MMW Exclusive: Retale Exec Talks Ad Transparency and Accountability

With heavyweights like Lyft, AT&T and others yanking ads from YouTube, transparency and accountability are at the forefront of advertiser minds today.

This week, MMW connected with Nels Stromborg, EVP of Retale (they work with 5,200 brands, 26M users), for his take on how to bring about deeper accountability in the ad industry.

Here’s what he had to say.

MMW: Is Google doing enough to address advertisers’ concerns about brand safety?

Nels: The reality in this situation, is that the “industry” has known for several years that digital was fraught with a lot of challenges which are now front and center. These issues include viewability issues (example: Did my ads ever appear on the page?) to bot traffic (Example: Is this actually a human deciding to interact with the ad?) to the age-old issue: “my brand has been placed next to a piece of content that is totally the opposite of the image, ethics code, and moral compass of the brand being advertised.” In the last 3-5 years, the velocity of this conversation has picked up dramatically because brands have now woken up to these challenges which are impacting the campaigns they are running in this very fragmented world. It has also become more critical to brands because of the volume of dollars now being spent. Google employs teams of people who review content 24 hours a day to make sure it is consistent with their promise to consumers and partners.  They also use tons of technology in an effort to both turn away highly objectionable content as well as to marry their advertising partners to the right consumers. Unfortunately, these fail-safes are not working as well as anyone had hoped. Advertisers also did not really want to be bothered with this several years ago. They were just not spending enough money, and consumer adoption of digital devices still seemed to be years away. Now both consumer usage, and the dollars being spent, have made this a really critical issue for so many brands. If you are not digitally present, then you are not speaking to huge segments of US population. Google and Facebook will continue to innovate here to solve these issues, which is ultimately a great thing for all digital players, because it forces a level of quality and transparency that is very needed at this time.

MMW: Is this an inevitable risk in programmatic advertising?

Nels: Yes. Because of the automated nature of programmatic ad buying, and the number of longer tail publishers that are placed into many exchanges, the quality of the content is not nearly as strong in the bottom 1mm sites as it is in the top 10 sites. If you are blindly buying media in those exchanges, then it is highly likely that you will be placed next to content that less than desirable for your brand.

MMW: Are there tools that advertisers, ad networks and/or agencies should be using to reduce risk and improve accountability?

Nels: Yes. The biggest and best tool any brand can employ is actually getting in the middle of your media buys. You have to understand how the media is sourced, the technology behind the execution, and the verification tools and methodologies your agency or partner is suggesting you use. That is frankly a lot of work. Simple things like the practice of “white labeling” site lists can help you a lot. You can go back to buying media directly with highly respected publishers, and environments that focus on engagement vs. pure clicks. Using the right verification tools, will help. Getting things in writing from any partner, will also help cut down on these issues, and lastly adopting a policy of zero tolerance from both your media partners and agency partners will help a lot. However, it will never be fool proof. Every day people are working on ways to outsmart these algorithms and tools so that they can continue to profit from fraud. That is likely not going to change any time soon.