Rise of the machines: PHDIQ’s Jane Stanley on digital metrics, ad fraud and the role of social

In an ongoing series, StopPress chats to a few cerebral types in the industry on the expanding influence of digital technology and how agency life is changing in response to this. Last week, in the first edition of ‘Rise of the Machines’, we featured the creative perspective, and we now shift attention to the media side of the industry as we ask Jane Stanley, the PHD group strategy director and managing director of PHDIQ, a few questions.        

StopPress: Until now, the number of people engaging with a media channel—be it television, radio or print—has been integral in determining the value of advertising in a certain form of media. Is this still a applicable in the digital age? Are the number of clicks the best form of measurement or are there other things that advertisers should be looking at?

Jane Stanley: To a degree it is still applicable, but with digital comes a greater degree of data that will never be achievable with traditional print. Although the number of unique browsers gives us a top-line indication, we now have the opportunity to delve much more into the data to establish richer and deeper insights. This supplementary data can range from dwell times on pieces of content (particularly with the growth of online video), positive and negative mentions of the content in social spaces (for example retweets), to looking at the customer journey and defining the winning attribution model (across formats and, importantly now, across devices).

You could define it by saying impressions and CTAs (calls to action) are just the top of the car bonnet, but there is a whole engine of possible data underneath that is only being partly explored at the moment. This will change as the data platforms become increasingly sophisticated in the future, through developments such as more sophisticated ad-serving platforms and more advanced data solutions such as Digital Management Platforms (DMPs).   

SP: When deciding on a media placement, what metrics do you advise advertisers to focus on? What are some of the most valuable metrics?

JS: We do use the publisher metric’s such as monthly unique browsers (UBs) to a site. However, we supplement this with our own historical individual brand data, i.e. what has worked previously for that brand and that defined audience. This area is becoming increasingly important to us – building and analysing our own data for brands we work with allows us to build a deeper picture of what works.

We have just launched our Digital Management Platform (DMP), which will allows us for the first time to truly aggregate all data from digital media into one place, from homepage takeovers and video to mobile and search. Later we plan to filter further data into this, such as broader CRM data. This single platform will allow us to slice and dice the metrics to determine what the client needs to know. For example, we can look at the right attribution for a particular type of campaign through to being able to slice the data with exact demographic profiling – truly finding out what the ideal digital media is for a male, for example, aged 25 to 29 years. A long way from just basing a recommendation on UBs.                

SP: International stats suggest as much as 25 percent of all video views are generated by bots. Is ad fraud (through click farms and bots) also a big problem here?

JS: Although we don’t have any specific stats to support this, global attention in this area has certainly evoked a number of our clients asking questions around  ‘ghost bookings’ or ‘inflated clicks’. We also know all major publishers are taking bot fraud very seriously.  

SP: Isn’t ad fraud going to become an even bigger issue as programmatic ad buying becomes more popular. Do you think the system is secure enough? 

JS: Networks and programmatically acquired ad inventory involves the advertiser foregoing a degree of control over ad placement in return for significantly lower media costs. This approach does lead itself to a degree of risk – therefore our role as an agency is to reduce the risk for our clients as much as possible through the technology we use and manual optimisation and reporting we develop.

Although Google should be rightfully the one’s commenting on this, the use of Google’s ad server (DoubleClick) is currently a key primary means of independent verification of delivery against bot fraud for PHD.

Google takes fraudulent activity very seriously and constantly improve their technology for identifying and removing such activity.

The ad server tracks every impression and click served through the system and allows us to compare our delivery against the booked / charged for impressions. While there is inevitably some variance between ad server and publisher numbers, any variance of more than 10 percent is considered significant and a negotiation on discounting or make-good is undertaken.

Ad servers have methods of filtering out invalid clicks so while it is a possibility that occasionally invalid clicks are included in reports, in most cases, these are removed prior to reporting. If there is any suspicion on our part that reported clicks are overstated, we’ll manually run a unique click reach report that allows us to ascertain whether there is a significant volume of clicks from a single source (i.e. a low proportion of ‘unique clicks’).

One of the advantages of partnering with a prominent ad serving provider (DoubleClick is one of the top ad servers globally) is the robustness of their security measures.

We’re confident that by ensuring all activity is served by a reputable third party system we take all reasonable steps to mitigate the risks posed by fraudulent online activity.

SP: How important is social? Is it being over-hyped?

JS: It is not over-hyped; it’s essential. Social is now an integral part of any digital media plan. The frustration I have is when people talk about digital, then say social and mobile as a follow-on. Now they are all one thing – digital media – rather than a bolt. And on that point, media is just becoming media again, rather than digital and traditional. Nothing can be a bolt on anymore; everything is intertwined.  

My only comment on the over-hype is to take care when developing social strategy and ideas. Comments like “this campaign needs a Facebook component” or “we’d like to do a vine” aren’t the right starting points and this is when hype can set in. It comes back to the basics of marketing—what are your objectives, audience insight and proposition—and then is social the right way to communicate with that audience? For example, we advised one of our clients last week not to progress with a Facebook page, as it was the wrong platform for the audience and agreed proposition.

Relatively new platforms, like Vine or Snapchat, can play a key part in the campaign but I would encourage brands to check whether it’s really right for the audience and objectives. Also, with the continuing expansion of the social stratosphere, the importance of paid social is becoming vitally important. You can no longer rely on just having great content on your Facebook page when your fan or follower is following multiple people, places and brands. Paid ad formats, like promoted posts, plus SEO activity are now as essential as developing the content itself. So social is certainly not over-hyped if the basics of marketing are always applied.              

SP: Is the workforce in the media agency world changing? Are digital skills now a necessity? What have been some of the key changes over the last few years?

JS: It’s changing rapidly. Two years ago we didn’t have a programmatic offering in place, now we have a team managing all our Accuen buys (our programmatic platform). In the next two years we are likely to see further changes with technology experts sat in media agencies, working with publishers to make the most of data and new platforms. That just shows the rate of change. So this does mean digital skills are a necessity, but there is also a fine line between someone trying to possess all digital skills and becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none.

Today, I believe the media agency is divided broadly into connectors and specialists. Connectors are the client-facing voice of reason for the brand and the consumer – they help manage the client relationship and help define the overall strategic response.  These connectors need a level of understanding about digital, but expecting them to jump on and sort out an AdWords campaign or talk about the detailed technical facets of programmatic is not practical. Their role is about recognising the opportunity and then plugging in the right resource. Specialists, on the other hand, are dedicated to a particular skill – for example, SEM or mobile. Once upon a time in digital media, one person could span everything, but now we are increasingly finding this isn’t attainable. With the depth of knowledge needed in areas like programmatic and search, for example, we need dedicated experts, otherwise we could very easily waste client budget by not using it properly.  That’s why our positioning at PHD Group is connected specialists – a range of specialists with a depth of expertise – all connected together under one roof.                

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