Tag Archive: transparency

  1. With Sizmek fading away – a monopoly is on the rise

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    The demand side ad-server is at the core of most advertisers’ online media tech stacks, delivering real time data on the most important metrics, including impressions by date, hour, viewability, fraud, brand safety, reach and frequency, as well as consumer activity such as clicks and conversions.

    In most regions, an advertiser who wants an independently audited and approved ad server catering to most vendors and formats (while also offering tools for handling dynamic creatives and programmatic media buying) only has three options; Google, Sizmek and Adform. There are some smaller companies around but on a global level in developed markets these companies have a purely nominal market share amongst major advertisers (in our experience).

    If an advertiser also wants its platform to be truly independent of the supply side, then only Sizmek and Adform would be left on the short list, despite Google being the most dominant in the industry.

    Now there are strong indications only one independent will remain on that shortlist, as Sizmek has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US. What the outcome will be is uncertain; will Sizmek be entirely closed or parts sold off, or re-invigorated?  For the health of the online media industry, we sincerely hope for the latter option.

    But to be practical, this is yet another blow to smaller, independent suppliers in a rapidly maturing and consolidating industry under ever-increasing pressure for efficiency and value creation from the duopoly (or monopoly, depending on your delineations) of the behemoth walled gardens of Google and Facebook. Google has undeniably had the financial muscle to take user friendliness, simplicity, consistency, reliability, packaging, and customer support to heights that Sizmek has never gotten close to. Google’s virtuous circle of intense focus on user value and growing user bases is difficult for contenders to catch up with.

    Sizmek had several different versions of its ad server running simultaneously probably because transitioning clients was a complicated process – subsequently it tried and failed to charge more for the new versions which hasn’t helped its business model.

    But in all of this, are we being unfair to Google? After all, no other ad server has opened up as much to, and received as many accreditations from, the MRC. Vetting by an independent and globally trusted media measurement organization has concluded that Google’s reporting is trustworthy. Still, its market dominance is troubling, not so much what led to that dominance or the abilities it affords it. Too much of the fate of the online media industry is dependent on the will of the giants.

    If Sizmek really falters, where will its clients turn? Those that made a conscious choice for independence and still want to, could turn to Adform (MRC approved) or one of the new generation of growing platforms who are seeking this accreditation. For others we suspect it’ll be the easy but less inspiring way out.

    Image: Shutterstock

  2. Day 3 at the ANA Masters of Marketing

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    More inspiring content and ideas to take home from day 3 at the Masters of Marketing.

    Delegates at the 2018 ANA Masters of Marketing were treated to yet another delicious dinner on Thursday night and a breath-taking performance by the ultra-talented Kelly Clarkson. It was an evening to remember and a feast for all the senses, while the sessions on Friday were a return to a more intellectual kind of feast.

    Taking back control

    Friday kicked off with a panel of top marketers from some of the world’s most recognisable brands – Jill Estorino from Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, American Express CMO Elizabeth Rutledge and Deloitte Digital’s Alicia Hatch, facilitated by P&G’s Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard. They discussed leading disruption as a way to drive growth and to ensure that marketing still matters into the future. A Cannes Lions CMO Growth Council has formed a movement that is ‘taking back control’ of marketing, with a focus on five core tenets to drive growth: data and technology; talent and capability; customer centricity, brand experience and innovation; and society and sustainability. Each panellist took the audience through an example of how their company is implementing initiatives in these five tenets. Jill Estorino explained how Disney has put the customer – and the future customer – right at the centre of their product innovation and experiences by harnessing data, while Marc Pritchard put forward the argument for increasing brands’ social and environmental responsibility – half of consumers take a more positive view of a company that takes a stand on an issue.Taking smart risks to drive growth

    Staying relevant by focusing on your greatest asset

    If attendees thought that the session following Jeff’s would be lower energy and they’d be able to relax a bit, they were mistaken. The WNBA’s equally charismatic Lisa Borders talked to us about how the WNBA grew to become a major entertainment – not just sports – brands in a little over 20 years. Their focus has always been to remain relevant by focusing on their greatest asset – their players, using their own authentic voice, embracing who they are and leveraging that in their communications and brand identity.

