Solving trust in measurement starts with taking transparency seriously


Josanne Ryan, AMAA's CEO considers how the industry can regain its trust in measurement.

At Mumbrella’s Publish Conference last week, I attended a panel discussion about media measurement, which we all know is a hotly debated topic. Rightly so, given in 2017 the digital advertising market here was estimated as worth $7.9bn and the total advertising spend across all channels was estimated at $17.3bn.

At one point there was the claim made that a particular methodology is the source of ‘truth’, implying it to be ‘truer’ than another. Whilst this may be possible, is it correct?

Given the Collins English dictionary states the definition of ‘true’ as something ‘based on facts, accurate and reliable’. How can this assertion be verified?

Unduplicated audience is a difficult beast, we all know that, especially in digital where the issue of multiple browsers and devices, combined with multiple formats makes identifying the individual consumer a complex task. Cross-platform audience is even more complicated with multiple channels, all consumed differently, so that achieving a comparable metric is challenging. The industry has long accepted that with audience measurement, calculating a robust, accurate estimate is the best we can aim for, assuming there is veracity and transparency to the process. So, are we there yet?

My comment to the panel was that the lack of trust and even scepticism we see in this market around metrics, is in part driven by the industry’s move away from transparency, away from ensuring that independent audit and verification is integral to the measurement approach.

Estimating digital audience is a difficult business, not made any easier by constant platform changes. It includes a combination of digital traffic data, first-party panel browsing data, combined through data fusion and a complex statistical approach, to develop an estimated unduplicated audience metric. It is no surprise, that the figures may not correlate to publisher figures, based on their traffic and internal analytics measurement. This in turn creates a lack of trust.

Also, it’s unclear as to how any of the audience data measurement is supported by an independent audit or verification layer. Whilst emma includes a level of independent audit across methodology and the AMAA provides circulation audits for many titles included in emma, Morgan Research states a commitment to being transparent and the IAB has indicated that Nielsen digital measurement is audited, there are no published details on the frameworks used, so it appears there is little, or no consistency of approach.

In Australia, over the last five years, we have increasingly moved away from a commitment to transparency in our industry and we are paying the price. The latest 2018 AMAA Media Trust study showed that ‘transparency’ was the most commonly cited issue when we asked: what is the single most important issue in digtal ad trading that needs to be improved? Measurement and reporting transparency comprised a large component of this feedback.  So, what’s the solution? In our study, the industry indicated that more robust governance with independent validation can reboot trust – 70% agreed it would increase trust.

The Audited Media Association is linked to audit bodies around the world, and through this association, we know that some markets have independent audit baked into the measurement approaches. Also, some markets have certification programmes for digital trading entities to meet industry agreed best practice. The AMAA do print and digital traffic audits for a range of publishers, large and small, so that they can provide independently verified data for their advertisers. This is increasingly done due to their own corporate commitment to transparency and accuracy, to build trust. Unfortunately, we do not have an industry wide commitment to this level of veracity.

My caveat with this comment is audience measurement it’s a tough game, so I’m not implying that a lot of clever, hard work isn’t happening. My point is simply that if we stepped up as an industry to push for more layers of consistent transparency and accountability, including third party independent audit, we might all trust the data a little more. And isn’t that what we all want?

Date: 26 Sep 2018

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