The debate around media quality means ad fraud, brand safety and viewability are at the top of advertisers’ minds. Whitelisting has been held up as the ultimate solution to reducing the risks — limiting ad spend to a small number of premium publishers and protecting brands from inappropriate content and fraud.
On the face of it, this makes perfect sense to reduce the risk of misplacement.
But while whitelisting has its place, taking it to extremes hurts the goals of digital campaigns. It’s a similar debate to that of globalization vs. protectionism policies. Should we open our doors to all inventory and let the dynamics of programmatic make the decision on what is valuable? Or should advertisers restrict buying to a handful of safe publishers, isolating themselves from the global opportunities on offer?
To remain confident while maintaining high audience volumes, advertisers need transparency from their partners to understand every aspect of their campaigns at every step of the process.
The defensive wall against ad fraud
First, advertisers must rely on their allies and work with media agencies that deploy a variety of tools and methods, creating a multi-layered and customized approach. For example, pre-bid filters, rather than post-bid, should be the first layer of defense to prevent Supply-Side Platforms (SSPs) and exchanges from sending risky impressions to your DSP.
Your strategy should also include monitoring for non-human/bot traffic, which may need to come from a separate provider. Using resources from multiple partners creates more layers of security, which can minimize ad fraud before it ever begins.
Picking apart brand safety one site at a time
Just as a bank isn’t protected by a single lock, multiple checks and balances minimize the risks to brand safety. For example, you might only buy from domains that provide full transparency about their audience and inventory. This protects brands from the risk of unsafe environments using the information you have up front.
However, a URL won’t always provide the full picture; page crawlers can scan each page and URL to determine whether there’s unsafe content ahead based on its context.
Firewalls should be utilized as the last line of defense. If any page bypasses the filters, the firewall blanks over any ads, ensuring they’re neither placed nor seen. This helps capture problematic impressions before they’re ever served to an audience.
Also, 100% viewability can’t guarantee top marks.
Finally, if you define viewability metrics from the start, you will have a better means of measurement for your campaign. Some advertisers are demanding 100% campaign viewability. While a commendable effort, this benchmark simply isn’t possible without hugely harming your performance.
However, you can still maximize viewability without jeopardizing campaigns if you factor in the way you measure CPMs – only count ad slots that match up to your defined acceptable level. The IAB defines an acceptable level as 50% of pixels on screen for at least one second, but the standard required will vary for each brand.
Or tie viewability to user action and measure the ads that produced conversions. By ignoring results from unviewed impressions, you can get a more realistic snapshot of your campaign’s true value, focusing instead on incrementality, and helping to understand exactly how your audience reacted to a specific creative.
Time to switch from impressions to incrementality
The right technology and multi-pronged approach is just the start of resolving this situation. We need to overhaul how measurement is defined. Post-impression measurement puts volume over value. One can easily buy cheap inventory to reach as many users as possible and claim credit for any conversions that would have occurred anyway.
But with incremental measurement, media buyers are incentivized to purchase the best quality inventory. They know which viewable impressions generate conversions, and can optimize their campaigns to purchase more. Incrementality minimizes ad fraud often associated with low-quality pages, creating better results for brands.
Programmatic is rightly touted as one of the most important trends in advertising over the last 20 years. However, our lack of understanding means we’re not reaping the full rewards. Advertisers need to find partners that can manage these challenges effectively so they can minimize risk without the draconian step of closing their borders.