Lies, video (but no sex, honest) and cunning PR stunts

16 May 2016  |  Dominic Mills 
Lies, video (but no sex, honest) and cunning PR stunts

At last, it seems the pendulum that says video is the future may be swinging back, writes Dominic Mills.

I'd love to be able to write a 'Sex, Lies and Videotape'-type headline, but honesty precludes: I've been reading GroupM's sob story about the woes of digital advertising in its latest Interaction report, and while there's plenty of reference to lies and video, there's no sex.

Some wider context: the GroupM report highlights some of the threats to the digital advertising economy, to wit: fraud, viewability, accountability and so on. By and large, it's been well-received.

It is all the more powerful because it comes from one of the cheerleaders of digital. It's as if a peddler of magic potions stands up and says, "Er, steady on. All those remedies we've been selling you for the last five seems like they have serious side-effects."

Let's start with a small example of this: this is the year it looks as though Facebook will become the UK's third-largest media owner by ad revenue, sitting just behind Google and ITV.

Most of that revenue comes from mobile, and within that, from video.

So maybe it's time to take a look at this post from last year by a professional video creator, one Hank Green. He describes himself, by the way, as an 'Intertainerprenuer', which is one of the wackier portmanteau words I've seen recently, but seems to catch what he does. (My thanks, by the way, to my new mate 'TL', for drawing my attention to this.)

Green's point is that Facebook's business is effectively built on a lie, the lie being that what Facebook counts as a view is in reality no such thing.

Facebook, it transpires, counts a video view as being at three seconds - in Green's words "significantly before people could be said to be watching the video", and that's before you even address the issue of whether the 'viewer' has turned on the sound.

Sound on or not, can anyone really be said to have 'watched' a video in the first three seconds? As Green says, there is a precipitate fall-off in 'viewing' during the first 30 seconds, by which time 'viewership' has fallen to around 20 per cent.


As far as I can judge (and going from my own behaviour), I might just about pause for three seconds during my scroll, during which time I would, er, make a decision about watching the video, at the same time scratch my back, sip my coffee and curse my fellow commuters for standing invading my space. But actually 'watch' the video? Absolutely not.

But don't just take my word for this. Here's what GroupM has to say in its Interaction report:

"Most mobile use is scrolling, in which advertising is inherently ephemeral. Many have adopted verification standards yet three factors concern us: first, the speed of the scroll means advertising may pass through the viewable window yet be seen only fleetingly; second, the notion that "autoplay" video with a charging event after three seconds "in window" may not represent a reasonable period for advertising effect. This is not to say that it has no effect; third, the propensity for individuals to consume their feeds without sound, a behavior exaggerated by the autoplay factor."

This is a pretty unequivocal statement of one of the main issues surrounding video, but if you want to decode it further it's this: it's chuffin' flaky.

And yet, we are constantly told, including by GroupM, of the vital role played by video and even, when the hyperbole is let loose, that video is the future.

At last, however, it seems the pendulum may be swinging back - given a push by, of all people, GroupM.

It says: "The early days of the internet promised the most accountable media ever. It became apparent quickly that there was a large difference between accountable and countable. Countable, unfortunately, is only of value if those in control of what appear to be perfect data choose to share, and have verified, that data. Thus far this has not been forthcoming. Instead partial metrics such as time spent per average monthly unique user and aggregated video hours seem to be the limit of disclosure."

Quite so. Just because you can count something, it doesn't mean it's important. And the digital industry has played fast and loose with the count-ability side of things, creating the illusion of accountability, while in fact disguising it in a smokescreen of numbers that don't actually matter.

Like Brian Jacobs, I think GroupM deserves some plaudits for going public with these issues, but at the same time, if I were a client, I would be thinking: "Hang on, they've been taking my money for all these years, and here they are telling me there are 'issues'. Why now?"

The more cynical will be thinking, as the inquiry by the major US advertisers into naughty stuff by media agencies proceeds apace, that this is a cunning pre-emptive PR strike by GroupM to position itself as the guys who tell it straight.

(Disclosure: I have, in the past year, done occasional work for parts of GroupM.)

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