Maxus to stop buying autorefreshed ads

Maxus has become the first media agency to publicly refuse to buy autorefreshed online advertising.

David Gaines, CEO of the WPP-owned agency told Mumbrella that the industry had been talking about the issue for too long. He said: “We keep tiptoeing around the issue. Everybody at the agency got told last week. We are going to create preferences for the sites that don’t have autorefresh.”  

All five of Australia’s largest publishers use autorefresh, arguing that the page needs to be automatically updated every few minutes in order to showcase the latest content. Critics argue that autorefresh is used as a means of serving multiple ads regardless of whether the user is even looking at the screen and that it would be relatively straightforward to refresh only the editorial content.

Today’s Australian reports that using autorefresh extends the apparent session duration by 75% and the number of times that ads are served by 20-40%.

The Audit Bureaux of Australia’s Web Audit service declines to grant an audit to anybody who uses autorefresh. Last week outgoing ABA boss Gordon Towell told Mumbrella that the main issue preventing publishers from auditing was their reliance on autorefresh.

Gaines said that although it had been the Maxus policy to challenge autorefresh for some time, it had not always been followed through at the buying level, hence the blanket ruling, which means the agency will not buy from autorefreshed sites on a CPM basis. He said:

As an agency we’re big enough the can make a stand, but small enough that we don’t have cross platform deals that will get sticky.”

He said that there are immediate examples of sites which will now not get ads from Maxus clients for campaigns that were imminent. But he added: ‘We will still do performance and video so we will still be able to deliver reach.”

However, Gaines said he was confident that the impasse will not take long to resolve as publishers will soon move on the issue. He said: “This will force the issue. If everybody does it at the same time then we can all sit down and readjust.”

He added: “The irony is, we are having more progressive conversations with TV stations about ways we will be trading in the future than we are with online. We are using a trading mechanism that’s about a decade out of date.”

Paul Fisher, boss of the publisher-funded Interactive Advertising Bureau, said that the issue was a conversation for individual agencies and publishers to have. He said: “We feel the autorefresh issue is part of a much larger issue. The strategic issue is that the industry does not have a standard audience measurement system.”

At present, many sites choose to have their traffic measured at a server level by Nielsen MarketIntelligence. This then provides a basis on which the ABA provides audits – but only of those sites that do not autorefresh. A wider problem is that this system overestimates the number of unique browsers visiting sites. The IAB is currently working to bring in a system which links server data to a panel which would in theory eliminate multiple-counting unique visitors and could also solve the autorefresh issue.

Meanwhile, further confusion comes in the market with some publishers simply supplying internal Google Analytics data. As Mumbrella reported in AdNews’ case last week, this can lead to confusion when publishers circulate misleading claims.

Although Maxus is the first media agency to publicly refuse to do CPM deals with unaudited sites, others have been have been pushing publishers on the issue. OMD managing director Leigh Terry said:

“OMD is working with both the IAB, MFA and directly with publishers to work through the implications of autorefresh.  OMD will continue to use those sites that best perform against specific client requirement and desired result.

“Audited sites, as well as those who do and do not have pages with auto refreshing ads will undoubtedly continue to form part of this consideration process and ongoing dialogue with publishers accordingly to achieve best result for advertisers.”

Others among WPP’s Group M agencies are also piling on the pressure.

Meanwhile, John Grono, who advises the Media Federation of Australia on media measurement, has hinted that at least one publisher is ready to move.

In a comment on Mumbrella, Grono said:

“Someone posted earlier that there could be an “initiator’ benefit among the Big Five for the first to recode their pages that justifiably utilise refreshing content and turning all other AR off. I 100% agree. To the best of my knowledge one of the large publishers is a long way down this track.

“My concern is that it is “not a good look” for the industry. With audience measurement very much in play, it is also vitally important that any ‘fake’ traffic is eradicated from the metrics, and that a solid bedrock is established upon which audience growth and trends can be accurately and reliably measured.”


  1. Neil Ackland
    30 Aug 10
    10:07 am

  2. Finally, some SERIOUS action. A bold move that will hopefully be the tipping point for a universal audit by ALL publishers. Well done to Maxus and David Gaines.

  3. Julian Time Out
    30 Aug 10
    10:15 am

  4. Ditto to everything Neil said. Green ticks all round!

  5. Alexx - ABA Watchdog
    30 Aug 10
    10:53 am

  6. Agreed, well done to David Gaines, Tom Kelshaw and Maxus for taking a stand!

    The buying ban applies to any site not ABA audited, not just whether a site uses A-F or not so it should also help to clean up the issue of sites using unverified home-cooked Google Analytics figures.