    Earning loyalty to drive growth

    Next up was Greg Revelle, CMO of iconic American retail brand Kohl’s, which is going from strength to strength despite the challenges faced by the retail sector. He explained how overhauling the cherished Kohls Cash rewards scheme allowed them to accelerate the rate of customer acquisition and retention, whilst deepening customer engagement and simplifying their value proposition. The key to the success of the new programme was asking the customers themselves – and not just researchers – what they wanted from the loyalty programme. Greg’s top tips to marketers were to start from your company’s roots and scale up from there; see industry challenges as opportunities; ask your customers what they want and measure everything you can.

    Humanising personalisation

    After Greg, American Express CMO Elizabeth Rutledge returned to the main stage to relay how she has driven a sea change – and global growth – at her organisation with a new brand platform – ‘American Express has your back as you do business and live life’. The entire strategy is rooted in humanity and the ‘humanisation of personalisation’: Elizabeth kicked off her presentation with Muhammad Ali’s moving short poem, ‘Me? We.’ She went onto explain how her ‘aha’ moment was realising that marketing is only a ‘sliver’ of the way that American Express engages with its customers – the real human connection is via the customer services team, so the new brand platform had to revolve around the entire company – who they are, what they do and what they say. There was a renewed focus on their employees, ensuring that they were satisfied because ‘a happy employee is a happy customer’. The new platform and approach has been a huge success for the brand so far, raising brand value by 8%. Elizabeth’s key takeaways for the audience? Data is critical but, on its own, not sufficient; we – marketers – are the stewards of ‘we’; and we must infuse the personal into personalisation.

    Brand versus performance marketing

    With that rallying cry we moved to the second stage to listen to last year’s top-rated speaker, Clorox’s Eric Reynolds, talk openly and honestly about Clorox’s journey towards achieving the right balance between performance marketing and brand marketing.

    He shared lessons that they’ve learned along the way, using a gut health brand and an anti-ageing DTC acquisition as case studies. The critical lesson? Like so many others at the conference, it was to put the consumer as a person at the heart of what you are doing. Marketers from both the brand side and the performance side must consider the consumer’s personal goals and their unique path to purchase, and find the best way that the brand can be useful to them. For CPG brands like Clorox, that means going back to the industry’s roots – being useful to real people, every day.

    An unconventional path to growth

    From gut health to gut instinct: back at the main stage after lunch, the CMO of privately owned bread brand King’s Hawaiian, Erick Dickens gave an enjoyable, informative session about their unconventional path to growth. Always following his gut – his key piece of advice for the audience – he had to do things differently thanks to a limited marketing budget. That included bankrolling the best agency talent to start their own agency as he couldn’t afford to pay for them in their existing roles; working directly with media properties so he could cut out the middle men; thinking big (they even made a film with their limited budget!); and picking high impact placements – namely the Oscars and the Super Bowl – using existing creative. Not only did they spend a fraction of what the other brands spent on their creative, but their spots when straight into the top ranked ads at the Super Bowl! Erick’s bold and unconventional approach has earned him fantastic results across all key metrics, including uplifts in unaided brand awareness and household penetration.

    Marketing’s time to shine

    We finished the day with an inspiring and heart-felt presentation by Deloitte Digital CMO Alicia Hatch, who explained why this is marketing’s moment to shine. With so much disruption and transformation in the marketing industry, now is the time to use our brand’s purpose to create a force for good. Through the prism of Deloitte’s work with National Geographic to create the amazing Women of Impact campaign, Alicia described that the secret lies in brands really understanding where their consumers derive meaning and really understanding what matters to their brand. If they can create brand experiences where those two areas intersect, that’s where a brand has the power to elevate the human experience and become a powerful force for good – which in turn drives business growth. The Women of Impact campaign harnessed cutting-edge predictive AI technology which allowed the team to respond to the community they had created at the speed of culture – allowing National Geographic to move from earning a share of voice to earning a share of culture. In the end, it’s all about data

    We ended day two with a session on how to turn your data into an emotional connection courtesy of Bank of America’s Lou Paskalis. He stressed how in the future, marketing will be data-driven, connections-based and customer-obsessed. People buy with their hearts and then rationalise their purchases with their brains: if your brand can connect with their hearts, you win. Lou also made the pithy observation that data is the new oil: in its raw form it’s just a material, but if you refine it in the right way, it will inform your marketing vision.

