Impression Pools: A Stain On Our Industry

  • by , Featured Contributor, March 10, 2022

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that for the past nine months, Gannett’s apparently delivered ad campaigns on websites other than those its advertisers had been expecting, and didn’t provide transparency into that fact in its reporting. This was only discovered after a researcher did some digging into ad campaign log files.

Unfortunately, this happens all too often, particularly when digital publishers use impression pools to fill out the campaigns that they have sold and are delivering.

Impression pools are baskets of third-party inventory -- think long-tail ad networks -- added to campaigns to help fill out the delivery volume and bring down the overall campaign CPM, because they tend to be composed of very cheap inventory.

In impression pools, dodgy inventory is a feature, not a bug. Do I know that's what happened with No, I don’t. However, it provides great context to resurface this issue.



Do advertisers understand exactly when and how digital campaigns they buy are enhanced with third-party inventory? Most probably don’t -- and, as with so many similar issues in our industry, way too many advertisers don’t want to know.

I'm particularly worried about this issue because impression pools are already becoming a standard part of the connected TV ad world.

It’s logical that this has happened. CTV is a premium-priced ad channel that is very hot, and in which there's both considerable advertiser demand and lots of premium inventory scarcity.

Rather than patiently wait to grow inventory the old-fashioned way by investing in content, marketing and promotion, some take the shortcut of buying cheap impressions off exchanges and repackaging them in their campaigns.

Given the understaffing at many agencies and advertisers today, the maniacal focus on lowering CPMs, and the heavily fragmented distribution and delivery channels into CTV inventory, the sector is not only ripe for abuse: It's also hard to have real transparency into where all a campaign’s CTV impressions are coming from.

Just say no to impression pools. Please.


9 comments about "Impression Pools: A Stain On Our Industry".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 11, 2022 at 12:45 p.m.

    Agreed , Dave---and I would add, buy direct and monitor what you are getting---like in TV.

  2. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, March 11, 2022 at 2:26 p.m.

    Good point Ed. For sure, buying direct or buying with full transparency into inventory, and checking logs is critical. However, many direct publishers also bundle other inventory to fill out their inventory, so doing it direct without also having appropriate deal terms, transparency and log auditing isn't enough on its own.

  3. John Grono from GAP Research, March 11, 2022 at 6:35 p.m.

    Reach is the most important campaign metric (at this stage).   As 'Impression Pools' escalate, impressions becomes the enemy.

  4. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics, March 14, 2022 at 3:27 p.m.

    The lack of comment on this issue is so revealing. Even reputable outlets engage in this practice -- sometimes knowingly and sometimes in error.  The fraud detection vendors that buyers trust to detect this is apparently useless. Even those accredited by the MRC have failed the test.  Can this sort of thing really be worth it to advertisers?  Errors causing uproar in TV measurement are also serious, but pale in comparison for scale and scope.  The silence is deafening. 

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 14, 2022 at 7:49 p.m.

    Jack, most digital "advertisers"are small fry locals and regionals which don't have the staffing to deal with publishers direct or to police their buys. So they use computerized buying services and that's a major problem as many simply dont check where the ads are going.Also, about half of digital ad dollars are spent by search advertisers where  you pay only for legitimate clickthroughs. Fortunately, the major national branding TV advertisers have the kinds of agencies and internal media departments that are usually on top of this kind of situation and  they often take steps to minimize their presence in such "pools". I do agree, that it's a disgraceful situation that must eventually be dealt with by the sellers if they wish to continue to attract ad dollars as the buy side is gradually wising up. 

  6. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, March 14, 2022 at 7:57 p.m.

    Ed, I disagree. When publishers use impression pools to expand their inventory - and as Jack points out, many, many do - it is very hard to catch. These are large national brands. Look at the ones called out in the situation. They were big brands run by big agency buying teams. No one has the time and capacity to dig into all of the log data. None of them do it. This is a big problem, and as Jack points out, no one wants to talk about it because so many benefit from it.

  7. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics replied, March 14, 2022 at 8:30 p.m.

    Agree with Dave here. MRC accredited tools haven't found this stuff and the "big guys" use those so they can say the have accredited fraud detection. It's a much bigger problem than Nielsen's shortage during Covid and is clearly pretty common. It can't be impossible to automate examination of log files for misdirection. But then human intervention would be required to argue for make goods with plenty of embarrassment to go go around. Why should some solitary professor with virtually no resources be the one to discover USA Today's issue. Had he had access to more of these log files he would have found more. It is so much harder to demonstrate true value with the data is wrong. And even small advertisers have the right to be treated honestly. 

  8. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 14, 2022 at 8:32 p.m.

    Dave, if it has progressed to the point where the larger agencies are not monitoring what they buy ---or have bought for them ---on the internet then one must ask why their clients allow this as they---the clients---aren't being  well served . One reason may simply be cost---as doing the kind of checking you suggest would probably require a hike in buying fees  and many clients will resist such extra spending even if it helps them get more value for their ad dollars. Another factor may be the use of digital specialists for many digital media buys instead of fully integrating the planning and buying functions so everybody knows how all platforms work---not just "their" platform. Perhaps the digital specialists---or some of them, anyway--- are defending their "turf" by not speaking out---who knows?

  9. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics replied, March 14, 2022 at 9:44 p.m.

    Clients who believe they can do better bring their buying in house. There's been a lot of that. Can they do better?  Probably. Can they eliminate it, probably not, but they are the ones with incentive to do so. Agencies make and bill more at lower cost by ignoring or giving lip service to this. Publishers the same. 

Next story loading loading..