    The quote from the Aus article:
    “We’re getting to the point where nothing’s really happening (from an industry perspective), so we’re going to officially boycott sites that don’t adhere to the ABA’s audit process,” Mr Gaines said.

  7. Rhys Williams
    30 Aug 10
    11:32 am

  8. Great move, and hopefully will see other agencies follow suit. An important step towards having numbers across the digital industry that buyers can trust.

  9. Leon
    30 Aug 10
    12:00 pm

  10. Alexx,

    What does an audit cost?

  11. Tim
    30 Aug 10
    12:22 pm

  12. “The buying ban applies to any site not ABA audited” – even more exciting!

  13. Alexx - ABA Watchdog
    30 Aug 10
    12:32 pm

  14. @Leon,

    Audit fees vary depending upon number of sites and traffic volume but the entry-level fee for a small site is only $95 + GST per month.

    Larger publishers or networks with multiple sites may pay up to $2k – $5k per year, so still affordable.

    I would like to remind everyone we are a non-profit industry body owned by our tripartite members (advertisers, publishers & agencies), so fees go back into the industry through the audit initiative and related industry education programs.

  15. Mitesh Solanki
    30 Aug 10
    1:00 pm

  16. Well done David!

    I wonder which agencies will follow suit by the end of this week.

  17. GreatStrategy
    30 Aug 10
    1:00 pm

  18. “likes” this – standing up for what is right

  19. Ellie Rogers
    30 Aug 10
    1:09 pm

  20. It’s actually common practice for agencies to audit publishers and then trade accordingly to ensure effective buying across auto refreshed sites. The bigger challenge exists in the performance space – if a page within a network is auto refreshed there is no way for agencies to police, less chance users will view the ad and even less chance that the ad will impact a sale.

  21. Leon
    30 Aug 10
    1:18 pm

  22. Cheers Alexx. (Couldn’t find a rate card on your site.)

  23. HG
    30 Aug 10
    1:47 pm

  24. Fantastic news. Justification for a lot of conversations held over time about how the portals and or other sites were ripping the industry off with over inflated statistics.

    Well done David.

    For the iab this will be difficult for them to deal with. Particularly as the founding members are the very media giants that implement auto-refresh. Paul F is right on the standard measure as well. The work the iAB is doing there is important to all of this.

    Note to all. When I first started to mention this I was told to not “interfere” with the way the online advertising business was run. That was some 12 years ago. Seems the industry really has taken that long to wake up. Am sure I was not the only one!

    Watch this space. huh 😉

  25. Stig Richards
    30 Aug 10
    2:18 pm

  26. Mirroring the positive sentiment already express…. Great news! Well done David, Alexx and others who have been promoting legitimacy, credibility, honesty. May this be the first of many such announcements.

  27. Hammertime
    30 Aug 10
    2:30 pm

  28. Full credit to Maxus for taking a stand.
    I do believe that it would have been more impactful to align at least all of the WPP media agenices at once – if not even speak to the wider media groups to properly put some pressue on the publishers for a change.

  29. Ben S
    30 Aug 10
    3:21 pm

  30. Good one. Q for Dave, why the exception on performance. AR is still as big an issue there, cookie dropping for impressions never seen by human eyes.

  31. Kate
    30 Aug 10
    3:28 pm

  32. As Cheryl Kernot’s Democrats would say in the 90’s way to keep the bastards honest

  33. Alexx - ABA Watchdog
    30 Aug 10
    4:06 pm

  34. Quick clarification due to offline questions about audit fees. Publishers paying $2k-$5k refers to mid-sized publishers, larger than small sites. There are exceptions to this of course – just keeping it simple.

    Even larger networks with 100+ sites may pay more depending on how they wish to design their audit schedule.

  35. Dave Gaines
    30 Aug 10
    4:43 pm

  36. Hey Ben – performance is absoloutely about CPC and CPA activity where we can work through and quantify what constitutes a response. Not network CPM buys.

    At the end of the day its simply about clarity around what we are measuring from planning online to the transaction of client money for audiences. Its a bit rich to suggest we have a product based in data and analytics but throw money around with no idea what we’re really buying.

    I hope it will just accelerate some sensible discussion and agreement with publishers and will allow us to progress with metrics all sides are comfortable with.

    We’ve got too much thats just around the corner; IPTV etc. It’d be a crime to slow the pace at which that can grow because we haven’t got the basics right.

  37. Paul Fisher
    30 Aug 10
    4:54 pm

  38. @ HG,
    This is not difficult for the iab to deal with at all as it really is an issue for the individual agencies and the individual publishers/networks. As the buyers and the sellers in this marketplace, it is very much up to them to agree the terms and conditions on which they will, and will not, do business.