    Customer-centricity, brand purpose and using data well

    As always, the Masters of Marketing was a festival of ideas, inspiration, food for thought and energy. The main themes that came out time and again were customer-centricity, brand purpose and how to use data as a means to create meaningful, authentic connections – not as as the end itself. It’s always inspiring to hear how talented and dedicated marketers are harnessing the rapid changes in the industry to make their discipline a driver of growth and a force for good. For those looking to drive growth for their brand, ECI Media Management has years of experience helping marketers do just that, and we’d be delighted to hear how we can support you. Feel free to contact us on

    Thumbnail image: Alexandra Matthews

  3. Day 2 at the ANA Masters of Marketing

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    The conference officially started on Thursday with energising, thought-provoking and fascinating talks.

    The conference officially starts

    As we described in our blog post from the first day, the ANA Masters of Marketing conference started with a bang with some thought-provoking and fascinating pre-conference sessions, followed by dinner and a performance by Train. If delegates were a little bleary-eyed after that, the official start to the conference at 8am this morning ensured that they were fully alert!

    Opening remarks from ANA CEO Bob Leodice

    The CEO of the ANA, Bob Leodice, opened the conference with remarks on the critical importance of growth. More than half of Fortune 500 companies have suffered a decline in growth and it is the responsibility of marketers – many of whom were in the room – to lead a drive to recover that growth. The ANA supports its members in many ways, including with playbooks that they have created for ‘distinct and direct action’. These playbooks cover many hot topics such as data and technology, transparency, measurement and accountability, and talent development. Bob also showcased several particularly touching and effective campaigns from the last 12 months, including the #seeher campaign which is fighting the conscious and unconscious bias against women and girls in advertising.

    Bob concluded his session by reminding his audience that the opportunity to elevate growth is within their grasp – and, if they do that, that there is so much progress to be achieved. Marketing can, and should, be a force for good and for growth.

    Taking smart risks to drive growth

    Bob was replaced on stage by Jeff Charney, the extraordinarily charismatic CMO of insurance-firm-with-a-difference Progressive. He exploded onto the stage to talk to the audience about risk and how we as marketers are not taking enough of it. He claimed that driving growth is fuelled in part by a willingness to take smart, insight-led risk because in this day and age you can’t just stand still and hope that growth will find you. He defined the right way to take risks with a clever acrostic: Relevance not Recklessness, Information not Impulsiveness, Speed not Siloes and striKe out, not Know-it-all. Jeff even took what could have been a huge risk during his talk – persuading nearly 3000 delegates to sing Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ acapella…

    Jeff also explained his unique network philosophy, where great characters create great content that is placed in the right content – and have control: Progressive has taken a significant portion of their agency activity in-house, with huge success. If that’s something you are considering, we have a list of the top ten things to consider.

    Building a brand the WNBA way

    If attendees thought that the session following Jeff’s would be lower energy and they’d be able to relax a bit, they were mistaken. The WNBA’s equally charismatic Lisa Borders talked to us about how the WNBA grew to become a major entertainment – not just sports – brands in a little over 20 years. Their focus has always been to remain relevant by focusing on their greatest asset – their players, using their own authentic voice, embracing who they are and leveraging that in their communications and brand identity.

    A second stage for more choice and intimacy

    After Lisa’s session, ECI moved over to the second stage. The second stage is a new feature for 2018, in response to delegate feedback that they wanted some choice in the agenda and some more intimacy. The experiment is evidently a huge success, with people standing around the edges of the room to see some big names from Unilever, Bank of America, eMarketer and others give inspiring and insightful talks.

    What marketers can learn from D2C brands

    First up was Luma’s Terry Kawaja: an investment banker isn’t the obvious choice for speaker at a marketing conference, but, being as he is at the intersection of media, marketing and technology, Terry’s insights were of course highly relevant to his audience. He explained what marketers could learn from the new generation of ‘D2C’ (direct to consumer) brands that are proliferating in an age when so many traditional, incumbent brands are facing declining growth. We discovered that the tactics of D2C brands – who are often essentially marketing companies with a product to sell – are so good that they even sell bad products! So what are these tactics? They include focusing on the consumer, recommitting to product design, adopting performance media, deploying content marketing and even making select acquisitions of D2C companies.

