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Tag Archives: ad networks

4 Questions That Can Impact Your Digital Buys

15 Nov

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According to eMarketer, in 2017 advertisers will spend 38.3% of their ad budgets on digital media – in excess of $223 billion on a worldwide basis. Yet, in spite of the significant share-of-wallet represented by digital media, there is generally little introspection on the part of the advertiser.

Looking beyond the “Big 3” [ad fraud, safe brand environment and viewability concerns], the lack of introspection begins much closer to home. Simply, in our experience, client-agency Agreements do not adequately address digital media planning and placement roles, responsibilities, accountability or remuneration details.

Standard media Agreement language does not adequately cover digital media needs. By this we mean specific rules and financial models need to be included in Agreement language that cover each potential intermediary involved in the buying process and to guarantee transparent reporting is provided to the advertiser. It is our experience that Agreement language gaps related to “controls” can be much costlier to advertisers than the aggregate negative impact of the Big 3.

And, regardless of Agreement language completeness, a compounding factor is that too few advertisers monitor their agencies compliance to these very important Agreement requirements. To assess whether or not your organization is at risk, consider the following four questions:

  1. Can you identify each related parties or affiliate that your ad agency has deployed on your business to manage your digital spend?
  2. Does your Agreement include comprehensive compensation terms pertaining to related parties, affiliates and third-party intermediaries, that handle your digital ad spend?
  3. Is your agency acting as a Principal when buying any of your digital media?
  4. What line of sight do you have into your ACTUAL media placements and costs?

If you answered “No” to any of the questions, then there is a high likelihood that your digital media budget is not being optimized. Why? Because the percentage of your digital media spend that pays for actual media inventory is likely much lower than it should be, which is detrimental to the goal of effectively using media to drive brand growth.

Dollars that marketers are investing to drive demand are simply not making their way to the marketplace. Often a high percentage of an advertiser’s digital media spend is stripped off by agencies, in-house trading desks and intermediaries who have been entrusted to manage those media buys. A recent study conducted by AD/FIN and Ebiquity on behalf of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) estimated that fees claimed by digital agencies and ad tech intermediaries, which it dubbed the programmatic “technology tax” could exceed 60% of an advertiser’s media budget. This suggests that less than 40 cents of an advertiser’s investment is actually spent on media.

A good place to begin is to ask your agency to identify any and all related parties that play a role when it comes to the planning, placement and distribution of your digital media investment. This includes trading desk operations, affiliates specializing in certain types of digital media (i.e. social, mobile) and third-party intermediaries being utilized by the agency (i.e. DSPs, Exchanges, Ad Networks, etc.). The goal is to then assess whether or not the agency and or its holding company has a financial interest in these organizations or are earning financial incentives for media activity booked through those entities.

Why should an advertiser care whether or not their agency is tapping affiliates or focusing on select intermediaries to handle their digital media? Because each of those parties are charging fees, commissions or mark-ups for services provided, most of which are not readily detectable. This raises the question of whether or not the advertiser is even aware charges are being levied against data, technology, campaign management fees, bid management fees and other transactional activities. Are such fees appropriate? Duplicative? Competitive? All good questions to be addressed.

When it comes to how an agency may have structured an advertiser’s digital media buys, there is ample room for concern. Is the affiliate is engaged in Principal-based buying (media arbitrage)? Is digital media being placed on a non-disclosed basis, versus a “cost-disclosed” basis where the advertiser has knowledge of the actual media costs being charged by the digital media owner?

Evaluating your organization’s “risk” when it comes to digital media is important, particularly in light of the findings of the Association of National Advertiser’s (ANA) “Media Transparency” study released in 2016, which identified agency practices regarding non-transparent revenue generation that reduces an advertiser’s working media investment.

The best place to start is a review of your current client-agency Agreements, to ensure that the appropriate language safeguards are incorporated into the agreement in a clear, non-ambivalent manner. Once in place, monitoring your agency and its affiliates compliance to those contract terms and financial management standards is imperative if you want to assure compliance, while significantly boosting performance. 

“Today, knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.” ~ Peter Drucker     

Interested in learning more about safeguarding your digital media investment? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal, AARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on this important topic.

 

Has the ads.txt Program Been Corrupted by Bad Actors?

13 Nov

fundingIs this a sad state of affairs or what? Ad tech firms, programmatic agencies, ad networks and resellers are actively trying to game the ads.txt system to further their own agendas. The sole reason that the industry got behind the implementation of ads.txt was to safeguard advertisers from domain spoofing and unauthorized inventory selling.

For these stakeholders to view this as an opportunity to manipulate the guidelines to drive their fees and or reseller revenue is inappropriate. Sadly, these actions shine a light on the number of “middlemen” firms operating between advertisers and publishers, and focused on their self interest are detrimental to reforming the digital media marketplace. Ad agencies, programmatic trading desks, DSPs, exchanges, ad networks, resellers, SSPs… what a mess. Can programmatic digital survive? Read More

What is the Future of Agency Trading Desks?

17 Apr

crystal ballIt was recently reported in Adweek that IPG was re-organizing its trading desk operation, Cadreon.  Representatives from IPG cited the costs and conflicts across its agency brands and offices stemming from having a centralized, autonomous trading desk with its own P&L.

