Could Google and Facebook’s Challengers Steal Away Ad Budgets by Working Together on Metrics?

Industry players weigh in on a novel idea

Snapchat is still extremely popular with its audience. Getty Images
Headshot of Christopher Heine

In an Adweek magazine feature story this week about Facebook’s and Google’s metrics issues, Treasure Data CMO Kiyoto Tamura offered what seemed like a novel idea. What if Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest joined up in a consortium—perhaps with either the Advertising Research Foundation or the Interactive Advertising Bureau at their side—to establish common ad metrics?

“I almost feel like if the smaller players in the market could work together to create a more open consumer data access model, they might be able to challenge the dominance of Facebook and Google,” Tamura said.

We thought that it was worth asking around about that concept, so we contacted a few industry players to see if they were on the same page as Tamura. There is a white-hot pursuit of cord cutters that factors into digital companies’ renewed obsession with performance stats. And, after all, there are a ton of digital ad dollars—$83 billion in 2017, per eMarketer—at stake that could instead go to Google and Facebook’s smaller challengers. (The two behemoths, with their auxiliary properties such as YouTube and Instagram, respectively, are poised to nab up to 60.4 percent of the space, or roughly $50.1 billion.)

"It’s the ad equivalent of the [European Union]."
Ian Schafer, founder and chairman at Deep Focus

Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest agreeing on metrics “would go a long way towards trust and partnership, which would ultimately make it easier to spend on the platforms,” said Ian Schafer, founder and chairman, Deep Focus. “It might make sense … to align on a core set of metrics, or at least definitions, that will help advertisers compare performance across platforms.”

Indeed, digital platforms are at odds over—as just one example—whether a video view equals three seconds or less or, on the other extreme, a full video consumed. The Media Ratings Council and IAB have tried to help the platforms become more attractive by creating standards, but industry players generally agree that not enough has been accomplished on that front.

“Ad products on different platforms tend to be unique to those platforms…but we really do need to have agreement on something as simple as what a video view is,” Schafer said. “The more variable definitions are the more obfuscation and less trust there will be. I’ve worked on and in working groups who have aimed to do this outside the big players, and it can really help move the ball forward.”

The Deep Focus exec also said there was probably only a small chance that Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest would work together in such a capacity. “Opening up means conceding some of their uniqueness,” he said. “Ultimately, this could be a good thing and raise the tide for all the ships. The chance is always that the pie gets bigger without their slices getting bigger with it. It’s that fear alone that may prevent everyone from coming to the table. It’s the ad equivalent of the [European Union].”

Other players were more skeptical.

“Impressions might be the simplest metric for each, but all engagements are so specific to the type of platform and the audience,” said Lizzy Moore, an independent digital media buyer. “Metrics for Snapchat aren’t going to be comparable to someone who is 50 years old using Facebook. I think each platform should have their own set of benchmarks, and advertisers or agencies can decide how they want to use that data in-application to their campaigns or projections.”

Carly Costantino, SapientRazorfish’s senior media director, agreed.

“Although it would be great to have consistency in the marketplace and standard benchmarks to measure success, I think it would be difficult with these particular platforms to create a common metric, given their unique social experience, [such as] pinning, filters, tweets, emojis,” Costantino said. “They all have their own way of expression and engaging an audience.”

Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat didn’t offer comment for this story.

Kevin Lange, svp of platforms at Engine Media, gave a nuanced response to the question of whether Treasure Data’s Tamura was onto something brilliant or just serving up a pipe dream.

“Chasing a dream of data uniformity is a distraction from the more pressing issue,” he said. “Nonuniformity can be managed and embraced when we have trust in our ad data that enables fair measurement of value. In contrast, if we can’t trust that a platform-reported, three-second view correctly indicates an ad viewed for three seconds, how do we even begin to value it? Once trust is lost, the whole system is at risk of collapse.”

But the dream may not be dead on arrival, Lange added.

“Advertisers should not only chase but demand the dream where we can safely restore our trust in data from seller platforms,” he said. “Platforms partnering in good faith with trade [organizations] is at least a first step to ensuring that trust doesn’t become a pipe dream as well.”

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.