Let’s celebrate where we are, instead of commiserating where we are not

There’s an old adage that applies to the newest challenge facing digital media: ‘Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars’.

That’s precisely what digital has been doing since it burst onto the industry 20 years ago. It promised marketers more accountability and measurability than ever before. Digital has lived up to the hype for the most part, and pushed the boundaries of what we all thought was possible. But there are still lingering issues around things like brand safety and viewability. We’ve hit the stars, but marketers still want what they were promised – the moon.

It might be time for us to acknowledge that, at least in the immediate term, some players in the media industry may be setting clients unrealistic expectations. Ballooning keyword exclusions lists are just one expression of clients expecting laser precision at huge scale. And when we talk about viewability, our region also tends to talk ourselves down, unduly. These are two symptoms where honesty and reflection might be the best medicine.

An understandable knee-jerk reaction from clients around brand safety is a good place to start. Rapidly expanding keyword exclusion lists focus on one small negative of digital, at the expense of its overwhelming positives. Impractical lists reduce inventory, audience and often the potential for more powerful contextual targeting. Keyword measures typically far outweigh any sensible precaution. To clearly argue this point with clients however, may require the whole industry to step up and take responsibility for the rhetoric of over-zealous salespeople, who promised too much too soon. Digital is far more precise than any other media, and far more accountable. Even in the past 18 months we’ve moved forward in leaps and bounds.

The technology is still in development. It may not yet be perfect, but we need to take a moment to take stock and celebrate how far we’ve come. Let’s not allow recent headlines to instil fear and risk stifling growth and investment in the most accountable of all media.

The perception that SEA viewability rates lag behind more developed global markets is another mistruth that the industry needs to confront. This year, Inskin, among others, participated in Southeast Asia’s first viewability study, conducted by IAB Singapore. The purpose of the study was to identify the state of viewability in the region, across different formats, and compile a realistic perspective of how the region compares to mature markets and other regions. The IAB followed MRC guidelines, stating that desktop and mobile display should have 50% of ad pixels in view for at least one continuous second. The data revealed that Southeast Asia averaged 53%, including Singapore (59.07%), Malaysia (57.62%) and the Philippines (57.11%). Compared to the global average, Asia was on a par with the US, and even slightly above the UK.

The IAB’s study marks the starting point of a new way of thinking about digital advertising in Asia. We’re fortunate to have a strong regional viewability average, with a consumer base that is less opposed to display advertising than most developed markets. This is good news for clients and agencies alike.

Reaching an inventory pot that is closer to ‘perfect’ - in terms of brand safety and viewability - will take time. But this is what we have conditioned clients to expect, and it is what we must work to deliver for the industry’s sake.

Should publisher inventory be priced according to its viewability potential? Or some new brand safety metric? And based on whose measurement? Who should be paying for this additional layer of technology, applied to every impression? These are questions we need to tackle.

In the meantime, we should recognise the progress we have made, and manage expectations with a healthy dose of optimism and fearlessness. Digital has already pushed the needle much further than anyone could have imagined. However, the hype and rhetoric that comes with working in such a fast-moving industry means we never take time to stop and focus meaningfully on the next part of the puzzle. We scramble more often than we reflect, and that helps no one.

The best route forward is to maintain honest dialogue across the industry and to keep some perspective on where we are going. This means market education and transparent conversations, to help us navigate what is possible today, versus what will be possible two years from now.

Angeline Lodhia is general manager at Inskin Asia.

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