Edited excerpts from a recently held vdonxt asia panel, on the subject of ad fraud, brand safety and viewability. The discussion was moderated by Ashwini Gangal, executive editor, afaqs!.
Jayen Mehta, senior general manager, planning and marketing, GCMMF (Amul)
The amount of fraud is almost equal to the size of India's advertising industry. So we're talking big money... we're talking about things that are relevant to all of us. We need to get our act together.
Since connecting with customers through video is such an important aspect for us, we feel - rather than just spending money on advertising, we could also work on building content ourselves.
It's important for advertisers to not depend just on 'advertising' to reach out. So we have started creating content -online video programming- ourselves, and have also been investing in shows. Content can make up for what we lose by not getting the right mileage through advertising.
Asha Kharga, CMO, Axis Bank
Two to three years ago is when this conversation started internally. The simple thing we can do is partner with credible platforms and publishers... and not fall for cheap, 'efficient' deals.
The biggest problem is longtail inventory for which websites approach brands directly - we should stay away from these deals. We shouldn't compromise on transparency for efficiency. And advertisers must white-list the sites and platforms they want to be on, even if they have to pay a premium to be there.
I have faith in established platforms like Google; these are companies that are here to stay. One could also invest in third party verification tools like MOAT and IAS, and demand more transparency and rigour from agencies and these third party providers.
Ashish Bhasin, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network, Greater South, and Chairman and CEO, India
If you think you've been hit by ad fraud and viewability issues, etc., well this is just the tip of the iceberg. The deeper you dig, many more stories are going to come out. It's important for the industry to come together and agree on certain basic parameters. We still haven't agreed on what viewability -or 'a view'- is; some say two seconds, some say 10 seconds, etc. Like BARC for TV and IRS for print, we need to agree on a currency, a common measurement metric, for digital video - one that's not in the hands of a few tech players.
The only way to solve this problem is through tech. It is not right for large tech players, that have trillions of dollars and some of the smartest people on earth in their companies, to realise it (fraud) after the event has taken place... and then say they're trying to solve it. The pressure we as agencies and clients (advertisers) keep putting on tech firms is about asking them 'Is what you are doing enough?'
The scale of fraud is going to multiply, not reduce. I think an environment that is 100 per cent safe is Utopian. The responsibility lies with media owners, agencies, advertisers and industry bodies.
Varun Sharma, director, brand go to market, APAC, YouTube
Fraud must be tackled by the ecosystem collectively. For Google, it got real about 18 months back when the first article about ads appearing near inappropriate content appeared in the UK. When it happened, it was an existential crisis for YouTube. I am happy to say we've made significant progress on that front.
Controversial content is the biggest issue - ads should not show up against sexually suggestive or extremist content. 400 hours of video is being uploaded on YouTube every minute - humans cannot verify it; you need machine learning. As mentioned in our report on transparency last December, we took down eight million videos in Q4 because we found the content inappropriate. 81 per cent of those were found by machines. So machines are doing their job, but you need an army of people to guide them. We've hired 10,000 people in the last 18 months for this. We have a team of scientists looking at what can go wrong.
Globally, Google works with MRC (Media Research Council) on the issue of viewability; as a result, YouTube's viewability is 95 per cent in most markets. So though no system can be fool-proof, we are coming to grips with it.
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