Auto-refresh, auditing and ad clutter online – indifference, apathy or neither …

There’s two areas that are frequently talked about in the world of digital media – problem is, it’s generally all talk no action.

Auto-refresh and auditing. Big conversation topic. Still none of the big 5 have been audited or even begun the process. No real pressure from the industry either. At Sound Alliance, 95% of our immediate competitor are not audited … however still continue to incorrectly compare their unaudited (often in house figures) to our audited, third party figures. Apples with oranges.

Problem is, why audit? No agency currently demands it. No advertiser demands it. At Sound Alliance we’re audited, and I can safely say it gives us absolutely no competitive advantage whatsoever.

Explain the concept of auto-refresh and what it means (ie inflated pageviews and loads of ads never being seen by human eyes) and you get this sort of lethargic ‘yeah we know but …’ or ‘I don’t know what you mean’ … there doesn’t really appear to be resistance to auditing … it’s more apathy which is probably more of an issue. It feels to me that people are happy to have their ads seen by no one as long as they feel they’re getting a good deal on the CPM. It’s ridiculous.

Clutter is similar. The websites in this country that get the most revenue and advertiser support are the most cluttered Some have anything from five to fifteen ads per page. Fifteen ads! How can any advertiser have impact? How can you generate cut through? It defies logic. With clutter you get the same mix of apathy and indifference – they either don’t care because they feel that ‘every impression is created equal’ and hence need to drive CPM efficiency or even more dire, the reach argument (reach at any cost … even if no one remembers the ad or sees it). Others don’t really think about the real issue – the more advertisers on the page the less cut through.

Here’s the issue – you can try and run an operation where you commit to an audit and ensure your traffic is legitimate … and minimise ad clutter to ensure those who are on the site generate a tangible benefit beyond dropping a cookie on a user … but if this isn’t considered important by the market, what’s the incentive.

If TV stations started serving 15 ads for every ad break but wanted the same CPM TV buyers wouldn’t cop it. Or if they started charging the same for a 15 that another network was charging for a 30. It would not be tolerated, end of story.

With digital it is. And the only way it’s going to change is if the advertisers demand it.

What would an advertiser – ie a large bank, FMCG, Auto manufacturer – think about their ads appearing alongside 8 other ads – many competitive? How would they feel about their ads being served up in minimised browsers? How would they feel about buying on sites that fraudulently claim engagement by using Auto-Refresh?

My bet is they’d be pissed.

Thing is, it’s happening all the time right now.


14 responses to “Auto-refresh, auditing and ad clutter online – indifference, apathy or neither …

  1. The agencies know and aren’t working to get their clients the best deal. The clients see online as a tiny sliver of their campaign, and the ridiculously low click-throughs confirm it for them. Until this industry starts delivering genuine value — that is, paying customers — to advertisers, it’s going to stay that way.

    But you’re right, it needs to start with the people buying advertising.

  2. I think there is a general apathy towards all the data in the syndicated research tools – as long as the planner has a slide with ‘some stats’ on it (hitwise, comscore, internals, etc) that make it easy to sell the plan to the end client – everyone is happy to accept that ‘it is, what it is’

    Personally, I think cookie deletion is the biggest issue facing our market. All the best technology, planning, SOV and freq. capping is redundant when it all depends on whether a user has accepted a persistent cookie.

  3. Toby Thustans

    Having worked with technolgy implementation for the past 10 years, I can safely say auto re-fresh and mutiple ads is the least or the markets worries. With Asp pages/containers/iframes etc ..give me 2 minutes with your audited website and I can give you 6 times the traffic. So not apples for apples nor really worth the effort of bothering.

  4. Dave Gaines

    If its any consolation, the incentive to Sound Alliance being both audited and clearing up clutter, is you are leading the way quality environments will evolve for advertisers in the not too distant future. And protecting your longer term revenue.

    It may not appear like it now but there are a small number of agencies applying the pressure they can to ensure audited sites sit at the top of the list when planning. But it won’t happen overnight

    Who actually believes that a person picks up a newspaper and reads every single page thoroughly, then hands it on to 2.3 other people? Utter bollox. But this is the currency by which readership is traded and has exactly the same parallel. The data has existed for years to prove otherwise and getting clarity on it is only now gathering some momentum. Until MOVE gave us a better insights, you could have applied the same to outdoor.

    Clutter is the same. Don’t live with digital blinkers on. Watch Underbelly last night? Tell me thats not TV clutter reducing impact for advertisers.

    Its the same issue but for media per se and the good news is agencies are demanding to know what really works and how. It all falls into the pot of smarter customer data and anyone not using it, publisher or agency, will be dead in the water in the not too distant future. You are ahead of the curve by understanding what the value of Sound Alliance really is worth and it will change your balance sheets. Not today but soon

  5. @Toby, yes there are many other inflation issues but the audit stops or limits these practises as well, therefore providing true comparability.

