Are agencies experiencing a paradox of trust?

Mobile Marketing - Member Content

Justin Welter, senior director of brand performance at AdColony, explains why 100 per cent in-housing isn't the way to go and why mobile agencies are still of importance, despite recent mishaps

Halloween might be over, but there is still something to be frightened of – and unlike ghosts or zombies, the issue of ad fraud is very, very real. Recently we saw Uber, which has been pouring money into advertising like it has everything to lose (which it probably does) in the past few years, lay off a third of its marketing department to devote more resources to ad tech, specifically, programmatic. 

But it hasn’t all gone smoothly. Uber has been doubling down on that ad tech strategy, combining a stronger in-house team and a trusted group of ad tech vendors. Yet “trusted” would be a misnomer. Starting in 2017, the company has been speaking out and taking legal action against its agency Fetch, and has now expanded that suit to include the five mobile ad tech firms that had worked with Fetch.

What this lawsuit tells us is that brands’ fear of ad fraud is not only real, it’s now perpetuated into a fear of marketing vendors who hide that fraud from the brand. And as we’ve seen from other incidents in both the business and political sphere, it’s not okay to simply say, “We didn’t know.” When agencies do not exercise oversight on the campaigns that are being operated on the brand’s behalf, they are inadvertently exploiting the trust of that partner – and the consequences of this extend far beyond that campaign.

All it takes is one instance of this and a brand might decide to never work with an agency again and instead focus solely on building an in-house marketing team to manage their spend. Yet this doesn’t always work, either. In many cases, that in-house team is completely ill-equipped to handle the complications of running full-scale mobile advertising campaigns. Here’s why:

You’ll limit your reach to just the walled gardens’ inventory

Yes, Facebook, Google and other major platforms have transitioned to algorithmic campaign management that handles much of the creative execution and optimisation work that companies would pay their mobile agency to do. But what about the ‘other’ mobile apps? If you aggregate all of the smaller mobile app that live outside of those walled gardens, such as Games, you’ll find they contain a significant amount of mobile inventory and are where your audience is spending their time and money. To reach those consumers, you must use mobile ad networks – there’s no other way.

You need the expertise of running hundreds, if not thousands, of campaigns

Managing those dozens (if not more) of platforms and options is nothing short of confusing. The reason Fortune 500 brands like Intuit use a mobile-first agency like Camelot is that they provide innate knowledge of the app ecosystem outside of the large platforms, which gives a massive competitive edge. But they also come with the experience of working with other clients, and understanding what will work for you as a result.

So, what are you, as a brand, to do? You can’t be as successful without an agency, but recent events – whether it has happened to you or you’ve just read/heard about it – leaves you feeling like you don’t know who you can trust. If an agency balks at transparency on inventory and KPI audits, it might be time to reconsider that relationship.

For most brands, the best solution will be somewhere between 100 per cent in-house versus the traditional agency approach. Agencies provide important expertise across a broad swathe of areas, but when the opportunity exists to increase their margin, they rightfully take it. It’s fundamentally on brands to demand transparency from their agencies on where the ads are running and that was the right call, and the agency fee is worth it.

That means working with an agency with strong domain expertise for your campaign objectives, and one you can trust goes hand in hand with having brand marketing and advertising talent who understands what the agency is doing.