Earlier this year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released its sixth interim report in the ongoing digital platform services inquiry, with the watchdog identifying a lack of transparency around social media advertising as one of the most important issues affecting Australian businesses online. But, Imran Masood, country manager AUNZ for DoubleVerify thinks that the body hasn’t quite given adland enough credit.
“Money talks, right?” said Masood.
“You’ll have seen the biggest advertisers, brands, marketers and CMOs in the world pulling budget from very big, very strong, high-quality social platforms until they can get their backend in order. But, being able to do that and to scale it is really, really difficult.”
In the ACCC’s 190-page assessment of the state of social media services, it said that the companies it spoke to “may not be able to verify the accuracy of specific claims made about the performance of their advertising campaigns. Inaccuracies may lead to wasted campaign funds and lower levels of engagement for advertisers.”
Citing its submission from SBS, the industry body said that it was “relatively easy” for advertisers to obtain “basic performance data” including the number and cost of impressions, as well as clicks. The methodology for finding the performance data was not always available and where data was available it was usually in an aggregate view. What’s more, it said the platforms had a “limited” approach to letting third parties independently verify targeting, performance, viewability and brand safety data.
With marketers and brands pulling spend, Masood said that the platforms were not standing still on the issue of deeper analytics and cross-platform comparisons.
“The social platforms are working really hard with businesses like ourselves and other players in the space to ensure that they can provide the right data that we can present in a holistic way to the marketplace.
“If our mission is to create a safer, stronger, more secure advertising ecosystem, that’s across all supply and all content. A big focus for our business is to continue to scale those partnerships with the social platforms at a global level, ensuring that we can deploy safety, security and media quality metrics and data across all these platforms where consumers are and where dollars are being spent by advertisers.”
Those ad dollars, of course, are significant. According to the ACCC, Australia’s 20 highest-spending digital advertisers spent around $244,000,000 across Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok alone. However, the ACCC found that small businesses face the biggest problems when advertising on social media.
“Due to their limited scale and financial resources, small businesses are reliant on social media advertising, in particular the services offered by Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, which can be highly targeted and have significant audience reach,” wrote the body.
It also found that in 2020, 79 per cent of SMEs managed their social media internally and that the average medium-sized business spent $7,586 on its social media ads. But the limited funds that these businesses have meant that, in the ACCC’s assessment, they are unable to enlist companies such as DoubleVerify to check their ad dollars are going to the right place.
“The brand first has to have an appetite for transparency and an understanding of how they can optimise their investments in different ways,” said Masood.
“Are you happy to waste your dollars? Are you happy to waste marketing dollars? Are you happy to just waste media investment? The answer, 99 per cent of the time, would be no.”
Brand suitability and ad fraud, while traditionally concerns for large brands, Masood believes that it is just as important for small businesses operating with smaller pools of money and, therefore, less money to waste.
“Look at the supply side, when a consumer is online and they’re in the market for a car or a new hat or whatever that might be, are they engaging with our brand in an environment that’s actually suitable for our brand to appear in?” he said.
In Australia, Masood said that DoubleVerify was seeing between 1.2-1.3 per cent of ad dollars ending up in fraudulent environments where they might not be seen by a consumer, for example.
“That’s like a palatable kind of number, right? But that’s when you have software on there looking at every single ad and you’re buying and optimising away from fraud, removing fraud inventory away from your supply chain but you can’t quantify how much fraudulent inventory is in the marketplace. The average viewability on standards from the IAB is about 62 per cent. You want to make sure that at least 60 to 70 per cent of your inventory is actually viewable.”
A lawsuit in the US is still out against Meta alleging that it had inflated Facebook expected user views by up to 400 per cent, this additional billing would have hit small businesses harder than the big agencies. Google has also had issues with its TrueView adverts and is facing a class action lawsuit in the US.
“These organisations have already identified that they want to create transparency and partner with businesses like DoubleVerify because they know there’s value in creating a fair and equitable system where brands can see exactly what’s happening in their platform to deliver sales,” said Masood.
“The ad markets are growing, economies are slowly growing but ultimately, they’re trying to ensure that the ad dollars are going to be coming into their platform.”
Adland might not be at full transparency yet but, in Masood’s mind, we’re getting there.