An AT&T banner ad on Wired.com (then HotWired.com) published in 1994 is credited as the first-ever digital advertisement that set off a chain reaction that forever changed the course of the advertising industry. Three decades later, digital advertising has not only become the most powerful medium, but it is centered around two global tech giants, Google and Facebook.
The rise of “big tech” (as critics refer to Facebook and Google and their related companies such as Instagram and YouTube owned by the two giants respectively) and their attempts to change the rules of the game, have alarmed marks. and advertisers around the world. The impact is such that some US states have filed an antitrust lawsuit accusing Google and Facebook of secret pacts to conduct manipulation practices and data fraud to establish a monopoly in digital advertising.
Indian advertisers have been talking about data misappropriation and fraud in the digital realm for a long time, but quietly, not anymore.
Rahul Vangalil, managing partner of Isobar, a digital agency that is part of the dentsu group, said: “The digital ecosystem is quite complex and several players are involved in collecting consumer data. Therefore, there will always be some variation in data on the reach and impact of targeted campaigns. A variation of up to 15% is acceptable. But a third-party audit often reveals a 30-40% mismatch. It’s strange and suspicious. To make matters worse, we have no platform to complain about these discrepancies.
Given the size and rate of growth of the digital advertising segment, it’s high time to have an industry watchdog, says Vengalil, adding, “It has to be a mediator, not of a self-regulatory organization like the ASCI. A watchdog’s order would be binding on everyone.
Shashank Srivastava, Executive Director, Maruti Suzuki (Sales and Marketing) echoes similar sentiments. “Although Google and Facebook are global companies, India can establish a regulatory mechanism for the digital segment just like the European Union and the United States. We also need to understand international practices before creating our own watchdog or any other agency,” says Srivastava.
He added, “Transparency is the highest requirement in the digital advertising segment, not only to maintain advertisers’ trust, but also for the very existence of these tech giants. How we can monitor and measure transparency, however, is a broader topic of discussion. »
It should be noted that Google and Facebook alone control almost two-thirds of the digital advertising market in India at present. Their combined advertising revenue reached Rs 23,213 crore in 2021. Additionally, the digital advertising industry is growing at an estimated rate of 20% per annum due to widespread digital transformation during the pandemic and changing consumer habits and behavior.
Most brands spend 30-40% of their advertising budget on digital. However, their trust in the media is diminishing due to lack of trust and non-transparency. A recent survey of Indian digital media experts by Integral Ad Science (IAS) reveals that “ad fraud” (invalid traffic, inorganic impressions, among others) is a major concern in mobile environments (78%) and social media (86%).
Major advertisers have started using verification tools and third-party audits to check for fraud and data manipulation. However, most advertisers still don’t perform these audits because it’s expensive. This makes the market largely unregulated.
Lloyd Mathias, business strategist and former HP Asia-Pacific marketing manager, says India needs to document its own data protection and digital consumer safety ethics, which will lead to cracking down on non-transparent affiliates and publishers. behind advertising networks, including Google and Facebook.
“India needs to build and embrace technology-driven digital governance to ensure that consumers and their data are safe in the digital environment. Such governance should be self-sustaining, not privatized and built directly by the government, like what we did with CoWin, similar technology for digital asset governance is needed,” Mathias told e4m.
A global digital working group, much like M3AAWG, could be an answer, says Shweta Baid, founder of digital agency Shail Digital. “We need a global task force to make digital advertising more transparent and authentic to consumer data. The working group should involve governments as well as tech giants as well as the whole ecosystem representation to provide a reliable framework,” suggests Baid, citing the example of M3AAWG (Messaging, Malware and Mobile Anti -Abuse Working Group).
The group began operations in 2004 as a task force comprised of internet service providers, mobile network operators, telecommunications companies, infrastructure providers and anti-spam vendors to combat the spam and help protect end users.
Divya Dixit, SVP – Marketing and Revenue at ALTBalaji, agrees with Vengalil. Battling for a single digital agency like BARC and said, Dixit said: “The dynamic and ever-changing nature of the industry requires strict regulations. It will also ensure that all actors are working within common parameters and that there are no gray areas in resolving the crisis.
India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Therefore, keeping Big Tech under control is important and imperative as it can be misused for and by various known and unknown reasons and forces, deliberately destabilizing growth and harmony in Indian society, says Rajan Das, MD, Appl Combine.
Frequent policy updates confuse people
Shweta Baid points out that Google and Facebook continue to update their policies and framework, which many advertisers may/may not be “fully” aware of, even though they spend billions of dollars on digital ads.
She explains: “A digital advertiser is looking for transparency on two aspects: costs and inventory. We need to know where the ad was served and what the cost was. When these 2 aspects are clear, then comes the optimization. Since advertising space is now allocated and sold by automated platforms, it is very difficult to have complete control of it.”
Another big challenge is the measurement metrics used by advertising platforms. It’s important to know whether the measurement is done directly by the DSP or whether it relies on a third party to provide the key performance metric, she said. Advertising experts also point out that multiple identities of the same consumers add to advertisers’ woes.
“The very foundation of calculating digital campaign effectiveness goes awry when consumers have multiple identities on these Big Tech platforms. Therefore, we need to eliminate multiple online identities of one person. Only a regulator can guarantee that,” says Das.
Brand custodians and the IAB need to take a stand
Ad industry veterans say brands need to speak out against digital fraud, too. While big brands have started using third-party tools to track consumer data and ad impressions to get a clear picture of their ROI, they aren’t speaking out against the monopoly and opacity of tech giants.
“Brand owners are the ones who express the most importance. Therefore, they must stand up to seek transparency in digital advertising,” says Vengalil. He also suggests that the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which had previously set benchmarks for the digital advertising space, should also take notice and set benchmarks for consumer data as well.
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