It's time to demand accountable media data, say IPA and ISBA

01 Jun 2017  |  Ellen Hammett and David Pidgeon 
It's time to demand accountable media data, say IPA and ISBA

Following a spate of high profile measurement blunders that have undermined trust in online advertising, the two bodies that represent UK agencies and advertisers have united to demand the media industry only uses objective and independently verified data before making buying decisions.

On Thursday (June 1) the IPA and ISBA launched a paper asking for all parts of the industry to defend accountable audience data and to uphold the highest industry standards of methodology and independent verification.

The document - titled A Matter of Fact - also lays out the reasons why the industry needs credible data, and the perceived barriers to achieving it.

"The industry has recently been reminded of the risks of trading without the guarantee of objective and independent measurement," said Paul Bainsfair, director general, IPA.

"There are promising signs that the walls around the digital platforms are coming down and that the more opaque parts of the digital world are being illuminated.

"However, there is no room for complacency and there is still a lot of work to do. The principle of joint industry oversight of the research underpinning media is fundamental to confidence in advertising."

There is growing pressure on businesses like Facebook and Google - who between them control more than 20% of global adspend - to offer advertisers a more robust and transparent understanding of their proprietary data - which essentially means finding a way to match the 'gold standard' of a Joint Industry Currency (JIC), which the UK has long used to reliably trade traditional media.

In the last 18 months there have been multiple admissions from Facebook that it has miscalculated video views while 'marking its own homework'; ad fraud has blossomed into a multi-billion dollar business; The Times has dedicated a front page to issues of online brand safety; and one of the world's biggest advertisers, P&G, has called for an almost total reform of how it advertises online - with a direct challenge to only use data that can be independently verified.

However, as Mediatel has previously reported, both Google and Facebook have changed their attitudes since these revelations and some industry experts see a new era of collaboration blossoming - but there is industry-wide recognition that there is still much left to accomplish.

Speaking at the launch event on Thursday, Phil Smith, director general, ISBA, warned that as ever increasing amounts of media consumption takes place digitally and on-demand, it is vital that industry measurement systems and industry standards keep pace.

"Just because measurement is third party, it doesn’t mean that it’s accurate," he said, adding that the demand from ISBA’s members is real: "We are not satisfied that such a large and growing part of the media ecosystem is not independently audited to open, consistent industry standards.

"We are looking for all parties to come to the table with a will to find solutions - and we’re ready to play our part."

Responding to the joint announcement, Bob Wootton - a previous ISBA director and now a media consultant at Deconstruction - said it is now vital that the issues raised by the report gain traction globally - and specifically in the US where the likes of Google and Facebook are headquartered.

Meanwhile, Facebook's head of marketing science R&D EMEA, Alex North said: "We are committed to working with industry bodies and we have been having conversations for a number of years.

"It’s a challenge in trying to get it right in terms of what it looks like, in terms of the auditing, in terms of the use of our data and in terms of what it looks like from a local versus global perspective.

"We’re just trying to figure out what it looks like from our perspective."

Google UK's industry relations manager added: "We’re here and we’re listening to the feedback we’ve been getting since the issues that we had in the news - and we are constantly in conversation with the IPA and ISBA about what we can do."

He added: "We are committed to doing more in trying to help get ourselves and the industry to a better place."

The joint IPA and ISBA paper calls on the media industry to uphold the following five standards:


1. Ensure the audience data used for trading is based on metrics and methods that comply with agreed, open industry standards.

2. Insist those standards are upheld by independent auditing.

3. Hold proprietary data sets to the same level of accountability as industry-owned trading currencies [such as BARB, Rajar and NRS].

4. Support the principles of the Joint Industry Currency (JIC) model as the best-in-class approach to providing objective and comparable audience data and metrics.

5. Encourage all media owners and platforms to engage with the Joint Industry Currencies (JICs), not to the exclusion of their own data sets, but to enhance their credibility with advertisers.

To accompany the guide, the IPA and ISBA have also drawn up a list of key questions to ask in order to understand whether a data set is fit for purpose - click here for details.

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