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Why is Online Advertising still the Wild, Wild West?!

Posted by Jeff Jones on Thu, May 8, 2014 @ 14:05 PM

Warning: this might qualify as a "blant" --- a blog rant. We try to shy away from these, but I’ve got to get this off my chest.

Digital advertising spend in the U.S. is projected to reach $50 billion in 2015. That’s BILLION,with a B. So, why is there still no government regulation of this industry? Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge proponent of small government and self-regulation. However, with an industry this big, and no significant legal repercussion for misleading, deceitful or downright criminal practices, digital properties will continue to pickpocket digital brands without consequences.

I just did a Google search on this topic to see what would show up. I typed in, “regulation of online ad industry” and here are the top six results. I’m not a conspiracy theorist either, but really?! 

  1. FDA outlines plan to regulate e-cigarettes
  2. White House Supports Self-Regulation in Data Driven Marketing
  3. Regulation in online promotions
  4. A smoky situation on e-cigarette regulation
  5. Law on oil and gas local content in pipeline
  6. Fracking delays a risk to 250,000 jobs, peers warn

The Fed, including the FTC and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), has been involved in protecting consumers on issues of online commerce, privacy and child protection. However, there is no oversight that creates standards for the online advertising industry or protects advertisers from fraudulent practices. Prove me wrong. Industry self-regulation is a great start. The IAB is a fantastic resource that provides standards and policies for its members, but they have no teeth.

Publisher data never matches 3rd Party Ad Serving (3PAS), which never matches Google Analytics. Is it too much to ask that this data is reliable and matches? This problem is especially rampant in the B2B space where 3rd Party Ad Serving (3PAS) isn’t always accepted or practical.

If it’s not government involvement, we need a Good Housekeeping Seal for digital publishers that brands and agencies can rely on. “Only trust these sites because we stand behind them.” An ABC or BPA audit with clout. That’s a million dollar idea that I just gave someone; free of charge.

Here’s a real life situation:

We ran a digital display campaign for a client with a trusted network. The post-campaign analysis revealed that only 1.5% of the impressions were served to the network that includes a multitude of nebulous websites. However, over HALF of the clicks for this campaign originated from Either is an extraordinary resource that mandates the bulk of all digital ad budgets, or there’s something nefarious going on here. I hope that this commentary will not result in lower Google organic search results for

I admit that I’m somewhat of a digital dinosaur. I’ve been in the industry twenty-four years and cut my teeth on traditional media: outdoor, radio, direct mail, television and, yes, print. But, I have embraced digital as a necessary inclusion to all media campaigns, and will continue to integrate digital options into ALL of our media programs: search, display, mobile, email, pre-roll, SMS/text, streaming radio, internet TV, etc. Digital advertising is an amazing resource that provides unparalleled targeting, creativity and flexibility that can’t be achieved by traditional methods alone. And there’s not denying that’s where consumers are going. Despite my inability to comprehend the SnapChat phenomenon, I am a digital zealot. However, here’s what I need to maintain my confidence in digital advertising:

  • Standardized rules for reporting unique users, visitors, impressions and clicks
  • Standardized invoice reporting --- The FCC requires proof-of-performance for all TV and radio invoices. Why can’t they do this for digital?!  
  • Severe punishment for web publishers that intentionally misrepresent advertisers or provide faulty analytics

Maybe I just had a bad digital week. There must be a way to fix this part of our industry that has so much potential, and so much budget behind it.

Jeff Jones is the Director of Media Services for McCulloch+Company and manages a staff of exceptionally talented media professionals.

Topics: top Atlanta media buying advertising agency, interactive media buying, blant

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