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Trust is Not an Acronym

There’s a trail of breadcrumbs to follow related to the latest move by Proctor & Gamble to fire their DSP / DMP solution, AudienceScience. That decision by P&G was a fatal blow to AudienceScience, which announced on June 4th, that it plans to close its global operations, and let it’s 200+ employees go.

It starts with the methbot attack, reported by WhiteOps in December of 2016. Launched from server farms in the Netherlands and the Russian Federation, it was reported to have been able to syphon off between $3 and $5 Million a day. Immediately a discussion started, rather heated actually, about exactly from whom that money was being syphoned? Of course, it didn’t take long for P&G to realize it was, in great measure, them.

Then, at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in January, the CBO of Procter & Gamble, Marc Pritchard, announces that, “The days of giving digital a pass are over,” and walked the executives gathered at the conference through his process of putting the irons to the feet of his providers, to figure out which parts of his programmatic chain were weak and which parts were not protecting him and his business.

And who else spoke at that conference? Which company sent their Chief Data and Analytics Officer and their Deputy General Counsel to sit on a panel about building trust in the ecosystem? Neustar did. They had just launched their Fraud Detection Solutions and were making a case for some sort of universal ID.

As a side note, Neustar and P&G were not the only ones talking about restoring confidence in the programmatic marketplace at that conference. Jim Norton, from Conde Nast, Brian O’Kelley from AppNexus, and Randall Rothenberg of IAB all centered their talks around the theme of trust and how waste, carelessness, and the inattention of the industry was hurting everyone.

Then, if we keep things chronological, in what now seems like a pretty awkward move, AudienceScience re-posts an Ad Age article on their blog about how the financial impact of Methbot was exaggerated, quoting the White Ops competitor, Integral Ad Science, suggesting ‘White Ops’ report had been embellished for the sake of sensationalism.

And, finally, in early May of this year, P&G exercised their 30 day out with AudienceScience and announced that they will be moving their data management business to Neustar. Poof! There goes a $30 million dollar Ad Tech company.

If you look at the sequence of events, I don’t think it’s a reach to propose that AudienceScience perished because, among other things, they didn’t take the fraud issue seriously, while their competitor did.

Whether or not White Ops embellished the Methbot story to catch headlines and scare their customers into buying more of their services, the threat of spiderbots and nefarious non-human fraud is real in the digital advertising ecosystem. Brands are losing money and they are going to come down hard on their vendors, with P&G being the first and most vocal. A recent survey from the World Federation of Advertisers revealed that large brands are reviewing contracts related to almost $3 billion of spend on programmatic advertising this year.

At that same IAB conference, Mr. Pritchard said P&G will require “any entity touching digital media” it buys to get accredited during 2017 by the Trustworthy Accountability Group. And they are following through. Reports are that they have already begun their audit of the publishers with whom they do direct buys. This attention to fraud in the ecosystem has started to create a squeeze. I’ve been told of cases in which agencies are producing IAS (Integral Ad Science) reports at invoice time and refusing to pay pubs for any reported non-human traffic.

You don’t have to be Hansel or Gretel to see where this leads. Bots have become the new viewability and we will all have to either meet the TAG and MRC standards in order to play ball with brands, or we’ll have to come up with our own standards that are justifiable. This will simply be a tax on doing business.

But, there is a larger point here that I think we are in danger of missing. What P&G expressed, at a high level, was a lack of trust in the ecosystem. Brands need to trust their vendors. In a competitive landscape it is tempting to cut corners to gain an immediate advantage but that will no longer be acceptable. We are now at the stage of digital programmatic where the scale of our applications is a given. It is now the quality of our offerings that will start to set us apart.  

Some businesses will read this news, get their accreditation and do the bare minimum to pass the P&G sniff test but I think this lack of discipline will end up hurting them in the long run. Without a real commitment to high quality programmatic practices, those businesses will be leaving themselves open to the next threat, the next game of whack-a-mole, the next bad actor.

I’m not alone in calling out the trend in the industry towards accuracy. Amanda Richman, the President of Starcom USA, said in her talk at the Leadership conference, we are experiencing a shift in marketing from ‘broad audiences to precise consumers’. In order for vendors to deliver on this kind of precision, we will need to invest in transparency, in measurement, in refinement and exactitude.

In summary, the writing’s on the wall for all of us. In big bold letters the future is spray-painted ABC, MRC, CESP, and TAG, but the important thing to remember is trust can not be accredited by a third party. Trust is not an acronym you can stamp at the bottom of your corporate landing page. It’s a philosophy of doing business wherein you sell what you say you are selling and you do your damndest to make the best products your can for your customers. Either you adhere to this commitment as an organization or… you don’t.

This article was written by Pierre-Marc Diennet, Lotame’s Director of Product Innovation