    Trust: the basis of eBay’s interaction with consumers

    Returning to the main stage, we were lucky enough to see eBay Americas CMO Suzy Deering talk about her company’s focus on trust: her brand – a ‘human platform’ – is very aware that consumers want to trust and will support brands that are purpose-driven. That basic tenet of trust is the basis of the three principles that are the foundation upon which

    eBay’s approach to consumer engagement is based. The first – built on trust. The second – powered by purpose. And the third – using data to connect to buyers and sellers in meaningful, authentic ways. With these in mind, eBay leans into culture in a way that feels true to consumers’ wishes, using data to understand what consumers want and how they behave – and respond accordingly.

    How to market successfully in the age of assistance

    Over a delicious lunch, Google’s President of the Americas Allan Thygesen spoke to delegates about marketing in the age of assistance – where empowered consumers are more curious, demanding and impatient than ever thanks to the ability to effortlessly navigate life and make decisions. In this intent-driven world, the opportunity for marketers to lead their companies’ growth has never been greater: brands must grab with both hands the opportunities that are arising from the fact that intent is redefining the traditional funnel, the new shapes of today’s dynamic consumer journeys and the new formula for success. Allan explained that successful marketers are making three fundamental shifts to drive growth in this new world: focusing on business outcomes, not media metrics; stopping marketing to the average; and automating everything. Brands need to earn the trust of their consumers – the takeaway phrase from this presentation was that when people can count on brands, brands can count on growth.

    A crash course in the hottest emerging trends

    Suitably refreshed and ready to absorb whatever the afternoon’s speakers could throw at us, ECI headed to the second stage for ‘a crash course on the hottest emerging trends in marketing’, courtesy of eMarketer’s Geoff Ramsey. He managed to fit an extraordinary amount of content into a mere 30 minutes, including media spend, the colliding worlds of TV and digital video, how AI will change everything, the rise of voice search and how AR is moving into the mainstream. We were particularly interested to hear him talk about the rise of Amazon as a media company – not just a retailer: he expected to see them double their media dollar growth over the next few years, making them a serious competitor for the Google-Facebook duopoly, as we discussed in a blog post from a few weeks ago.

    The shift of viewers from pay TV to streaming providers such as Netflix was an important topic – and how that presents a major challenge for advertisers: a key reason that people are moving is to minimise their exposure to ads. We’ve written about this topic in the past – you can read more in our blogs on the battle for the future of entertainment and how video streaming services are forcing the TV industry to transform.

    Geoff also explained how newer technology – AI, voice search and AR – are all major trends that we will be seeing much more of in the coming years. Each will fundamentally change how consumers behave and therefore how brands interact with them. He was particularly surprised by the rise of voice search, driven by the proliferation of voice-activated devices such as Alexa and Google Home. It could have major implications for smaller and challenger brands as there is often only one single answer to a voice search query: in the future, this benefit could be sold to the highest bidder.

    In the end, it’s all about data

    We ended day two with a session on how to turn your data into an emotional connection courtesy of Bank of America’s Lou Paskalis. He stressed how in the future, marketing will be data-driven, connections-based and customer-obsessed. People buy with their hearts and then rationalise their purchases with their brains: if your brand can connect with their hearts, you win. Lou also made the pithy observation that data is the new oil: in its raw form it’s just a material, but if you refine it in the right way, it will inform your marketing vision.

    The consumer: front and centre of all marketing strategies

    In our two days at the Masters of Marketing so far there has been no escaping that, in order to drive growth and ‘win’ at marketing, a marketer’s focus must always, always be on the consumer. Putting the consumer at the heart of your marketing strategy and really understanding what they want from your brand – and then giving it to them – is the surest way to drive growth for your company and, in turn, make marketing a highly valued department in your organisation. We’re sure that this theme will continue on day three of the conference – we will of course be covering the sessions in real time on LinkedIn using the hashtag #ECIatANAMasters, and we will release a blog post summarising the day tomorrow evening. As always, if there is anything you’d like to discuss with us in more detail, you can contact us at .

