Ad Technology

Hiding Behind Garden Walls

Tom260When have walled gardens ever been good for digital advertising?

As an industry, we are doomed to repeat our history with walled gardens because we haven’t learned from it sufficiently.  The truth is that most ad-supported walled gardens end up dying after marketers struggle to measure them and either can’t come to any meaningful conclusion or get tired of trying and replace it with something providing more visibility.

The latest learning opportunity comes to us from Facebook, which the Wall Street Journal recently reported had overstated an important video metric for two years.

Recent statements by Facebook executives notwithstanding, its walled garden has historically resisted all attempts to measure it via unbiased third party technology.  Why?  It’s anybody’s guess.  But, as Facebook will soon discover, when you lock out external forms of measurement, the responsibility for delivering accurate performance data becomes your sole responsibility.

Seems like an unnecessary risk when allowing an ad tag or two can shift that responsibility to the marketer and their third-party vendors, no?

Perhaps Facebook and other fans of gardening behind high walls would rather not have those awkward conversations about viewability, engagement and comparative impact with marketers and their agencies.  Regardless of the motivation, we know that historically, erecting artificial walls that choke off apples-to-apples ad performance data streams ends up being a particularly bad idea.

It’s a bad idea because it erodes confidence in the vendor’s wares and makes people on the buy side of the equation skeptical and suspicious.

As an industry, though, we should be asking questions about why the dominant companies in our space seem to like walled gardens so much when their track record is so dismal when it comes to supporting the walled garden with an ad model.

Would we have invested more money in podcast ads earlier, had Apple made it easier to measure?  How about branded apps in the app store, which still requires its own particular brand of educated guessing in order to measure?  AOL and Rainman?  Would PointCast have survived?  How many walled garden ad products have we seen wither and die on the vine over the years?

Yet those who are exceptionally creative about attracting consumer digital attention also seem to be the biggest fans of walling off performance data.  Google, Apple, Facebook – all seem to be fans of the practice, often to their detriment.

Consider that next time you’re evaluating the newest, shiniest thing to capture consumer attention.  Is it worth the lack of visibility to move forward with the program?

Perhaps some Facebook video advertisers who thought so are rethinking their positions now.