The Digital Ad Dilemma: No Trust? No Money

Is adoption of digital slowing because of broken promises?


When was the last time you heard a marketer say they’d spend more money on TV advertising only if there were more reliable measurements? Yet, at least based upon this study, reliable measurement is holding digital advertising spend in check.

According to a new study by WPP agency Millward Brown Digital, more than 70% of marketing executives polled said they would increase their spending on mobile, digital and social platforms if there were better ways to measure return on investment.

Really!? Look, people may cut their TV ad budgets because they can’t afford it, or they feel it’s not worth it,  but saying they’d spend more for better TV measurement? I don’t think so.

There is a digital ad double-standard. It’d be one thing if the study said that a steady stream of up-and-coming big data players offering incremental improvement in measurement would mean significant churn for existing companies already in the field — that would have made sense. If you’re not offering continuous improvement to your clients’ ROI, you should be in trouble because Big Analytics isn’t enough — marketers need Accurate Big Analytics. But the study didn’t say that. What it said is execs are withholding spend entirely. Question: Where are those marketers going to spend that money instead — TV? Print?

The digital double-standard is a curse of digital’s own making. Better analytics — better data — has been the competitive differentiator used by digital players from the start — “Stop wasting marketing dollars!” “Spend money on real potential customers!” It was, and remains, the perfect sales narrative because digital can, and frequently does, offer the kind of accuracy marketers crave. That, and everyone knows that TV measurement sucks. The result? Every company, shop, platform and brand delivering internet-based advertising & marketing has a sales story built on better measurement for better targeting for better ROI. It’s just that many of those shops, platforms, companies & brands haven’t delivered the accuracy they claimed they could.

An entire industry suffers when you overpromise and under-deliver. The double-standard persists because gaps remain between the quality of measurement promised by all of these companies (collectively) — that’d be the ROI — and what’s actually delivered — you know, that whole Brand Promise / Customer Expectation thing. And the sad truth is, some of these wounds are self-inflicted.

Welcome to the bullet points of broken promises:

  • There’s the less-than-scrupulous websites that generate false views with auto and/or background refreshing.
  • There are the ads designed to encourage false clicks — which is particularly common on mobile.
  • There are click validation problems — I can’t be the only one who marvels that my pay-per-click campaigns always manage to sell exactly the number of clicks I have budgeted.
  • There are the well-known spammy accounts on Twitter, for example.
  • Heck, the industry can’t even agree upon how to count a unique user in the first place (see this primer article on fivethirtyeight about cookies).

The list of trust-eroding behaviors goes on and on… The result? CMO’s and VP’s of Marketing are left feeling that digital can’t deliver what they have been promised — in this case, measurement that they can trust. Or, more to the point, measurement that won’t get them fired! Because let’s face it, that’s what this is about — these execs need to trust that the measurement promise is real so that they can convince the CFO to give them more money to spend. No Trust? No Money.

Digital at its worst still offers better measurement than TV ever did. But then again, TV never promised precise measurement to begin with — so no trust fracture could ever occur in the first place. Which is why, contrary to what the findings of the study imply, measurement is not the problem. The problem is that the consumers of digital advertising products — the CMO’s and VP’s — have suffered an erosion of trust in the whole ecosystem as a result of incremental broken promises. And until “Digital” can get that trust problem solved, we’re going to have to keep reading about these studies that say marketers would spend more on digital if only they had better tools for measuring the effectiveness of their campaigns. Which is bad for everyone.

Agree? Disagree? Have your own bullet point of broken digital promises to add? Hey, that’s what the comments are for.


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