    If some buyers have issues, be it AR or others, with some publishers and/or networks, then they have every right to take those issues up with their trading partners.

    What industry bodies and other groups need to be very careful of doing is dictating the trading terms of commercial transactions on behalf of their members.

    As you go on to say, and thank you for your support, we will continue to work on the strategic issue of standardising online audience measurement in this market.

    Like you I’ve been in and out of this industry for over 12 years and it’s time!

  39. A Dog
    30 Aug 10
    7:03 pm

  40. Auto-refresh on pages that don’t have very regular content updates has only be used by the top 5 in the last couple of years. One does it and they all follow over fear of sliding down the MI rankings. Was never going to last long.
    So once this issue is fixed, it’s back to 101 slide shows and sites with grap navigation that makes you jump forward and back to go through content. Or maybe even better, we’ll see the return of pagination – that was a beauty!!
    Raises a question for you all though – putting auto-refresh aside, how are you going to continue this debate on how long an ad is served for an whether or not the ad has indeed been seen?
    It’s probably time to admit that all campaigns will be performance based fairly shortly and then we can all pretend that brand never existed.
    Online needs some more marketers and less analysts who get excited over a blip in the code like this issue.

  41. Cookie Cutter
    30 Aug 10
    11:17 pm

  42. “the blanket ruling, which means the agency will not buy from autorefreshed sites on a CPM basis.”

    Playing a dangerous game writing off CPM and giving CPA / CPC preference due to a ‘measurable response’. Hoorah for below the fold ad units and extraordinarily inflated post impression windows!!

    How about we move beyond measuring eyeballs and start to measure business outcomes?

  43. Tom Kelshaw
    31 Aug 10
    8:34 am

  44. @a dog, @cookie cutter, good points re: measurement. Eyeballs, impressions and clicks are not good measures of business outcomes, but they ARE the trading currency of digital media. And we need to make sure we trade efficiently whilst we look at other metrics of real significance.

    Just to clarify, Maxus is not writing off CPM buys – only CPM buys on non-ABA audited and especially auto-refreshing pages. And if publishers revert to inflating imps with galleries, ridiculous pagination and other tricks, we’ll make a decision on that also.

  45. Ben S
    31 Aug 10
    9:13 am

  46. Pagination isn’t anywhere near the scale of Auto Refresh … in many instances it just makes sense. A 2,000 word article on one screen is ridiculous. Spreading it over a few pages is more about the experience than creating page impressions.

    Re performance/CPC/CPA etc being excluded – many argue (not sure of the validity) that the agencies vigorous appetite for these performance deals is what is fueling auto refresh and the need to artificially create inventory.

    One publisher said to me when I was agency side “if you guys didn’t screw us so hard on the rates we wouldn’t have to do this.”

  47. Chris Kettle
    31 Aug 10
    9:15 am

  48. If an auto-refresh site has double the page impressions of a non auto-refresh site, why don’t you just demand to pay 50% of the CPM price ??

  49. Julian Time Out
    31 Aug 10
    9:33 am

  50. We did an informal survey of other agencies yesterday and were variously told:

    “we already audit sites that we buy from and ask/check to see if they do AR. If they do we then either change the CPM rate accordingly or buy only on a tenancy basis. It seems silly for sites to continue using it as it artificially inflates your site metrics and will reflect poorly on them.”

    “We have had experiences on past campaigns where the (unaudited) numbers from some places just didn’t add up ”

    and finally “we’re working on our own technology to reject AR requests.”

  51. Chris Kettle
    31 Aug 10
    9:34 am

  52. Also as site owner of, we are about to launch our new site full of the latest AJAX call back technologies.

    In non-geek terms this means you will be able to navigate huge amounts of content without leaving the current page.

    This is great for the user-experience but will ultimately slash our page and ad-impressions, however will increase average time on page and the opportunity for the user to engage in the ad.

    Just more factors as more sites move this way to take into account…

  53. Nic Halley
    31 Aug 10
    1:21 pm

  54. Well done Maxus

  55. Rei
    1 Sep 10
    2:36 pm

  56. I agree with @Ben S on pagination being a different case as people will actively click through to seek content from top 20 lists and photo galleries, however it doesn’t reflect well on the publisher when the content is spread so thin that a top 5 list goes over 11 pages.

  57. Paul Montgomery
    2 Sep 10
    2:49 am

  58. Okay, now we’ve got this one sorted, how about moving on to ad unit spam? Some Fairfax pages have 20+ different ads. That’s doing more to drive down CPMs than AR.