Imagine you are watching the soccer world cup. But this is not your average soccer game. The individual teams are keeping their own scores, no referees and no cameras. One of the teams screams that they have scored a goal.

First off…this could never happen. Really?

This is the state of digital media today.

Every company that is selling ads is keeping its own scores and projecting it onto the world, like it’s real.

Third-party verification. It is a choice that marketers are faced with every day, especially when it comes to buying digital media.

In an age where anyone can be anything, say anything and do anything online, a channel of objectivity and verification has become increasingly essential. For traditional forms of media, such as television, radio and print, marketers choose based on reputation and most of all, ratings, numbers and facts. If we want the highest audience reach, then station X can provide that. If we are looking for this demographic, then publication Y can provide that; verified, researched, recorded, published.

Digital media often lacks this impartial, transparent process. Granted, it is still a young media platform and lacks the ‘maturity’ and tested processes of its other traditional media cousins.

But it has been over 20 years of digital advertising. If we had a 20-year-old friend or child, it would be fair to say that adulthood is imminent. Perhaps it is time for digital media to grow up and start taking accountability. The ones to take on that accountability are first and foremost going to be marketers. Whether we want to face up to reality or not, we as marketers face a choice every time we buy digital media. Often that choice can lead us down a path where we fall victim to fraud or criminal activity, or even completely incorrect and unverified data and findings.

Do we know we are making that choice? Oh, we do know! We realize that they are not verified or even endorsed by certified third party sources. We are making that choice as soon as we invest in a non-verified source. So, when our clients don’t get the results they expected, who do we look to in finding the loophole in our marketing practices? Ourselves.

Why should we be taking this subject seriously? Why do we even have to look towards third party verification or better yet, a consistent viewability standard for your company to adopt?

This question has a two-fold effect for businesses and marketers.

Consider the marketer’s position. Some of the top priorities that we consider in our work include the reach, audience, demographic and ratings of a digital platform. The first question we should ask is ‘where are these numbers coming from?’ It’s a simple question, but we neglect to ask it in the beginning. Most agencies and marketers come equipped with a list of networks and connections that can let you know their numbers off hand. But these networks and connections are policing their own numbers. Trust is an important part of any relationship and we don’t want to risk offending our stable relationships. At the same time, what third party verification and a solid viewability standard can do is repair and cement the trust in your current relationships. It means that the numbers are verified by someone with no vested interest and with complete objectivity. This in turn means that when we speak to our clients or translate it to our business, it comes with a more honest guarantee of what we can expect, as opposed to unconfirmed variables.

How does this impact a business’ position? It can be particularly harmful and painful for businesses when they spend a lot of time and energy on their digital advertising in good faith only to find that they fail in getting the results they were promised. That is money lost, time lost, and consumers lost. It is a hefty price to pay. We couple this with the fact that there is more investment into digital media than ever before and we have an illogical cycle of waste. A business would benefit more if it invested more wisely, with third party verified sources. As a business, you too have the right to request your middle men and marketers to ask for third party verification.

It’s like buying a Rolex off the street from someone, taking their word that it is authentic. But it means nothing without a certificate if you want to sell it again.

As a business, that Rolex is the digital media you are investing in. When it is verified and trustworthy, your customers will buy from you, because you are selling to the right audience.

If you are convinced and truly do believe that third party verification is good for you, for your business and your resources, then you should start thinking seriously about what viewability standard you would like to follow. A great standard is the Media and Rating Council (MRC) that can offer various resources to get you started on your first steps to overhauling your verification system. Another great point of reference is Nielsen. Nielsen has been around for a long time and while they are not the end all solution, they can offer a benchmark for ratings and a more transparent process.

In a nutshell, third party verification is good for marketers, it is good for business, and it is good for consumers. Yet we have not taken the responsibility of adopting it into our marketing protocols. It is time to help digital media grow up, find its place as a legitimate platform. We have a responsibility to curb criminal and fraudulent activities and replace it with tried and tested transparent marketing practices.

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