Marketing with a focus on digital

Deep dive on Marc Pritchard's call for standardization

The Problem

We've all been there. You're doing a post-campaign report for a non-technical audience, and you have to try to explain, in a concise little sentence or a cute infographic or a tiny footnote below a chart, what three different platforms mean by a "video view," what's skippable and what's autoplay, and why costs are so wildly different.

It's hard. And, sitting there in Powerpoint hell, we might wish we didn't have to go to all this trouble, that there were some kind of standards to unite all of this.

The Solution

Though I doubt he has to make his own Powerpoints, that must be where Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer for P&G, was coming from when he made his big speech at the IAB's Annual Leadership Meeting. 

In that speech he said P&G would require

  • All its agencies and media suppliers to adopt the Media Ratings Council (MRC) standard for viewability
  • All media partners to enable external verification
  • All agencies disclose and return rebates, and be subject to audit

The implication from all this being that, with P&G being one of the largest advertisers in the world, all platforms, publishers, agencies, and martech vendors would have to bend to his decree.

The Problem With The Solution

Sounds great, right? And some of it is. Of course contracts should be open and honest. Of course 3rd party verification has an important place in the industry. And going back to our post-campaign reporting tribulations, of course standardized metrics would be good for everybody. Right? 

Actually, I'm fairly hostile to that idea. While in theory universal standard for viewability metrics would be great, there are some problems with that. First, the MRC standards are some of the weakest out there. They require:

  • Display: Half the ad is visible for one second
  • Video: Half the ad is visible for two seconds

So when you look at the relatively stringent video view criteria Google and Facebook currently use, plus the even more stringent full-view criteria a lot of preroll servers use, this could end up bringing video view standards down to the point of being worthless overall.

As another article I read on this subject put it, "if P&G gets its way, it could well render any half-glimpsed two-second video as being “viewed” for many years to come." And that quote came from someone who admired the announcement. I'm pretty confident a brand awareness study measuring :30 YouTube video views would show a causal lift. Half the frame for two seconds? Not so much. 

And 3rd party measurement has already been largely conceded. So let's not go counting this one as a win.

On the plus side, more transparency when it comes to placements would be great for people looking to more closely manage their brand's campaign. But that's kind of small stakes relative to broader things like making huge sacrifices on something as prevalent as video view standards. 

All this back and forth said, I think the major impacts this could have are more about the "power play" big advertisers are trying to make over agencies, martech vendors, and publishers, with some lingering effects from setting a "low bar" precedent in order to claim dominance at the negotiating table. 

The reason I don't think the details of this will necessarily have lasting positive impacts (unless advertisers can use a newly granted position of strength in future negotiations to set the bar higher than they did this time) is because these standards are not aspirational in their scope. We're literally bargaining over a viewability standard FOR AN AD FORMAT THAT WAS CREATED TWENTY TWO YEARS AGO. I'm sorry, it's not polite to raise my voice. But this is just nuts.

I mean, come on. Even by the end of this year there are going to be new ad formats in spoken search results originating from voice searches. There are going to be ads in self-driving cars in all kinds of crazy situations and formats. There are going to be augmented reality and virtual reality placements. There are going to be ads in messaging apps. For Pete's sake, people are already paying to have ads that turn selfies into cartoons. How the heck will those be measured in this mythical Standardizationland? Eye tracking to measure focus depth and on-ad dwell time? I think not. And I bet the FTC feels the same way. 

And if placement transparency is so important to P&G that they're willing to sell out video view standard stringency, how are they going to evaluate ad placement in a VR context where, sure, this ad is appearing in the context of Mother Theresa giving a virtual seminar on zen gardens or something totally brand safe, but that virtual attendee next to me is doing something crude. Or maybe the title was just a fake so they could have a place to talk about Ludes like the chatrooms of AOL past. What does placement verification look like in that dynamic context?

Are we to expect someone use natural language processing to monitor conversation topics and verify it matches the placement? Even if yes, then who? The platform technology provider? The publisher? The DSP? Some separate 3rd party vendor? I can certainly tell you it won't be the MRC. They won't even have a list of watered down recommendations together until 2039 if history repeats itself. And again, the FTC will most definitely have an opinion on the matter.

What advocates for this announcement are looking for is an Easy Button. But it ain't gonna happen. We'll all have to keep making hard decisions based on mashing together disparate and messy and sometimes questionable sets of data. Forever. The people who can personally adapt to that will thrive. And the leaders who can set up the kind of decentralized organizational structures needed to move forward in that environment will thrive. The kind of organizations that decide everything needs to be predictable and consistent and centrally manageable won't thrive. Fortunately for them, they won't have to not thrive for long.