Advertising Age recently ran a story headlined: “WPP Media Agency Group to Offer Flexible Alternative to Xaxis.”Loyal Cog Blog readers will no doubt mutter something inaudible into their pints of Old Peculiar and take a long, self-satisfied draught on their Meerschaum pipes. I have been critical of the Xaxis model, and therefore it’s only right to say “fair play” to them when they admit it’s time to evolve that model, even if my moaning might conceivably have had slightly less to do with the change of approach than the words and actions of the likes of Unilever, P&G, Nestle and Kellogg’s.
What is being introduced is a degree of flexibility within the Xaxis model. There will be changes introduced to allow those advertisers not prepared to sign a non-disclosure clause within their contracts (a clause that stops them from seeing just how Xaxis generates its revenue) to consider Xaxis should they wish to do so. Thus a degree of transparency is introduced into what has been a rather murky picture.
At the same time as becoming more flexible (although quite by how much remains to be seen), there are also signs of work on the Xaxis brand’s to-date rather toxic positioning. Xaxis is it seems moving to establish itself as a responsible guardian of online advertising, according to a recent Adweek story.
This reported on a new Xaxis product that claims to detect fraud by measuring whether or not humans are behind responses to online campaigns. Xaxis is promising clients their money back if the percent of responses down to non-human activity goes beyond 5% or if viewability drops below 90%. They also offer brand safety checks (to ensure that brands don’t appear anywhere unsavoury). Cynics might say that these are just the sort of initiatives the industry as a whole should undertake, but as the IAB and others seem incapable of sensible action, it’s to Xaxis’ credit that they are setting out their stall as a challenge to others.
There is a final interesting slant to the flurry of trade press activity, and that is that it is now going to be up to GroupM’s media agencies to “manage programmatic execution” as an element in being responsible to their clients for all aspects of delivery. The Ad Age piece quotes GroupM’s Chief Digital Officer, Rob Norman saying: “Agencies need to retain their place in the value chain as new channels emerge. If we don't do that, there's the temptation for clients to take more of those [buys] in-house, as they don't believe the agency is organizing itself with the right people, tools and engagement models.”
In effect and in painfully old-fashioned language they seem to be saying that planning comes first and buying follows the plan, which is good to hear.
All of this is no doubt in large part due to the fact that many large clients didn’t feel too happy with the original Xaxis offering and said so. As I’ve said on various public and private platforms lately, ultimately it’s up to clients to make sure they understand what’s on offer from those doing the offering -- there are always some for whom the pay-off of cheap-as-chips space in return for little control or visibility over online activity makes some sense. There are others (and they tend to be the larger, more sophisticated players that make up a large part of any major agency’s client base) for whom full transparency across all activities is an important consideration, and for whom fraud, viewability and inappropriate placements are real concerns. You pays your money; you takes your choice.
At the end of the day there is only one real source of money, to ad agencies, media agencies, digital middle-men, publishers (increasingly), ad tech suppliers and the rest of our world. And that’s advertisers’ budgets. Given that, listening to, respecting and reacting to the views of your clients is generally a smart thing to do.
Brian Jacobs spent over 35 years in advertising, media and research agencies including spells atLeo Burnett (UK, EMEA, International Media Director), Carat International (Managing Director), Universal McCann (EMEA Director) and Millward Brown (EVP, Global Media). He has worked in the UK, EMEA and globally out of the USA. His experience covers shifts from full-service ad agencies to media agencies; from traditional single-commercial-channel TV to multi-faceted digital channels; and from media planning to multi-disciplinary communication planning. Brian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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