Can Third-Party Verification Help Facebook Save Face?

econ-facebookThe ANA is calling for transparency; maybe this will finally be what tips the scales back toward sanity in the digital ad space. 

Facebook, you’ve been called out.

In the wake of its video metrics controversy, the social platform is being challenged to open its ad systems to third party verification, according to a statement from the Association of National Advertisers.

“While ANA recognizes that ‘mistakes do happen,’ we also recognize that Facebook has not yet achieved the level of measurement transparency that marketers need and require,” the statement reads.

“With more than $6 billion of marketers’ media being directed to Facebook, we believe that it is time for them – and other such major media players – to be audited and accredited. That is the standard of accepted practice that marketers and agencies have relied on for decades.”

The organization has long been calling for third party accountability of digital ads (it released a report titled “The Critical Need for Accredited Third Party Measurement for Viewability of Digital Advertising” in 2015), noting that “97 percent of marketers believe that digital media owners should allow their inventory to be measured by a third party.”

Given the staggering amount of ad bot fraud and admitted viewability problems of display ads and videos, it’s clear that this kind of transparency is vital if the broken digital ad industry hopes to recover.

In the ANA report, fully nine out of 10 respondents say they “are not fully confident that their working media dollars in digital platforms are being served in a manner that meets industry viewability standards.” Ninety percent!  And yet marketers – perhaps out of fear of missing the small number of views they are actually getting for their money? – continue to throw money into this broken machine.

As to Facebook’s part in all of this, we doubt that a sternly worded warning from the ANA will cause those doors to open wide. Maybe – just maybe – if those nine out of 10 ad buyers started voting with their budgets we’d make some progress.

We need three things to happen to see meaningful change in this industry. First, we need companies that actually have the technical chops to do this kind of third-party verification. We reported on one possible solution back in December that looked promising.

Secondly, advertisers must take an active role. “Have an active voice, ask questions, and understand how your media investments are being measured and optimized. It’s your money — invest it wisely,” the ANA suggests. Withhold those ad orders until you are confident that you’re getting what you pay for.

Finally, we need to learn to measure digital ad success quite differently than we do now. It’s about real results, brand lift, deep engagement – not click-throughs. There’s no doubt that the digital ad industry is broken. The question is what are brands, platforms and publishers going to do to 1) fix it; 2) restore consumer confidence; and 3) begin to accurately measure digital ad success in terms of real actions.