Adtech 2017: The year mobile ad reporting grows up

In an interview at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women International Summit in London, July 2016, Nicola Mendelsohn, VP for Facebook in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, predicted that in five years, the social network would probably be “all video.”

Why? Demand. Seventy-eight percent of people watch videos online every week, 500 million Facebook users watch Facebook videos every day, and daily views have increased from 1 billion to 8 billion in 12 months. And video consumption is only likely to grow. In fact, Ogilvy’s annual Digital Trends Report predicts 2017 will be the year of ‘video first’.

While video is undoubtedly on a meteoric rise, there is a problem with efficacy, or rather proof of it. Facebook announced earlier this year that it had overestimated its ‘average time viewed’ video metrics by between 60-80%, which is why you’d be forgiven for reading those stats above with some cynicism.

With ad fraud out of control, more reporting flaws emerging and 70% of media and marketing executives dissatisfied with the state of online advertising, 2017 is the year that video ad reporting has to grow up.

The question is, how?

The problem with statistics

Video advertising now is in a similar position as content marketing was five or six years ago.  Simply producing the content leads to an upswing in traffic, views and organic reach, thanks to the ranking weighting that Google and Facebook (who will share 71% of all online ad revenue in the UK by 2020) puts on it. The problem video now faces is one that content marketers had to face up to very quickly: the question of efficacy. Are people engaged? And how do we know?

Award-winning columnist and marketing professor, Mark Ritson, highlights reports following Buzzfeed and Twitter’s joint live US Presidential Twitter broadcast. The stream attracted rave reviews from the media for its ability to attract millennials to political coverage, and for its reported 6.8 million total viewers:

“At first sight 6.8 million viewers certainly appears an impressive result,” Ritson explains. “But as usual with digital video it’s only impressive if you use ridiculously self-serving horseshit metrics.”

There’s something of the ‘smoke and mirrors’ to video ad reporting - figures designed to look impressive but on deeper analysis don’t hold much water. With the biggest of industry hitters like Procter and Gamble discontinuing its ‘precision targeted’ Facebook advertising, the ad tech industry has to respond. And the answer is not to hide behind vanity metrics like views and impressions. The answer is rigorous reporting. A couple of examples.

Cost-per-second

The trouble with Buzzfeed and Twitter’s claim to an audience of 6.8 million was that it was skewed. As Ritson goes on to explain: “All we can infer from the 6.8 million is that at some point last Tuesday night for at least three very brief, probably partial, and likely soundless seconds these people chanced upon the coverage on Twitter. When we turn this into a proper measure of viewers, i.e. an average audience per minute, the 6.8 million becomes 165,000.”

No brand would be happy with a muted 3-second view, and nor should they be. But these are still counted as successes. This viewability issue is easily solved with cost-per-second media buying. Simply, it means advertisers only pay for the time that consumers spend on the ad. The counter starts when the video does. If someone scrolls past the ad or flicks tabs, the counter stops.

Results-based

Impressions, views and time spent viewing are all reasonable metrics to report on, but they all point towards the same thing: brand awareness. And while this is undoubtedly one role of advertising, ultimately brands are looking for something more tangible. This is where results-based reporting comes in. Adverts are tied to specified goal and only classed as a success if the viewer/customer completes the stated action.

Using first party and third party data, advertisers are able to track the results of an ad - from video view to online research; even as far as a purchase in-store. This granular approach to reporting gives a ‘cause-and-effect’ view on the impact an ad has.

A focus on quality

The demand for consumer attention has never been greater, the proliferation of advertising never wider and the backlash against ads never stronger (as Adblocker Plus’ 100 million active users can attest to).

In many ways, the existing reporting has meant that advertisers could avoid tough questions about ad quality; the views were high. But if ad technologies start reporting based on defined results or actual time viewed, the challenge then is to encourage viewers to engage. And this comes down to quality.

Technology has given advertisers more potential for segmentation and more direct access to consumers than ever before, but the demand for attention is not matched by the quality of the ad experience, in terms of creative, delivery or personalisation.

This issue was picked up on recently by John Murphy, VP of Marketplace Quality at adtech giant OpenX: “To some extent, ad quality is subjective; good ads are in the eye of the beholder (or in this case, the consumer),” he explains.

“But clearly there are forms of advertising that are objectively bad for the user experience. Display ads that block content or are unsafe (like malware) are plainly unacceptable. They interfere with the publisher-user value exchange, and that can create negative feelings toward both the site and brand.”

And this isn’t a problem solely facing adtech either, it means publishers and advertisers working together. As Murphy explains: “...quality content, quality ads, and a high-quality user experience. Achieving this doesn’t fall to individual publishers, brands, or ad exchanges. Rather, it’s a mission for the industry as a whole.”

Part of this mission has to be a focus on accurate reporting. WIthout that, any impact of industry improvement is unmeasurable. The lack of accountability in ad tech has led to a deluge of ineffective, annoying ads; a tighter focus on efficacy and data led accountability can win back consumer trust.