    Thumbnail image: Alexandra Matthews

  4. The ANA Masters of Marketing conference: Day 1 download

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    The 2018 ANA Masters of Marketing conference has kicked off with aplomb.

    The pinnacle of the US marketer’s year

    The ANA Masters of Marketing conference is a key fixture in the calendars of many US marketers. In a world where technology is changing the landscape at an unprecedented rate, the opportunity to meet your peers, discuss the major issues the industry is facing and come away with some answers – or at least food for thought – is one that’s not to be missed. With that in mind, many marketers from across the US have descended upon Orlando in the last few days. Those from more northern cities surely appreciate the balmy Florida weather, but none of the attendees will be letting sunshine and blue skies distract them from the matter at hand!

    This year’s theme is growth – against a challenging backdrop

    As was to be expected, the Masters of Marketing started with a bang with some thought-provoking pre-conference sessions on Wednesday. The official theme, as has been the case for 10 years, is ‘growth’ – an increasingly elusive concept for many organisations. The sessions today were a showcase for how marketers can drive growth for their organisations by harnessing the transformation the industry is undergoing and using it to future-proof their marketing strategies.

    The awareness versus performance debate

    ECI started with a session that examined the ongoing debate between driving awareness and performance in the era of artificial intelligence – something that we are particularly interested in. We are all aware of the huge disruption that AI is causing in the advertising industry (and indeed in all industries). It is the equivalent of the internet back in the late nineties – we are possibly over-estimating its significance in the short term, but woefully under-estimating its long-term impact. A graph showed in no uncertain terms that we’re rapidly approaching an inflection point where machines will become more intelligent than humans. This will only be exacerbated by the arrival of 5G, which will unleash an unfathomable amount of data and, with that data, the Internet of Things will come into its own.

    Against that backdrop, the audience was given a crash course in harnessing that wealth of data and the increasing importance of mobile to drive sales and customer loyalty. Rachel Tipograph, the founder of MikMak which has reinvented infomercials for a generation of digital natives, taught the audience how to harness first-party data in the most effective way to create campaigns that drive sales and brand loyalty. Working on the basis that ‘if it isn’t Instagrammed, it didn’t happen’, we were taken through a step-by-step process, from setting a campaign objective (bottom-of-the funnel, such as link clicks

    or landing-page views) to identifying laser-focused audiences, developing ‘thumb-stopping’ creative and optimising your landing page – which is now more likely to be your product page than your home page. Rachel emphasised the importance of the pixel to capture real-time data for optimisation and build qualified audiences for prospecting or targeting – something we will be examining in our post-conference series of articles next week.

    Where next for advertising?

    The session that followed was an AEF (ANA Educational Foundation) symposium entitled ‘The end of advertising as we know it: what next?’ The premise for this session was the fact that advertising is increasingly seen as an interruption in what the consumer wants to be doing, and – in an age of ad-blockers and paid-for, ad-free streaming services such as Netflix – marketers need to find new ways to meaningfully connect with and engage with their audiences so that adverts are welcome and not seen as an intrusion. Mark Truss of JWT presented the keys to humanising a brand: transparency, brand contribution, business conduct, brand purpose, value beyond the customer and employee appeal; he also laid out how brands should behave in order to maintain a real and lasting relationship with consumers. Crucial behaviours included humanising customer support, being true to your brand purpose and identity, and using social media to be social – not just as a platform to drive sales.

    The scene is set for an invigorating few days

    The pre-conference sessions at the Masters of Marketing were more than a taste of what is to come – they set the scene for what will undoubtedly be an energising, challenging and thought-provoking conference. We anticipate a lot of discussion around data privacy and the challenges that entails for marketers (particularly in light of federal investigations into media-buying practices and the introduction of GDPR), what the future holds for marketing and how best to invest those precious ad dollars.

    Get the latest insights with ECI

    We will share a download of each day of the conference on our blog, ECI Thinks, as well as real-time insights from each session via LinkedIn – you can follow these using our hashtag #ECIatANAMasters. Next week, we’ll release a series of articles summarising our learnings from the conference and their implications for marketers. And of course, if there is anything mentioned in these articles that you would like to discuss with us in more detail, you can contact us at .