    Your comments prove the point, it’s not hard to manipulate the figures.

    Media-buyers should use their right to demand a higher standard and push back when given figures that have not been independently verified … and really think twice about dealing with a website can’t be “bothered” …

  6. Good insights Ben.

    I am an active supporter of the ABA’s auditing product to independent and niche website publishers through MediaScope. My coal face experience is they want to be audited and present their sites and stats to their advertisers correctly and honestly. They are after long term relationships by giving their clients a good experience and return on their advertising investment and would like to increase their awareness to buyers.

    Some reasons niche and independent sites are not auditing are interdependent (if not a little ‘catch 22’):

    -Cost to audit – cash flow for any small independent media business (and any sme business for that matter) is king. While auditing for sites with less than 150,000 impressions is more affordable at approx $95 per month. Once you get over this pretty low threshold the cost increases into the somewhat unaffordable territory – particularly in this difficult advertising revenue market where every dollar spent has to give a tangible return.

    -As you point out not one, or very few, advertisers are applying pressure for audited stats and it is not giving any competitive advantage.

    Auditing is simply a ‘nice to have’ – and not currently a ‘must have’ when looking at the realities of your cash flow priorities. Any publisher with a structure to support this kind of spend should be audited.

    I agree publishers should not be comparing non-audited site stats with audited site stats – perhaps this is a matter of education and information?

    Also agree ad clutter is a huge issue which we are now seeing manifest throughout the entire market (even those sites with minimal clutter) by low clickthrough rates, and hugely decreasing cpm’s – but advertisers keep buying from cluttered sites!

    Interesting times, I feel your frustration and have to have believe our industry will come around – great to get a glimmer of hope through Dave Gaines.

  7. Surely the impact of Performance Media inventory plays a significant role here. There are armies of sales teams selling hundreds of millions of non-viewed impressions and thereby providing a revenue stream to publishers that they don’t want to give up.

    I request UB’s for every placement on every proposal in a vain attempt to provide some real insight on the actual audience numbers.

  8. talkingdigital

    “particularly in this difficult advertising revenue market where every dollar spent has to give a tangible return.”

    hey denise – i understand that … it’s exactly the same for clients too … so shouldn’t auditing be a priority to ensure that your customers needs are being looked after.

    seems to be numerous websites are just taking the piss – not worrying about auditing because it’s not a necessity but taking advertisers money and not worrying about where the ads appear.

    i know digital media is loaded with secrets no one wants exposed but gaming audience numbers and inventory is just bullshit really.

  9. The worst part about auto refresh is that it’s completely disrespectful to ppl reading the news in low bandwidth areas. I stopped reading The Age while I lived in Indonesia – the constant page refreshes would murder my connection for very no gain.

  10. Shep, like you, I have been a strong advocate for consistent and accurate measurement of digital traffic and audiences. The auto refresh issue (which appears to be unique to AU) is creating yet another obstacle to nervous clients who are already hesitant about adding digital (or making a significant commitment) to to their marketing mix.

    According to an article published in trade press in Sept 09 Carol Morris, Executive Director of the MFA said “ABA audited web data means media buyers can now focus on the planning process, rather than analysing data anomalies, knowing that the ABA Audit process has independently scrutinised and annotated any traffic discrepancies. The MFA encourages its media buyer members to give preference to audited media.” Shep, CBS Interactive were also one of the first to get the ABA tick and I haven’t noticed any preference being given yet either…

    How can we, as an industry, expect to be taken seriously when significant issues like this are spoken about in hushed voices around the corridors of large publishing companies?? It’s not fair, all traffic is not created equal and it’s just downright dishonest. I am appalled and praise you for raising the issue for public discussion.

  11. btw – does Business Spectator auto-refresh and did they/will they publish this post?

  12. talkingdigital

    hey jo – good question (someone else at CBS has asked that too …). I am going to cover the issue on Spectator as it has a much larger audience and more actual advertisers/marketers. They have agreed to run it uncensored and will support it. I am unsure whether they use auto-refresh as I’m only a contributor, not an employee.

  13. We’re about to run a little test at Anthill (we don’t use auto-refresh, yet our competitors do).

    We’re going to turn on auto-refresh for a fortnight and measure the impact, write about it and get the industry to comment, name and shame. That’s the plan, anyway.

    I’ve already raised our plans with the ABA and, very sympathetically, they explained that we would have to lose our ABA audited status… for that period.

    Strangely, I was extremely impressed by the response. There are rules to be respected, even if our goal is to shed light on this abhorrent practice.

    BTW… Nielsen Online Ratings permits the use of auto-refresh code. Get those guys on board and the market will follow.

  14. Will Business Spectator auto-refresh and did they/will they publish this post?

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