The Performance Attribution Of 'Programmatic'

In my previous article, “The Problem with Programmatic,” I discussed the importance of adopting universal standards across the advertising value chain, in order to continue adding value to brands. Today, let’s take that one step further and discuss why certain attribution models wreak havoc on performance marketing campaigns.

Navigating Click-Through and View-Through Windows

We know that a consumer’s journey from ad exposure to conversion isn’t always a simple and linear event. Click-through and view-through windows have long been topics of debate in ad tech circles, as the length of the window between ad exposure and response can mean different results for attribution.

Consider the scenario when a travel credit card company programmatically runs an ad campaign at $5 CPM with 10 different vendors to directly lead to credit card approvals. The consumer is first exposed to the offer on a major magazine site. A few days later the consumer sees the same ad on a small, long-tail site and eventually acts on the offer. If multiple vendors deliver the ad, who should be credited for the conversion?



The issue becomes further complicated when the consumer is exposed to the same digital ad on a site after performing a Google search. If the conversion takes place here, should Google get the attribution as the last vehicle that delivered the ad to the customer?

Fortunately, sophisticated technology solutions provide insight into the full ad lifecycle to mitigate attribution errors. However, the debate continues over methodologies for assigning percentages of attribution credit accordingly.

Outsmarting the Attribution Model Gamers

Performance buying is another way that companies structure programmatic ad deals. Here, the same travel credit card advertiser pays a flat fee to meet a specific performance metric such as $300 for every new card issued. If the vendor negotiates a 25% split on a seven-day view-through or look-back window, then it can buy the cheapest travel-related inventory possible — often found in RTB — and get tens of millions of impressions for pennies, with the payoff of 25% every time a person fills out the application. The quality of inventory used to reach the set metric is not prioritized.

This is a game often played by marketers -- and with advertisers not concerned with which publishers are running their ads, the frequency, placement or many other details. Receiving the highest number of completed applications is the intended result. Without proper audience targeting, the quality of applicants ends up being forsaken for quantity, and the advertiser ultimately loses valuable engagement opportunities with qualified consumers.

Compounding this is the extraordinary level of sophistication that bots have achieved, including the ability to click on ads and fill out applications just as the human consumer would. Vendors that rely on performance models often use resources to write bot programs, including necessary data to properly fill out online forms and may even hire real people to complete the portions of forms that safeguard against bots. They go to such lengths because they are rewarded for their gaming efforts.

The power to stop this practice lies in the hands of brand marketers that have a vested interest in protecting their brands and generating quality results for their digital ad spend. Ultimately, the key for our industry is to rise above these issues and fight fraudulent attribution. Insisting on transparency and meaningful attribution practices will enable brand marketers and agencies to accurately evaluate their digital ad programs’ results while protecting their brands.

2 comments about "The Performance Attribution Of 'Programmatic'".
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  1. Gregory Calvert from eXelate, August 22, 2013 at 10:34 a.m.

    This article needs more attention, especially by the brands. The advertiser really needs to be involved with the campaign to understand the value of the traffic they are driving. In 2012, I ran a campaign for a major financial institution, whom you would think would be as sophisticated understanding their digital buys as they are with their business. The metrics they were using to judge the efficacy of the campaign, along with the way they were attributing credit was laughable. It took me two months to convince them to switch they way they evaluated the campaign. During this process, one of the biggest offenders of attribution gaming, was clearly the site retargeter. Site retargeting is a tactic that anyone can employ, it is not a stand alone business. I've run into this on many occasions...the site retargeter waits for other partners to drive new traffic to the site, then once that user is captured in the retargeting pool, they assault them with extremely cheap inventory always making sure they have "last touch." Anyone using a company that only offers site retargeting...needs to demand detailed reporting of the frequency and inventory cost. It will become clear if they are providing value or not.

  2. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff, August 22, 2013 at 11:31 a.m.

    Gregory, I agree. Brands are seriously challenged on this subject, and few marketing departments are well-organized for this. The number of tactics brand managers are asked to manage continues to multiply, but... staff does not. Each tactic is complex and changes rapidly. Last year's best practices are not always appropriate for this year's situation. Lastly, marketing management -- all the way up the line -- is still learning how to be intelligent consumers of data. There's a real need for client-side leaders who understand data, have a clear view of the company's goals and can boil the complexity down so that the company can take intelligent action. Marketing organizations will get there. But it will take time.

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