    Thumbnail image: Alexandra Matthews

  5. Transparency in the ad industry two years after the ANA report

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    Two years ago the ANA published a report about non-transparent practices in the US ad industry. Now investigators have been called in.

    A ground-breaking report on transparency issues

    The ANA Masters of Marketing conference is taking place in Orlando next week – an opportunity for marketers from some of the world’s most famous brands to come together to discuss the issues that matter most to them. One of those issues is transparency – which is particularly pertinent at a time when brands are grappling with a wealth of consumer data but increased regulation on how to handle it, and a rapidly changing media landscape.

    A little over two years ago, our hosts in Orlando released a ground-breaking report on a study they commissioned into media transparency issues in the US advertising industry. The research, carried out by K2 Intelligence, revealed that non-transparent business practices were prevalent.  This was found to be the case in both agency holding groups and independent agencies, and across digital, OOH, print and TV. Rebates were a common form of this non-transparent practice: many agency representatives interviewed by K2 indicated that rebates passed to agencies by media owners were not passed on to or even disclosed to advertisers, and in some cases were even demanded by the agencies. K2 found that rebates ranged in value from 1.62% of aggregate media spend to 20% – potentially huge sums of money.

    Rebates are difficult to avoid at a local level

    Rebates, often known as agency volume bonuses (AVBs) are fairly common practice in many European countries and in China and Brazil, but are not standard procedure in the US. The issue of rebates is difficult to avoid for local clients who hold contracts with their local agencies: AVBs are often paid to agency holding companies overseas, which means that the local agency effectively has no power to offer complete transparency to their local client. The fact that auditors are only able to access local contracts means that they are often unable to solve the issue either. Furthermore, there have been rumours that rebates can take the form of ‘fees’ for ‘research work’ carried out or work given to other companies owned by the agency holding group, at high costs, meaning that the rebate is difficult to trace back to a specific advertiser’s spend.

    Non-transparency has led to increasing distrust between advertisers and their agencies.

    Non-transparency on the part of media agencies and advertising companies has undoubtedly led to increasing distrust between them and their clients. Digiday reflects they have reacted in two ways: those who are changing how they pay agencies to reward successful campaigns, and those who are struggling to find a viable alternative to the non-disclosed arrangement they have with their agency. Agencies’ margins have got tighter and tighter in recent years, so many have looked to non-transparent means as a way to increase company profits. Digiday notes that as a result, ‘advertisers in both groups are starting to realise that transparent relationships with their agencies cost money’.

    Transparency comes with incentives for high performance

    At ECI we look at it from a slightly different perspective: transparency shows the true cost of working with an agency. Hidden income not only conceals the real cost of working with the agency, but also means that the advertiser has no control over the service that they are paying for. This means that they cannot steer it by setting the right incentives to ensure the right quantity and quality.

    Furthermore a non-transparent model means that the advertiser can’t understand how different kickbacks might influence the agency’s buying recommendations and decisions. We believe therefore that the model by which agencies are paid needs to be questioned: a transparent model should give the agency a higher official income, and there should be a clear, measurable incentive model overlaying the base fee, so the agency is rewarded for effective work. This leads to higher quality and more bang for your buck!

    Some advertisers are bringing media activity in house

    A measure that some clients are taking or seriously considering in order to increase their control over their advertising is bringing at least some of their media buying activities in-house. This cuts the middleman out altogether, saving money and eliminating transparency concerns. While there is a lot to consider and upfront costs can be high, with the right strategy, talent, technology and support in place, advertisers can reap rewards.

    Federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into non-transparent practices

    This summer, things stepped up several notches as it emerged that it is not just clients that have reacted to the ANA’s K2 report. As the Wall Street Journal published in September, federal prosecutors in Manhattan have opened an investigation into media buying practices in the advertising industry, particularly non-transparent ad buying practices and rebates paid to agencies by media outlets. Campaign noted that the FBI investigates white-collar crime, including ‘illicit transactions designed to evade regulatory oversight’ and ‘kickbacks’.

