Can programmatic and high quality media co-exist?

09/21 By Paul Nasse

Programmatic media is often touted as the fastest growing phenomenon in the global advertising industry. A recent IAB UK report found that UK digital ad spend grew 16.4% in 2015 to over £8.6bn, with the share traded programmatically rising from 47% in 2014 to 60% in 2015. Programmatic spend reached £1.6bn.

This brave new world of programmatic may bring a whole host of benefits in targeting, time-saving and revenues, but on the flip-side this can create a whole list of complications for marketers wanting to ensure high quality in their media buying.

Marketers have traditionally been hesitant to trade programmatically due to the perceived greater risk, arising from the combined effects of the rise in ad fraud, viewability fears and concerns over the placement of advertising against brand-safe content.

Our recent UK Media Quality Report highlights greater rates of ad fraud and risks to brand advertising when trading in programmatic channels rather than directly with publishers. The risk to brand advertising was found to be 18% higher in programmatic buys, while the risk of fraudulent activity effecting campaigns increased by 23% in programmatic buys. Similarly, viewability rates were found to be nearly 9% lower in programmatic transactions.

The sources of risk

Before marketers dive head-first into the vast world of programmatic, the first step must be to understand and ask why programmatic trading is seen to have greater media quality risk.

The answer is twofold. First, there is greater automation and reduced human interaction in the process of buying and selling media through programmatic channels. The absence of human eyeballs has allowed for an environment in which ad fraud can thrive; bad actors game the environment and place poor- quality or fraudulent inventory within programmatic exchanges and networks.

Fraudsters take advantage of the fact that marketers no longer purchase inventory directly through trusted sales teams at AOL or The Guardian, for example, and instead prefer to use efficient platforms to purchase and execute media deals.

Second, programmatic exchanges aggregate vast amounts of inventory, often working with tens of thousands of websites. This huge scale of inventory can prove problematic when trying to monitor for quality and this again leaves the door open to bad actors that are able to exploit the trading system.

Exchanges typically include inventory from the entire supply ecosystem and no guarantee can be made that the inventory is professionally produced. It is here that we find the lowest opportunity that ads will be seen, the largest risk of fraudulent activity and the biggest risk of ads appearing next to inappropriate content.

Solve the problem with data

How do we solve marketers’ concerns over media quality within an open marketplace?
The answer to finding harmony between programmatic and good media quality is in data. Utilising impression-level data to inform the programmatic buy can help guarantee that only good-quality impressions are bid on, while ensuring that poor-quality impressions are ignored. But how is this done?

Key data can be taken from a webpage, such as information from the meta-tag that describes the images on the page. This data is recorded, collated and stored so that we understand the page content and can inform any potential buyer before they make the bid. For example, buyers can set their brand safety risk threshold from medium to very high risk to ensure that they avoid targeting inappropriate content such as violence, pornography or alcohol. This gives marketers security in the knowledge that there are protective measures in place.

We can also use historical data to monitor how many times the ads on each web page were viewed, and for how long. This data is used to predict future viewability, giving marketers the insight they need to help find ad environments with the highest percentage chance of being viewed.

Additionally, monitoring impression-level data can identify signals of fraudulent behaviour, such as fake browsers requesting impressions that will not be seen by humans. Having access to this detailed data means that when we see this suspicious activity we know not to serve an advert to this browser or website.

Through data segments integrated within DSPs we inform the buyer not to bid on these impressions. Programmatic buyers can use data segments to ensure that only quality impressions are bid upon, in turn improving their media quality.

The industry continues to increase its investment in programmatic advertising because it can deliver great results and help improve eCPMs, showing that the perceived benefits to the industry and to marketers outweigh the quality risks. This was highlighted in a recent eMarketer report that expects UK programmatic digital display ad spending to account for more than half (59%) of the UK display advertising market for the first time in 2016.

It is the responsibility of everyone in the digital industry to protect and nurture this investment in programmatic. We can achieve this by using media quality data alongside audience targeting data, ensuring that we find the best audience, and that this audience is able to consume the advertising message within an environment that is appropriate to the brand or service.

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