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Brands take action to claw back control of digital media spend as 65% bulk up in-house teams

A fresh report from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has indicated brands are taking action

Amid industry concerns around ad fraud, viewability, transparency and more, global marketers are making radical changes to claw back control of their media activity – with 70% of brands amending media agency contracts to bring clarity to the buying process.

A fresh report from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has indicated that household names are taking action to improve their media governance practices across a wide range of areas, rather than simply paying lip service to concerns.

Things came to a head last year after Procter & Gamble boss Marc Pritchard pledged to bring transparency to what he described as the “murky at best, fraudulent at worst” media supply chain.

As part of a step change in the way the industry scrutinises media buys, two-thirds of brands have also decided to bulk up their internal capabilities by hiring dedicated staff to ensure there is clear ROI.

Meanwhile 89% said they are currently limiting, or planning to limit, investment in ad networks that do not allow the use of third-party verification following a brand safety furore at the start of the year.

The WFA data was gleaned from marketers working at 35 multinationals with a combined annual spend of $30bn – with transparency, ad fraud, viewability and brand safety coming under the spotlight as areas that have inspired action.

Media transparency

Following on the from the US Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and K2 report into media transparency, which caused waves in the industry last year, the WFA has found that transparency remains the number one priority for almost half (47%) of brands.

Mistrust in digital media has been tempered by Dentsu Japan’s $2.3m payout to advertisers following over estimations, and Facebook’s inflated video views.

As a result, 65% of brand marketers have decided to bulk up their internal capabilities by hiring dedicated digital and media leads. The figure follows on from Tesco appointing a head of media to ensure it gets its money’s worth when it comes to such investments, and Airbnb hinting that it too was on the lookout for someone to step into a similar position.

Over the past 12 months there has been an overall sense among marketers that they had undervalued of the importance of media knowledge within brand marketing teams, but WFA data coupled with recent hires at big name brands shows steps are being taken internally to address the problem. However, just 14% of marketers said they feel like the transparency debate is de-escalating, meaning there’s likely to be more big changes and calls to action before the year is out.

Others are following in the footsteps of P&G and reviewing their agency roster, with 70% saying they have already amended media contracts, and a further 41% saying they have already conducted a programmatic review.


In the UK alone almost £600m per-year is believed to be wasted on non-viewable ads, and viewability concerns ranked high amid WFA members questioned. As such, 63% of marketers have said they are now only investing in viewable impressions which meet industry standards.

Progress in this area has been made by cross-industry body the European Viewability Steering Group (EVSG), which just last week launched a set of measurement values which aim to reduce discrepancies in the data provided by different viewability measurement tools.

However, according to the WFA, 20% of marketers say they have devised their own viewability criteria, with a further 40% announcing plans to do so; previously only 17% were doing this.

There is still ongoing conversation around what constitutes as a view, with P&G subscribing to the MRC’s 50% rating and Unilever believing that ads are only worth the investment if they are 100% in view.

Ad fraud

Google admitted last year that it removed 1.7bn ‘bad ads’ as part of its bid to tackle ad fraud, but some have warned the problem is set to swell unless more advertisers refuse to turn a blind eye to inflated numbers caused by ad fraud.

The figure forecast to be lost to ad fraud in 2017 currently stands at $16.4bn, and while agency heads have previously blasted platforms like Google and Facebook for “marking their own homework,” the WFA study found that brand marketers are taking matters into their own hands. 54% - a jump of 20% - are now working with third-party verification or counter-ad fraud partners, and many are now taking actions recommended by the WFA’s ad fraud compendium like limiting run of exchange buys (55%).

A further 40% are developing internal solutions to the problem, highlighting a trend for brining digital buying capabilities in-house or working to a hybrid model.

Brand safety

Unsurprisingly brand safety is the second top concern among marketers, following on from moves by Google to assuage advertisers after their ads were served inadvertedly against controversial content.

Keith Weed, Unilever's chief marketing officer, has previously said that brands were also to blame for the furore, saying that some of the issues stemmed from shortcomings in brand's own media buying practices.

It appears marketers are taking action on this point, with 54% saying they have worked with third-party verification companies to monitor the environment in which their ads appear. Only 20% were previously doing this, and a further 54% have suspended investment in ad networks where they feel there is unnecessary risk, a jump of 34%.

"Last year’s ANA report was a catalyst for a new wave of action by brands not just in the US but around the world, addressing many of the media issues that our members have highlighted including brand safety and ad fraud," said Robert Dreblow, head of marketing services at the WFA.

"These actions, coupled with an increasing number of WFA members sharing that they have witnessed improved transparency, are positive signs that we can create an improved media landscape for brands, agency partners and media owners."