We all stretch the truth or exaggerate once in a while. The "little white lie" is a common part of life, but it seems to get a lot of play in the world of digital ad technology.
Whether it's to keep up with the competition, to assert category leadership, or because product development isn't moving as quickly as planned, exaggerations abound in this fast-moving industry.
It's kind of a pain for marketers and agencies trying to wrap their heads around an already confusing universe, and it is most certainly fueling some of the skepticism out there. Phrases like "Come on, you're all the same," "I can't tell the difference between any of you," and "I don't know why I should partner with you over another company" cut like a knife from where I sit, but aren't wholly unwarranted.
To help marketers and agencies craft some smart questions for their next meeting, here's some of what they will probably hear, and what they should know.
"We can target the same viewer across all platforms"
Online video is growing, along with mobile devices and connected television, and advertisers want to deliver their message to the same viewer across multiple platforms. In theory, this involves targeting the viewer on his or her iPhone right after seeing a brand message on a laptop at work, or on the Roku set-top device during morning coffee.
It's a sexy story, but connecting those instances to the same user is not possible at this time. A digital powerhouse like Apple, Facebook, or Google might eventually make a connection between the viewers on each device, but this strategy is impossible to deliver at scale right now.
Questions to ask: How are you connecting the dots between the viewer simultaneously on their blackberry and MacBook while watching TV? More importantly, if you have solved that challenge, what are you doing to effectively leverage each channel with your marketing message?
"We provide full transparency"
Transparency has long been video advertising's Achilles' heel, and marketers should demand more (if not total) transparency up front. DSPs and exchanges provide access to large amounts of inventory and, in an attempt to quell fears around where the ads are delivered, they promise page-level metrics and reporting. But the complicated implementation of media buying and video ad delivery through channels makes it very difficult to get a handle on the actual page URL or information about the video content stream the ad is delivered alongside.
The lightweight integration between publishers and the ad exchanges from which DSPs buy inventory results in very little content and page-level information making its way to the DSP. Although there is the promise of transparency, buyers have to cross their fingers and hope for brand-safe ad placements.
Lastly, transparency means different things to different companies. So don't take the assertion at face value. Rather, always ask what you will be able to see. The less it looks like a black box, the better.
Question to ask: Can you show me, not only on which inventory my campaign ran, but on which inventory my campaign was effective?
"We have over 6 gazillion potential video views"
Scale is quite possibly the most attractive quality for a publisher, ad network, marketplace, or DSP to discuss, and with good reason. Large scale is part of what allows an intelligent platform to deliver optimal performance, but it can also be grossly exaggerated. The key word here is "potential." Beware the providers that claim more inventory per day than what actually exists across the entire digital video landscape. If the numbers don't add up, they aren't real.
Question to ask: Knowing my objectives, what is your actual reach to help me achieve them?
"Our technology constantly optimizes to your goals"
"Optimization" is an easy word to say, and a buyer would be hard-pressed to think of the last vendor pitch that didn't tout that offering. The reality is, on many occasions, optimization is done by manually shifting delivery to the placements driving the best click-through rate (CTR). I will not turn this article into yet another missive on CTR, but rarely can one performance metric serve as a proxy for another. If you're trying to move the needle on brand metrics, optimizing for clicks is not the way to go.
Question to ask: Can you optimize my campaign toward brand metrics? How do you do it?
Online advertising is full of cutting edge, comparable companies and products competing for brand dollars, which can lead some to stretch the truth to win the race. Differentiating a company truthfully and artfully is solid marketing strategy. When you sit down for a technology pitch, have your questions ready, and don't settle for abstract answers.
Jason Burke is the VP of operations for VideoHub, the enterprise platform division of Tremor Video.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
"Group of business people hiding" image via Shutterstock.