    Despite the ad companies denying any wrongdoing when the ANA report was published, several are under scrutiny. This is bad news for the agency holding companies: The Wall Street Journal quoted an industry expert who noted that media-buying activity accounts ‘for the bulk of the profit growth for ad companies since the beginning of the 2000s’. Teamed with clients bringing media buying in-house and the challenges that come with an increasingly digital and fast-paced world, agencies need to transform their business models – quickly.

    An opportunity to talk about how it affects your brand

    There will be a lot to talk about and digest at the Masters of Marketing next week. ECI Media Management is offering marketers a complementary consultation on the ground where we can discuss how we could help you drive greater transparency and higher media value from your advertising investments – or any other issue that is important to your business. You can sign up here. If you won’t be at ANA, we’d still be delighted to offer you this complimentary consultation, just send us an email at .

    Thumbnail image: Shutterstock

  6. What’s Facebook’s problem?

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    For years, Facebook has been the darling of the tech and media worlds. Is the inevitable conclusion of its latest quarterly report that its star is fading?

    The unstoppable rise of Facebook – until now

    For many years, Facebook seemed unstoppable, unbeatable. Since its beginnings in Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room in Harvard University, it has grown into a technology behemoth with 1.47 billion daily active users and 2.23 billion monthly active users. Facebook has very efficiently monetised these users’ data, with advertisers flocking to Facebook and contributing to a company value of over $500 billion, and to Zuckerberg’s personal fortune of around $70 billion. But it is Facebook’s handling of its users’ data that seems to be at the root of its recent reversal in fortune.

    What went wrong?

    Facebook’s sheen started dimming two years ago, when it was first implicated in fake news and political meddling. This didn’t seem to have any impact financially until its second quarter 2018 report last week, which made for painful reading for its investors. The report disclosed that the number of users in Europe dropped by 3 million, ending its nine-year streak of quarter-on-quarter growth in numbers of European users (note that this was for Facebook only, and not its other owned properties such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus), and user growth in North America flattened. It gained just 22 million users worldwide in quarter 2 (largely in Asia), less than half of the quarter 1 figure. Worse, in the eyes of investors, was that it missed revenue forecasts for the quarter, bringing in $13.2 billion versus the $13.4 billion that analysts had projected. All this led to $120 billion being drained from Facebook’s value and a 20% decrease in stock price in after-hours trading on Wall Street, as investors were spooked further by Facebook’s predictions that its revenue growth would continue to decelerate.

    Scandals, data, addiction and saturation

    With the problems that have beset Facebook over the last few years, it was perhaps inevitable that this point would come. The first and perhaps most serious headaches for its leadership have been the twin issues of political interference – notably in the US presidential election and the UK’s Brexit referendum – and fake news. This culminated in the Cambridge Analytica scandal of earlier this year. Facebook was fined $656,000 – the maximum possible – for breaching UK data protection act, but has had to spend much more to offset the negative press. It exacerbated Facebook’s increasingly toxic reputation as a company that interferes in and affects society and politics, and it is likely that many users deleted their accounts in disgust, particularly in the UK where Cambridge Analytica was based.

    Another challenge for Facebook this year has been the implementation of GDPR in the EU, which set guidelines for the collection and processing of the personal information of individuals within the European Union. It is believed that GDPR was directly responsible for the loss of 1 million of Facebook’s monthly active users in the EU, with many possibly choosing to opt out instead of confirming assent to Facebook’s new data collection practices.

    Facebook, as with all media largely consumed via mobile phones, has of course been affected by the growing concern among consumers of the effect that spending a lot of time on smartphones and social media is having on their mental health and concentration. Across the world people are choosing to cut down on the amount of time they spend on their phones.

    Scandals, data protection and switching off aside, it may be that saturation is Facebook’s most serious long-term issue. Of the 3.5 billion internet users globally, 2.5 billion use at least on Facebook app, which means that user growth in many places, especially in mature markets, has naturally stagnated – there simply aren’t many people who don’t use Facebook, at least occasionally. This means that the business model must focus on increasing revenue per user, which Facebook has struggled with – newer initiatives such as Stories (Facebook’s answer to Snapchat) have proven difficult to monetise compared to the Newsfeed. And compared to Google’s parent company Alphabet, Facebook appears to be over-reliant on ad revenue: $13 billion – over 98% of its overall second quarter revenue of $13.2 billion – was from advertising, compared to 86% of Alphabet’s. This is thanks to Alphabet’s more diversified product offering, which includes hardware, the Google Play Store and Cloud services that are non-ad revenue. This discrepancy could be part of the reason that Google appears more resilient than Facebook, despite the fact that its record isn’t squeaky clean either.

