2015 Review of the Year: the digital conundrum

Marks and spencer siteDigital advertising may well be the fastest-growing ad medium in the UK – worth £7.2bn, up 14% year-on-year – but despite the fact that it accounts for nearly 39% of the total UK ad market, 2015 saw many in the wider marketing industry start to question just what they were getting for their money.
When no lesser luminary than WPP boss Martin Sorrell calls into question any channel’s effectiveness – and notes that his own clients are increasingly wary of online ads – everyone else suddenly sits up and listens.
And there is a growing dossier of evidence to support Sorrell’s concerns. The rise of programmatic buying is a case in point, with one report estimating that over £1bn of ads were bought by machines this year. However, leaving it all to the technology has it drawbacks, as there were also claims that those same machines were losing at least half of all the ads they placed.
Then there is the thorny issue of ad viewability. An indepth study of senior agency and publishing chiefs revealed that half believe the viewability standards set by the IAB and Media Rating Council are simply not high enough.
InSkin Media reported that only about a third (37%) of digital chiefs think the official viewability guideline – that 50% of an ad has to be in view for one second, to be deemed viewable – is sufficient.
Meanwhile, half think this standard is insufficient in general, this rises to nearly two-thirds (63%) for larger, non-standard ad formats – particularly skins and wallpapers.
Of course, the online marketing trade body the IAB is doing its damnest to calm the waters and even launched its own campaign this summer with the aim of clarifying its position on each of the five biggest concerns facing the sector: brand safety, viewability, fraud, (ad verification issues), privacy and ad-blocking.
It went on to produce figures which it claimed showed ad-blocking was not as widespread as feared, despite the fact that nearly one-fifth of consumers have already downloaded it.
The Ad Blocking Report, conducted online by YouGov, showed that 18% of people now use the software – up from 15% in June – although if this increases at the current rate it will reach 25% – a quarter of the population by next year.
Separate research predicted ad blockers would wipe out nearly £50bn worth of global online advertising next year, and most of that will be on desktop devices; mobile ad-blocking is still in its infancy.
Some publishers are responding by banning people who have installed the software from accessing content. It remains to be seen how this strategy will pan out.
But one thing is certain, the digital marketing industry needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror and answer the question: “Are we really doing enough to justify the billions of pounds’ worth of ad budgets coming our way?”
So far, digital has grown largely on smoke and mirrors measurement and the laziness of marketers. It has also exploited the fact that it is often cheaper than traditional media. But if WPP’s clients are beginning to think it is over-rated, you can bet your bottom marketing dollar everyone else’s are too. Instead of criticising consumers for downloading ad-blocking software, isn’t it about time the industry started to build its own dossier of evidence to prove how effective digital can be?

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