Nothing evokes more distrust and skepticism than someone declaring oh so emphatically; “Trust me.”
Yet that is what adtech has asked us marketers to do every day for about 15 years!
> We must execute media buys in largely automated and blind auctions and then we are asked to trust that the ad inventory is landing per buy parameters.
> We are told we must track digital audiences to generate outcomes but that audiences’ privacy is not being violated.
> We put our trust on traffic verification companies to screen for fake traffic but we have no way to verify whether traffic verification companies are actually reducing fraud.
> We have been trusting that marketing trade organizations are looking out for the interests of agencies and advertisers but time and again, it is the same story – too little too late.
> We choose to believe adtech firms are telling us the truth about their quality business practices even as our experience tells us otherwise.
This has been the state of adtech for the last 15 years. Last week, though, we saw the publication of a scathing report, titled: Did Google mislead advertisers about TrueView skippable in-stream ads for the past three years? by Krzysztof Franaszek.
The report from Adalytics that has forced us to confront our comfortable “truths” – across the board – even though the report centers on Google video ad buying. In particular, the target of the Adalytics study is Google’s third-party inventory that is part of many YouTube buys. While Google would have advertisers believe these third-party publishers are high quality, the evidence from the report paints a far different story. More often than not, this 3rd party inventory is low quality and not TrueView skippable in-stream placements.
The report does not mince words:
“Critically, Youtube and Google’s own policies state that TrueView in-stream ads must be skippable, audible, and initiated by viewer action. TrueView in-stream ad placement reports from brands and advertisers – including Fortune 500 brands – showed that in some ad campaigns, between 42 to 75% of TrueView in-stream ad spend was allocated to Google Video Parners (GVP) sites and apps which did not meet Google’s standards.”
The report continues in its blistering exposé:
“Many media buyers were surprised to learn that the majority of their ad budgets against a so-called “walled garden” environment was spent on muted, auto-playing video ads on third party websites such as lebanonfiles.com and freewebnovel.com, or on foreign-developed Android mobile gaming apps for toddlers.”
Then, the Wall Street Journal picked up the story from there with its condemning headline: Google Violated Its Standards in Ad Deals, Research Finds The author, Patience Haggin (@patiencehaggin), could clearly see extreme Google Trust gaps:
“Google violated its promised standards when placing video ads on other websites, according to new research that raises questions about the transparency of the tech giant’s online-ad business…
Google brokers the placement of video ads on other sites across the web through a program called Google Video Partners. Google charges a premium, promising that the ads it places will run on high-quality sites, before the page’s main video content, with the audio on, and that brands will only pay for ads that aren’t skipped. Google violates those standards about 80% of the time…”
The industry is not only reeling from Google’s dishonorable trust lapses but possibly more because it may be proverbial last straw. For years virtually every aspect of adtech has squandered our trust.
- Facebook has had consistent and ongoing issues with performance metrics. After each scandal, they “promise” to do better but nothing changes.
- Data companies sell advertisers lots of data but the provenance of most data is likely the result of unethical data harvesting practices.
- Programmatic media buying platforms insist that most traffic is real, that most ads are placed on quality sites and that all engagement reflects real people. In fact, too many adtech firms rely on adtech complexity to prevent deep traffic analysis by anyone – agencies or clients.
- Ad networks’ rely on “scale” impression delivery on brand safe sites but too many ads are placed on too many sites that are most definitely not brand safe. (Sidebar: A BIG shoutout to Check My Ads for exposing how often ads from leading brands end up of hate and misinformation sites.)
This report became a proxy for all that ails adtech – lack of trust and transparency so advertisers can’t verify that what they buy is what they get. While this report is not the first of its kind to force us to reckon with these trust gaps, perhaps – just perhaps – we’ve learned our lesson so this incident may be the beginning of a new era of The Trust Web.
P.S. – You can read Google response to the wave of criticism here: https://blog.google/products/ads-commerce/transparency-and-brand-safety-on-google-video-partners/. And here is Dr. Augustine Fou’s repudiation of every single Google “claim:” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/refuting-every-lie-misdirection-non-answer-googles-response-fou/.