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 We are using a trading mechanism that’s about a decade out of date.”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.”