    All is not as gloomy as it seems

    Despite the recent doom and gloom around Facebook’s latest financial reporting, the future isn’t too bleak for the social network. While the financial and user growth figures didn’t meet investors’ expectations, they’re still extremely healthy, particularly considering the storms that it has had to weather. The furore around its Q2 report is rooted in the fact that its growth has slowed, rather than in any actual crisis. Facebook has announced that it is investing billions into safety and security initiatives; these will future-proof the company but do eat into profit margins in the shorter term. Perhaps Facebook’s real problem is that it has been the subject of – and purveyor of – too much optimism and exuberance in recent years: it’s now time for it to settle down and accept its responsibilities as one of the world’s major technology companies.

    Thumbnail image: Wachiwit/Shutterstock.com 

  7. The power of transparency in programmatic

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    Programmatic is growing up

    Programmatic has finally come of age. It is celebrating a decade of existence with ever-increasing prominence in the advertising sector. In the US, eMarketer has projected that by 2019 83.6% of digital display ad dollars will be spent programmatically – that’s not far short of $46bn. It is also finally maturing, becoming more stable and reliable as the major players start to take responsibility and drive transparency.

    Scandals, scams, wastage and a lack of understanding

    It was not always thus. Programmatic has long been seen as the wild west of advertising: while advertisers see and have enjoyed the benefits, many have major concerns around a perceived lack of transparency, leading to issues such as wastage and a lack of brand safety. Some sources believe that up to 60% of investment in programmatic was being lost by the time it reached the publisher, while Digital Market Asia estimates that 80% of ad dollars are ‘lost’ to the programmatic chain: SSPs, third party data, trading desks, exchanges and the DSP. Ad fraud scares such as the Hyphbot scam, and the brand safety scandals of 2017 did nothing to help the reputation of the sector.  

    At ECI, we believe that a key issue has been a lack of understanding on the part of the advertisers, who often don’t know what data to request and how to scrutinise and analyse it. This allows agencies and ad tech providers to play faster and looser with their clients’ investment than they might otherwise. As they say, ‘mystery means margin’.

    Forcing programmatic to be more responsible

    In the last 12 months or so, advertisers, agencies and even governments have forced ad tech suppliers to start taking their responsibilities seriously. Armed with knowledge and the right talent, they have been taking ad tech providers to task – P&G, for example, announced earlier this year that it would slash its digital spend by $200m,

    having identified last summer that, in Q2, $100m of their digital investment had little appreciable impact on their business. Meanwhile, GroupM took heed of advertisers’ concerns by updating its viewability standards for display and video ads, and the Guardian sued an ad tech supplier for failing to disclose fees earned from advertisers that appeared on the publisher’s site.

    New initiatives are driving transparency and trust

    In short, advertisers and agencies are pushing for more control over media performance and what it costs, meaning that they are demanding better targeting, better viewability, less wastage, less fraud and improved brand safety. Suppliers are delivering, with initiatives such as ads.txt and first-price auctions providing more transparency, and mergers between ad tech vendors and content providers eliminating many of the middlemen who make the process so murky. ECI strongly recommends set-ups where advertisers have full rights to all the data related to their buying; we have established a comprehensive set of best practice guidelines on how to buy programmatically in a selective way that minimises risk and costs, while maximising value. These guidelines have been proven to solve issues around transparency, viewability and quality, often dramatically improving ROI.

    Transparency will drive success for advertisers, agencies and ad tech providers

    Transparency is a real business differentiator – not just for advertisers, but for those providing programmatic services. As is so often the case, trust and openness are absolutely critical, and those agencies and tech providers who guarantee transparency will be the winners in this lucrative area. For advertisers, the win will be in choosing the right partner for great performance and transparency, and having a thorough understanding of the data and processes.

    Thumbnail image: Best-backgrounds/Shutterstock.com