Oversight Needed for Network Buys

How can we bring some clarity to network buying? There are major issues associated with network buys that need attention. They stem from the tendency for media buyers who place them to not have any idea where their ads are running.

The biggest issue concerns support of Web sites that are at odds with the brand. You may have read about Kraft's recent actions in the wake of an incident where Kraft search ads appeared on a white supremacist Web site. Obviously, this is one of those cases where something slipped through the cracks, as the white supremacist Web site never should have been in the network in the first place. But situations like this do occur from time to time.

Similarly, advertisers who execute performance-based "blind buys" through online advertising networks can find that their ad dollars are supporting spyware, or appearing on niche sites that are inappropriate for the brand. In many cases, the advertiser may not even know where their ads are running until complaints come from consumers who spot the ads.



Many performance-based ad networks are hesitant to let media buyers know where their ads are running because they fear media buyers will approach their network affiliates directly and cut them out of the deal. I apply the term "affiliate" loosely here, because most networks do not have exclusive representation agreements and established rates with their affiliates. An affiliate may actually belong to several networks at one time, so as to maximize exposure to potential revenue opportunities.

The difficulty in all of this stems from the fact that blind pay-for-performance buys are often more efficient than CPM buys at generating traffic, leads and sales. Many advertisers consider the blind buy an acceptable risk for their brand, given the cost savings.

Personally, I've been struggling to wean clients off blind buying for quite some time now, but situations arise in which a client will absolutely insist on buying into them. In these cases, filtering out inappropriate media properties entails specifying broad categories of media environments that are considered inappropriate. The problem is, this often becomes difficult for the network to execute. Things still can slip through the cracks.

Much to my disappointment, blind buying is not likely to go away anytime soon. Perhaps there's an interim solution we could employ. While networks are hesitant to disclose affiliate relationships to the agency or advertiser, it's not likely that they'll have objections to making those disclosures to a neutral third party.

Perhaps what we need here is an audit business for network buying. Buyers could specify the types of environments that the advertiser is comfortable running with and the third-party audit firm could work with networks to ensure the buy is executed appropriately. The audit firm would be empowered to monitor media environments, but wouldn't need to know anything about costs or rate structures. This would address network fears and buyer concerns simultaneously.

As I mentioned before, I'd like to see blind buying go away entirely. But the economics of the situation just don't favor that. An audit business would make blind buying much less risky for advertisers. Perhaps it can be a short-term solution to the major problems that make agencies and advertisers skittish. Tell me what you think on the Spin Board.

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