This is a timely issue as publishers, agencies and advertisers brace for a pronounced increase in the role of programmatic buying.  Internal squabbles aside, the reason why some agencies aren’t totally on board with holding company trading desks comes down to one item… their own bottom line.  While agency holding companies could easily address this dilemma via a revenue sharing model between their entities that is not the seminal issue with trading desks.

The primary consideration in our opinion should be focused on an agency’s role in serving the advertiser and whether or not that obligation can be fulfilled when they’re acting as a re-seller of media where the original inventory cost is not disclosed.  Secondly, while the agencies and the ad networks have figured out how to make money moving digital inventory, publishers and advertisers are now evaluating the financial impact of programmatic buying and assessing alternatives which drive both efficiencies and performance for their respective organizations.

What are the financial implications?  The aforementioned Adweek article cited “agency insiders” who indicated that trading desks generated “high profit margins” in the “40% to 50% range” (hence the internal conflict).  Easy to see why advertisers would forgo the arbitrage model and opt for having their media AOR handle the digital media buying, on a fully-disclosed basis, within the context of their letter of agreement and the remuneration program that has been established.  Throw in the desire for advertisers to understand more about the quality of their digital ad placements and the environment is ripe for change.

Does this spell the end for trading desks?  Not at all.  Change and refinement are to be expected for a business model that only came into being within the last several years.  The technological capabilities that trading desks possess to manage reams of client data to effectively match advertisers with relevant inventory/audiences on a real-time basis is incredibly valuable.  This is particularly compelling as a higher percentage of an advertiser’s budget is shifted to digital media and programmatic buying.  Having said that, most advertisers are simply not willing to accept the level of opacity and the resultant hidden learning’s, which reside within their agency’s trading desk operation.

While media has evolved through the decades, the formula that has governed the media marketplace should remain constant; publishers sell inventory and advertisers buy inventory through their ad agency partners… not from them.  In the words of the noted American author Wendell Berry:

“The past is our definition.  We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it.”

Agency Trading Desks and the Issue of Transparency

09 May

With the rise in digital advertising budgets and the dramatic expansion in the level of inventory available from publishers, advertising agency holding companies have developed a viable alternative to ad exchanges for securing a portion of their clients’ digital media inventory needs.  This is being done through the use of agency trading desks.

Simply put, a trading desk is a separate holding company service entity that integrates a demand-side platform with other technology and a wealth of consumer data to deliver targeted audiences at scale.  While primarily focused on display advertising, this dynamic method for purchasing media on a real-time basis is expanding to the buying of online video, search, mobile and social media.   This approach leverages an auction based model to buy unsold publisher inventory at efficient rates relative to pre-procured media.

The benefits to the advertiser can be significant when it comes to audience buying and ad impression optimization relative to content/ context based digital media buys or purchasing packaged buys through an ad network.   Given the relative newness of this approach combined with the complexity of the service offering and the limited understanding of trading desks among advertisers there remain concerns about the approach tied primarily to what is perceived as a lack of transparency.  This in turn has resulted in questions ranging from how agencies are compensated for this service (“Are advertisers  double paying their agency partners?”) to the potential for an agency’s objectivity to be compromised as they become both a buyer and seller of inventory (buy from publisher at one price, resell to clients often at a premium).

There are a number of ways for advertisers to enhance transparency into the trading desk operations of their agency partners.  The first is to check your agency letter-of-agreement to determine if there is language related to the agency’s trading desk operation.  If not, check to determine if a separate agreement with the trading desk operation was executed and read through the agreement carefully.  Secondly, engage your agency in dialogue about whether or not they are currently using buying digital media on your behalf through their trading desks and if so, what percentage of your overall digital buy is being channeled through the trading desk.  If the agency is not utilizing their trading desk for your digital media buying, ask whether or not it would be appropriate for your business model and what percent of your digital media buy would be a candidate for this approach.

With the answers to these questions in hand, it is time to discuss how the agency expects to be compensated for this service.  Compensation could include any or all of the following; commission on executed media buys, fee for service, incentive compensation tied to performance (i.e. cost per action, cost per lead, cost per acquisition) and mark-up on the media purchased by the trading desk and sold to the advertiser.  Further, inquire whether or not the trading desks earns rebates or discounts from publishers or technology partners tied to volume and if so, how is your pro-rata share calculated and passed through to you.

It is important to note that the trading desk model employed and the approach taken will vary by agency, so asking questions and establishing guidelines on how to evaluate both the efficacy and efficiency of this approach is critical before allocating a portion of your digital media budget to this channel.   While questions remain with regard to this emerging agency service, the level of risk represented is no more than that represented by ad networks.  Having direct conversations with your agency about the approach, costs, reporting and performance metrics will go a long way to ensuring that you have a sound understanding of how your investment is being handled.

Finally, incorporate a “Right to Audit” clause into the agreement which you execute with the trading desk operation to contractually insure your organization access to the date required to support your desire for full transparency. If you would like to learn more about this area and or how AARM can assist you in assessing the relevance of this approach or analyzing the performance of your agency’s trading desk, contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on the topic.

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