The Independent Credibility Fixes for Ad Supported DOOH
The positioning of ad-supported digital out of home has always been in flux. As the industry began its ascent, it was considered an alternative to television advertising. The parallels were certainly there, given the reliance upon audio and video on a screen. Media buyers never got totally comfortable with DOOH versus TV, largely because the television buys were measurable (and confirmable via an advertising audit) if you had faith in Nielsen and Arbitron. DOOH required a certain leap of faith, even if its place-based nature added unquestioned value to advertisers. As times passed, online advertising far outdistanced DOOH in terms of eating into established media spending. It actually helped grow overall spending. The inherent measurability of clicks provided a reasonable gauge of reach and effectiveness, even when the possibility/likelihood of click fraud is taken into account. More recently, mobile advertising driven by location services have combined the measurability of TV and online with the place-based nature of DOOH and have added a degree of consumer insight to boot. Once again, digital signage networks take a back seat in terms of buyer preferences.
Point of Care Networks Were First Movers
If there has been one star of ad-supported networks from the outset, it has been point of care (POC) networks in medical offices. Pharmaceutical companies recognized the ability to talk to targeted consumers in proximity to their physicians. They are able to measure prescription uptake via services such as Crossix, IQVIA (f/k/a as IMS and Quintiles) and Symphony, providing important ROI and effectiveness indicators. The histories of networks like AccentHealth, Care Media, PatientPoint, Health Media Networks, and of course, Outcome Health, are testament to the value of that measurement. To a large extent, medical office networks have served as case studies for the effectiveness of place-based video advertising. Networks in venues without a reliable analog for prescriptions could still point to the medical offices and say, “See, it works,” and they would be right.
Yet there is always the matter of the leap of faith factor. Media player playout logs provide critical data, but are only part of the full picture. Uptime, screen health, and accuracy with regard to contracted locations are also critical to advertisers and agencies. A playout by itself never has, and never will equal a click in terms of measurement value. Overcoming the leap of faith and replacing it with trusted, independent measurement has become more important than ever in the wake of the ongoing Outcome Health debacle. If one company, especially a media and investor darling, is perceived to have cooked their playout affidavits, whom can advertisers trust?
There are signals in the marketplace that the crisis is neither over nor forgotten, most particularly in the POC sector where Outcome lives. Advertisers, practitioners and employees fled the dominant and far-reaching Outcome platform for reasons easy enough to understand. Some advertisers have shifted dollars to Outcome’s larger competitors, aggregating multiple networks to offset the loss of Outcome’s reach. While this is a boon in the short term for those competitors, other Pharma advertisers have simply moved dollars to other media and will take a wait-and-see stance on DOOH. Without doubt, the credibility crisis has a trickle-down effect on ad-supported networks outside of POC. Industry group POC3 has been working on verification and audit standards since the Outcome news hit, and has been promising an imminent release of them for months. That would provide some help, but it is clear that the solution will require some independence.
We examined the scope of the credibility issue in a November post, and suggested a way forward:
A new, independent entity could emerge to create, monitor and be a steward for industry credibility. It would essentially become the trusted repository for network data such as changes in locations, online status, playout records, available inventory and the like. It would create and enforce methods and standards for measurement and verification, data formats and reporting frequency. It would conduct periodic and random audits to confirm data accuracy. It would store and manage the data in a secure fashion. On the other side, it would provide validated network data to programmatic platforms in a standardized format.
Emergence of New Providers Focused on the Advertising Audit
I did not know at the time the piece was written that people were moving to address the issues of measurement, compliance and credibility. In Melbourne, Australia, Seedooh has been working with blue chip clients like Ooh Media and APN Outdoor to create more transparency by aggregating digital data with campaign contract data. Seedooh combines and reports on data in a cloud-based environment, and has periodic PwC audits to ensure best practices are supported. Seedooh’s executives seem intent on building upon their success Down Under by bringing their platform to Europe and North America. It will be interesting to see how the platform evolves and translates to new markets and different requirements.
In the US, a New York-based start-up called PlaceBridge has quietly taken a different approach with an initial focus on the POC industry. The brainchild of Paul Theisen, the co-founder and former executive at of Health Media Network, PlaceBridge offers a three-phased audit:
- Digital Audit: Like Seedooh, PlaceBridge will take a playout log feed from any CMS and mesh it with contractual data in a customized dashboard. The key here is getting a measure of contracted vs. actual playouts in the aggregate.
- Randomized On-site Live Audit: Through a partnership with J. Knipper & Company, PlaceBridge fields 500 reps armed with a smartphone app. The reps run through a customized audit checklist of 12 steps and take pictures as needed to provide verification of media playout, screen status, practitioner information and more. Audit information is delivered via the PlaceBridge dashboard. This goes a long way toward eliminating the leap of faith in digital data alone.
- List Matching: In POC, pharma advertisers often buy specific locations and practitioners. It is important to match contracted locations to actual playout locations. At one level, validation of a specific office location is important. Since offices move and practices have doctor turnover, a second level of validation is required. The key here is often the National Provider Identifier (NPI), a unique identifier for each practitioner. PlaceBridge is associating both location and NPI to each playout site and doing the necessary matching to measure contract compliance.
The completed audit provides media buyers and sellers with the data required to measure contract compliance. It looks like the PlaceBridge methodology could work well outside the POC market with some adaptation of the third phase. For example, instead of list matching in retail venues, there could be some independent matching of retailer movement data with playout data to be a measure of ad effectiveness. In an airport, traffic counting and airline seat yield data could add a measure of reach and impressions. To an industry desperate to differentiate itself as a valuable advertising vehicle, the elimination of the leap of faith goes a long way.
The emergence of independent entities like Seedooh and PlaceBridge create the scenario for a win-win for Agencies and their brand partners along with network owners. Advertisers will have more confidence that what they buy is what they will get. Networks will benefit from increased trust, which in turn may spur demand and price stability. Analytics is a very hot topic these days, and this type of data collection and analysis should prove to be a great leap forward for an entire sector of the digital signage industry. That’s a positive outcome.