Group M’s Boss Calls Out Media Fraud

By - CTL
March 19, 2018

By Marcus Honesta

It’s unusual when the sharks start attacking each other. Generally speaking, they never break ranks.

However, in a recent visit to Australia, Irwin Gotlieb fired a broadside at the truth and honesty of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and its current viewability standards for digital video. Now this is a bloke who doesn’t mince his words or message. If you are wondering just who Irwin Gotlieb is; he is the chairman of the largest media buying network in the world, Group M.

Fortune Magazine recently spent some time with Irwin Gotlieb, concluding that Group M’s CEO was: “a bookish media buying king. … We might just as well call him the $59 billion man.” Last year, Gotlieb directed more than 16% of the world’s $364 billion in global ad expenditures. He not only understands media better than most; he has the power to sway the industry to his vision”.

Born in Shanghai and raised in Japan, one might have expected an oriental circumspection in his personal persona. Yet when he speaks about advertising, his time in New York (where he has spent most of his working life) has removed any eastern sensitivities.

His brashness was evident when barely under way in his hotly anticipated keynote address at the recent ‘ThinkTV’s Future of TV’ conference, he was making accusations of media “malpractice”.

His target was the IAB and its current viewability standards for digital video.

Viewability is measured by the ability of ad to be served in a manner that enables the audience to see it. This has been a scalding hot potato for several years. The IAB’s definition of a viewable digital video ad demands that half the ad be visible for at least two seconds.

If a company achieves that, then their digital execution is deemed viewable, the exposure is counted, and a viewer is considered to have been reached.

For Gotlieb this is nonsense. “Everybody who is relying on the IAB standard and saying a two-second exposure with 50 per cent of pixels visible is equivalent to a 100 per cent viewable TV ad that’s just silly. That’s not even a serious conversation. Let’s call it what it is, it’s malpractice.”

In fairness, Group M have upped the ante on the IAB. Their – reasonable – definition of viewability demands that the entire ad is viewable and that the ad is played for at least half its total length. It certainly sounds like a significant improvement but even Group M’s more demanding threshold may not guarantee advertising impact.

Professor Mark Ritson weighed into the debate: “Despite all the heated talk within the media industry of reach and frequency, the dirty secret of most media measurement is that no one knows how many people actually see an ad. Too often marketers make the mistake of assuming viewability somehow measures viewing time. All any viewability statistic measures is an opportunity to see an ad, or half an ad in the case of the IAB’s definition.

Just because you are able to see an ad, does not mean you actually saw it. While that digital video pre-roll ad played on YouTube you might have been looking at your watch with your phone face down on the table in front of you — but if you did that for two seconds you joined the audience for that ad, according to most industry measures.

The assumption that exposure equates to impact is not just for the brave new world of digital media. Most advertising audience measures do no such thing. TV ratings do not actually tell an advertiser how many people saw their ad. Instead, they provide a very accurate estimate of room population. We know the ad was viewable and we know that there were 850,000 people in the immediate proximity of their TV when it was played. What we do not know is whether those people were looking at the ad, watching their cat, or making mad passionate love to their husband of 30 years.” 

Newspaper readership has measured the number of people who purchase the paper, with no certainty those readers stop and peruse at the ads contained within. Radio audiences complete a questionnaire indicating the radio shows they listened to with the assumption that the ads being played by that station at the time were listened to by the diarist.

The only standout is outdoor advertising and its much-admired MOVE measurement system. Like most other measurement approaches, the MOVE system starts by measuring how many people are exposed to each outdoor site by constructing complex travel maps of Australia.

But in addition to how many people potentially saw an outdoor billboard, the MOVE system is based on how likely and for how long consumers will likely look at that outdoor ad if they passed it. That’s by no means a perfect estimate the proportion of people passing a billboard who will look at it is extrapolated from a much smaller study but it’s a significant improvement on most audience measures.

But things are changing. Several advanced research firms are now studying exactly how long we look at the ads, if at all, once we are presented with a viewable opportunity. Leading the bunch is Britain’s Lumen. The company uses eye-tracking software to follow a consumer’s eyes as they watch television and surf the Internet. That means Lumen is able to fill the very apparent knowledge gap between being exposed to an ad and actually looking at it. And the results are revelatory. From their website:

“An attention currency, for the attention economy. Lumen|Nectar uses eye tracking technology to measure what people see… not what they say they see.

Lumen has developed a simple piece of code that turns your webcam into an eye-tracking camera. 

Download the software, calibrate for your eyes, and off you go. The software deletes from your machine at the end of a test. 

The eye tracking is accurate to 1 degree of error (2cm), and stable even if you turn away from the screen. It’s pretty amazing.”

Mark Ritson recently interviewed Mike Follett, founder of Lumen:

When I caught up with Mike Follett, who runs Lumen, last week in London I asked him about Gotlieb’s comments. “He might be on to something,” was his affable response. “People are very good at ignoring things,” Follett explained. “Advertising is just one of the things they are very good at ignoring. Just because you can see something does not mean that I will see it. Another way of saying this is that just because an impression is viewable does not mean that it is viewed; 82 per cent of viewable digital ads are ignored.”

“Even when a digital display ad is viewable, more than eight times out of 10 it is not looked at by the target audience at all. In contrast, newspaper advertising offers a very different prescription. Follett says 76 per cent of the ads that a reader encounters in a newspaper will be looked at. And that looker will spend a full second longer looking at a newspaper ad than an online equivalent.”

Those cleaver folk at Lumen have been busy building a statistical model to help advise advertisers on how to get the most from their ads.

According to Lumen’s research, the ads noticed the most are also the ones most likely to convert to sales. Imagine that! A media model that says you need to see an ad for it to work properly.

Who would have ever thought that this might be considered important?


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