Insight: Two thirds of big brands committed to increase online ad spend despite growing concerns around viewability, fraud and basic metrics

Half of advertisers plan to increase spend by up to 20%, while a third plan to maintain existing or reduce online spend

The majority of the world’s largest advertisers are committed to increased investment in online advertising in 2017-18, some by as much as 40%. This comes despite increasing questions about its effectiveness and transparency, according to a study conducted by the World Federation of Advertisers and Ebiquity into the intentions and concerns of the world’s largest advertisers.

However, while two thirds plan to increase spend, some advertisers (12%) say they expect to maintain the same levels of investment in 2018 and 21% indicate they will reduce online spend. Performance-focused advertisers were most likely to boost spend, with 48% predicting increases compared to just 18% for brand advertisers.

The results are based on responses from more than 50 global advertisers, representing an annual advertising spend of more than $80bn, and are being released as part of the WFA’s Global Marketer Week in Toronto from 25-28 April.

Advertisers are making these investments despite strong concerns around their ability to track performance, with  62% of respondents reporting that they are ‘dissatisfied’ with the overall level of measurement standards in online advertising, and only 45% clearly seeing the value it adds.

What’s more, 72% of those polled believe that advertisers have over-invested in the channel. Key concerns among advertisers remain viewability (90% of respondents see this as a ‘major concern’) and lack of transparency (76%).

Online video will be the main beneficiary of any increased spend, with 89% of advertisers intending to invest more this year. The reason is that 79% of branding/awareness advertisers say that video delivers a ‘high effect’, significantly better performance than static display. Forty-six percent of respondents plan to cut back on static display in 2017, with more than half saying the format delivers a ‘low effect’.

The main motivations behind investing in digital advertising are to drive incremental reach (a major role in the decision to invest for 79%) and to increase brand awareness (69%). Despite the increased targeting potential that programmatic can provide, ‘precise targeting’ is a major factor in the decision to invest in digital for just 55%.

Other findings include:

  • The three ‘priority’ metrics for respondents are reach (72%), target audience exposure (66%) and video completion rates (62%). As such, the metrics in use tend to relate more to exposure rather than effectiveness.
  • ‘Premium inventory’ is found to be more effective than non-premium for 62% of respondents.
  • Advertisers are not yet convinced about the effectiveness of digital advertising, but 75% are willing to accept the challenges it presents.

Matt Green, global lead – media & digital marketing at the WFA, commented: “Although the general online advertising investment trend remains on an upward trajectory, this research shows that some advertisers are exercising increased caution regarding their online investment. Until recently, advertisers were comparatively reserved about their frustrations with the lack of robust measurement of effectiveness and the absence of independent verification. They’ve now lost their reticence and are demanding more openness and evidence.”

Nick Manning, chief strategy officer for Ebiquity, said: “Online advertising is clearly here and here to stay – it’s the present and the future. But our survey results show that advertisers are not convinced by current measurement standards. Respondents demonstrate strong support for recent public calls by Marc Pritchard of Procter & Gamble and others for higher standards in independent measurement and verification in online advertising. Advertisers also want a better understanding of how online contributes to their business performance and how it delivers meaningful return on investment.”

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