Advertising’s dirty laundry

This week’s story that the NPA (Newspaper Publishers’ Association) has served notice on the NRS (National Readership Survey) shows just how contentious and traumatic it is ensuring that our media research systems keep up with the tide of technological development. Rumour has it that the rift has been caused by frustrations over the pace of reform. It’s hard for collaborative JICs to meet perfectly the agenda of each of their diverse stakeholders but it’s worth trying. I’m sure all parties involved regret that they are now effectively washing their dirty laundry in public. But at least they have their hands in the sink and I am sure it will all end up smelling of roses.

Contrast that to certain online drawers. It seems some real-time fibbing has been going on. The automated online emperor is definitely not wearing those new clothes; he has been caught with his pants down and they are looking decidedly soiled.

I refer to the revelations of the nefarious practices and rampant fraud in online advertising. If you’ve missed it, this piece from the Financial Times will bring you up to speed. Or this very frank blog from the Ad Contrarian. In a nutshell, ComScore figures show that over a third of web traffic comes from bots or other ‘non-human’ activity and that most online display advertising appears in places where it can’t actually be seen by anyone.

There is a nasty momentum building. Our cousins at the IAB – who do great work on behalf of us all – have an unenviable job on their hands keeping the murkier online waters from contaminating the squeaky clean areas where advertisers can safely frolic. Something needs to be done before the internet’s pants become impossible to clean. Without some sort of JIC this will be tricky; the onus will be entirely on agencies to impose much higher standards of cleanliness on those dodgy online owners and trading desks.

All of this should make us very thankful to have BARB. Broadcasters are driving change within BARB in collaboration with advertiser and agency bodies, but while maintaining the highest standards and reliability we’ve come to expect. BARB is moving as fast as possible to embrace new technologies – including watching TV via web and mobile – and new viewing behaviours; it will remain the gold standard JIC. They’ve created this film to explain what they’re doing. TV’s pants are clean and very resolutely raised thanks to the laundry skills and strong elastic of BARB maintaining our dignity.

BARB is a beacon for trust and I hope that the wider online industry can reach its own level of BARB-quality measurement. It is in every medium’s interest that brands – and consumers – don’t lose any more trust in the internet and the various forms of online advertising. Facebook’s emotional snooping, the (mis)handling of our data, irritating and irrelevant re-targeting, malicious software, paying for fictional consumers… all of these practices threaten to damage not just the villains but also the many honourable media sellers online, including TV companies.

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