• George Paton-Williams

Media Auditing in the Digital Age: its flaws and their fixes

The practice of media auditing has long focused on assurance and governance - tracking investment by an advertiser’s agency. Using pool benchmarking, media costs can be assessed against other similar advertisers with the end goal of reducing those costs. This approach was employed because media was planned, bought, and consumed ‘offline’ in a straightforward way. But people have migrated to get more of their media digitally, and advertising budgets have followed. This has created challenges for traditional auditing and its usefulness for the marketers it serves:

  • Digital media is more fragmented. There are more devices, more channels, and more ways of buying it

  • There is additional technological and legislative complexity, and frequent changes to navigate

  • Digital budgets from sophisticated advertisers are responsive and agile so simply tracking planned vs delivered spend and benchmark CPMs has no value for an advertiser

  • Data and technology make up a much larger component of digital advertising’s total cost compared to offline – something often ignored by traditional auditors

  • Biddable technology and methodology have revealed transparency, ad fraud, viewability and brand safety as major challenges to brands (despite being neither new nor specific to digital channels)

Media auditing has had to adapt. But there are still considerable gaps in approach and capability in the auditing of biddable media. Such weaknesses prevent marketers from enjoying full confidence in, and maximising performance from, their digital advertising.

Irrelevant media benchmarks lead to impractical insights that lack the nuance of each business’ unique context

Despite being the accepted practice for auditing, using blind pool data to benchmark and sense check activity is too simplistic. The generic analysis leads to generic insights and recommendations that are hard for marketers to apply.


The vast number of variables that are available for digital media traders to buy against means there cannot be any advertiser who buys in a comparable way to another – so benchmarking quickly becomes irrelevant. Additionally, there are more factors to consider when considering price. Agency fees, media, technology, and data costs vary hugely in price and value in digital depending on the macro and micro tactics employed. You need digital expertise with hands-on experience running these campaigns who can dig deeper into the data to understand if certain costs are appropriate.

Little holistic appreciation of digital creates siloed outputs that only focus on tactics

Traditional auditors have created specialist divisions built to bring expertise to existing frameworks. The issue is these frameworks are built for offline. Therefore, they do not ask all the necessary questions of digital media to identify all the opportunities for improvement. As a result, their answers are limited to channel-specific, tactical recommendations.


Digital media auditing should look at the entire breadth of digital advertising to ensure the long-term direction is accurate, including areas like a brand’s tech stack, approach to measurement, operating model, and access to and use of data. There is little sense in checking short-term channel activity if the overall strategic direction is wrong.

Delayed and one-off insights

Originally, one of the most enticing aspects of digital was the direct, real-time feedback loop of data it enabled in advertising. No longer do marketers need to wait for post-campaign analyses to determine proxy results and make further decisions from that moment. A statement that should also hold true for media auditing. But audits have continued to be infrequent projects with findings based on data that could be months old and do not reflect the state of your digital advertising today.


Today, marketers demand auditing to be much more dynamic. Auditing digital channel investment, set up and performance can be always on. Not snapshots of yesterday. Custom tools can deliver up-to-date insights and recommendations. But it is important to teach the tools what is important to your business. Build it around an initial in-depth digital discovery process. Blanket best practice rules have limited value here.

Audits are combative, not collaborative

Auditing firms are incentivised to find problems. They need to identify where the savings can be made to justify their large fees. And ideally (for the auditor) the issues are substantial enough to demand a lengthy pitch that they can manage. Two challenges arise from this. First, it leads to a mismatch between the objectives of the client and those of the auditor. Second, it creates tension between the auditor and the client’s agency. Agencies understandably become defensive knowing that their work is being pulled apart and that it is possible they will be put on review.


But an audit that is confidence-boosting (showing your agency is doing the right things well) is just as valuable as one that is confidence-shaking. Audits should be collaborative with your media buyers to understand why they made certain decisions, rather than pointing fingers. An audit that ignores business-specific nuance in the search for generic best practices is a blunt tool that minimises competitive advantage.


We believe that most problems can be solved with the existing agency and brand relationship: rather than committing to an arduous pitch process, can that effort be invested in creating a more transparent, efficient, and happier digital advertising process with your existing partners? TPA Digital believes that to audit digital advertising effectively, marketers need access to practised digital specialists who can:

  • Understand and apply the nuances of your marketing operation

  • Be additive to your existing partners, not subtractive

  • Deliver practical recommendations based on a holistic analysis of all aspects of digital advertising

Learn more about our auditing approach that maximises digital media outcomes for brands by providing insights that matter.