marketer demands that I sort through everything available to determine the most effective way to build long-lasting brands that mean something to consumers, differentiate us from the competition and capture the hearts, minds and imaginations of everyone we hope to reach.

What’s the road map to resolve some of these concerns? It starts with having these discussions as an industry:

Data: Data has been the elephant in the room. While we are finally having public discussions about transparency, fees and fraud, it’s way past time to take a critical and truthful look at the state of data today. Two things that would make meaningful impact to marketers are (1) data sharing and (2) data quality and transparency discussions.

For data sharing the request is simple: Companies should be willing to pass back privacy-safe audience data so that marketers can evaluate all of their spend and manage conversations with their customers in every environment. Today many walled gardens do not pass back data, though they claim to have the best performance.

This refusal to give marketers insight into their own data begs the question: What is there to hide? There are plenty of privacy-safe ways to share this information directly with marketers; we should not accept that as a reason for our consumer relationships being held hostage.

It’s also time to talk about third-party data quality.

Not all the 150 million cookies in their “minivan intender” segments represent individuals looking to interact with a minivan manufacturer. From questionable ways data is collected to recency, relevancy, privacy and cost, we must lift the veil on data this year to understand what’s valuable and what’s not. Marketers should have relationships and partnerships with data providers as we do with publishers and buying platforms. We don’t need new data or more data, we need real data.

Inventory: Similarly, we’ve continually circled around the inventory issue, and in 2018 we need to perform a complete inquisition on programmatic inventory. Who is actually providing additional unique reach and exposure, and where should we cut the long tail? How does aggressively curating inventory affect performance?

It’s time to walk away from the false flag of unlimited supply in digital media and embrace the reality that programmatic does not mean cheap. Those two things are the top contributors to many of today’s fraud and supply chain problems.

Identity: As a longtime advocate for identity solutions and people-based marketing, I’ve excitedly watched marketers move identity and first-party data to the top of their agendas. Now we must dig deeper into identity resolution and the identity supply chain. Having all audience data neatly segmented in a data management platform does not protect you from the pain of onboarding and large cookie losses and obfuscation along the way.

Matching your audience to multiple platform and publisher cookie pools, where you lose sight of how many cookies and IDs are mapped to your audience, with no ability to audit or control that mapping, is a broken system. Perhaps it’s time for us to rally around a universal, privacy-safe solution like a Digitrust so we can reliably talk to audiences in the digital world.

If we make 2018 the year that we maintain focus on the real issues, we could create monumental opportunities for all. We could build a sustainable ecosystem where marketers can grow spend, prove effectiveness and help our organizations understand the need for our discipline and budgets. Companies outside of the duopoly will have solid proof of why their content and audience matter instead of pandering to low CPAs, CPMs, buying traffic to offer scale or other tactics that put undue pressure on margins and trust.

If we don’t fix this system now, we will continue funneling spend to the newest or easiest thing while creating new problems and complexities along the way.

Follow Belinda J. Smith (@BJStech), Electronic Arts (@EA) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

1 Comment

  1. I love everything Belinda puts out there. Writes passionately and give an uncensored view of the industry and where the problems exist. Great read.

    Reply

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