'If a marketer is getting fake clicks to bolster vanity metrics, they should be fired,' argues Standard Chartered's digital boss

Standard Chartered's Damien Cummings

Standard Chartered Bank’s global head of digital marketing Damien Cummings on vanity metrics, VR and ad fraud horror stories.

Last week Standard Chartered Bank’s global head of digital marketing Damien Cummings stood tall as the oft lonely client among an audience of agency and suppliers to talk about programmatic and mobile.

The discussion at the Mobile Marketing Association and InMobi event centred around the topic of how to push mobile programmatic up the agenda for clients. Cummings argued that both agencies and suppliers needed to do more to help educate marketers. We spoke to Cummings about his thoughts on this part of the marketing mix, how the industry can work better together and what his priorities are for the near-term.

There seems to be a bit of a blame game between agencies and clients around investment in newer tools or channels like mobile and programmatic – what is the reality for you in terms of being able to justify more spend?

I don’t see any blame game going on between agencies and their clients. We’re all in this together. However, the issue seems to be that there’s a lot more education needed for clients and agencies to make the right decisions on programmatic. It’s not just media spend or percentage of spend. It’s also the effectiveness of that media (vs. other more tried and tested channels), how the creative should be developed (dynamic, multi-variant or simple online display) and where the ads and messages ultimately appear. So, for me education is the key challenge and I believe that the ad tech companies and the media owners are the best people to solve this, since they are the ones directly profiting from programmatic. They need to up their game and bring the level of knowledge of the benefits and dangers to the entire industry.

You’ve mentioned your KPIs at the event and that some ad metrics don’t tally with the end goal. How can this be fixed? What should suppliers and agencies do to help you with your priorities?

I’m very tired of the smoke screen of “vanity metrics” in the digital marketing world. For any serious C-level executive there are only a few metrics that count – revenue, profit, efficiency/cost saves and customer satisfaction (or even better, customer advocacy). These need to be reflected in how all marketing is managed and executed.

So if those are the business outcomes and strategic measures, there will be a few tactical metrics that marketers count too – the number of people you’re reaching, the cost of reaching them, whether they are moving down the sales funnel towards closing the sale and their willingness to engage with your message, products and brand.

Instead of these tactical metrics, digital marketing and programmatic focuses too heavily on metrics that really don’t make any sense – “likes”, “click through rates”, the broadly misunderstood “engagement”, etc.

While there’s no simple fix, the way to resolve this is to start with the business metrics that matter and spend a lot of time upfront before any marketing activity, program or campaign to agree what success looks like at each stage. Not just what’s measurable, or what a tech vendor or media owner says you should measure, but what really matters. Since clients don’t usually have a ‘marketing science’ team or strong analytical capability in-house, this feels like a great opportunity for agencies to step in and add a lot of value.

Do issues such as viewability and ad fraud factor into investment in these channels?

Yes of course viewability and ad fraud matter. These are matters all marketers must take seriously. Marketing teams want to maximize our sales and spend in the most efficient way across media channels. Ads that can’t be viewed or fraudulent clicks waste time and money.

No marketer is ever going to get promoted because a billion people saw or clicked on an ad, if no one ever buys the product. I’d argue that the opposite should be true – if a marketer is getting fake clicks to bolster their vanity metrics, then they should be fired. Integrity needs to win out in a digital marketing world increasingly tarnished by fakers and fraudulent activity.

How much does some of the horror stories – like ads on websites that fund terrorism - factor into it? These stories seem more common than I’d imagine marketers are comfortable with?

Advertising horror stories – where a brand is appearing on an inappropriate site, or in a wildly inappropriate context (an ad for an airline appearing on a news page about a plane crash tragedy for example) are easily avoidable.

Ad safety is a serious risk and one that we’re taking very seriously at Standard Chartered Bank. We’ve asked our agencies to put in place best practice for whitelisting and blacklisting sites. We are also working with leading industry players like Integral Ad Science to ensure our ads appear in only the most appropriate sites. We err on the side of caution here but this is another area where the industry needs to step up to education all parties (particularly clients and agencies) on how to get this right.

Are any of these problems endemic to APAC? Why does investment in some of the channels lag here?

Ad fraud, the rise of consumers using ad blockers, viewability and ad safety are all challenges that marketers face everywhere, not only in Asia. The only significant difference between Asia and Europe and the US is education and belief in digital. Marketing education in Asia could be further developed.

In some markets where education is lagging, it is not uncommon to come across senior marketers who only understand and feel comfortable with ad placements in newspapers. Is it effective? Probably not. But it’s visible and tried-and-tested for some marketers. Programmatic and digital marketing are not. So the key way to fix this is improve the availability of programmes to educate the marketing community.

On a more positive note, what are you looking forward to? Are any new advancements getting you excited?

I’m actually really excited about three things – the first is seeing content marketing scale and mature. So many marketers are getting this wrong as you not only need to create compelling content but also need to realign distribution systems (employees sharing content, new social networks focused on a conversation or community, and alignment into other activities like events and retail activation), as well as using media money to amplify top performing content. I’m loving seeing Standard Chartered Bank and other brands getting this right.

The second thing I’m also very passionate about is ‘marketing science’ and measuring what marketing actually contributes to a business. There’s only a few best practices out there but I’m looking forward to the entire industry getting serious about data and measuring what we do.

The final area I’m excited about is Virtual Reality. Standard Chartered Bank are about to launch our first VR program with our partners Liverpool Football Club. It’s a program that gives you a live match and behind the scenes experience at the iconic Anfield Stadium. It’s really mind blowing what you can do with VR and I’d love to see VR marketing go mainstream.

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