Combating the digital waste
Fraud, bots and poor viewability rates mean around 60% of digital advertising budgets are being wasted, warns Niall Hogan, UK managing director of Integral Ad Science
For some time now, many people in media have been talking about ad fraud, viewability and brand safety in isolation, but that appears to be changing - is this something you're keen to push?
Yes. We need to stop talking about them in isolation, and start thinking about this issue in terms of overall media quality. If you look at it through only the prism of any one of the above, you miss a trick and leave yourself exposed.
For example, if you only look at fraud, you could end up serving impressions to humans that are never viewed or worse - that are viewed on inappropriate websites, or before inappropriate videos.
Likewise, if your sole focus is viewability, you may end up serving an ad that is in-view, but being served to a bot. That's no use to you. Worse still, the bot is programmed to interact with your ad in a way that an ad-server's algorithm will want to serve more ads to it - making the issue worse, as more and more impressions are wasted.
What about share of voice and competitive placements? Do brand advertisers want to be one of two or three ads on a page, or have their carefully crafted messages shouting out for attention on cluttered pages that look more akin to an old school classified page?
As we move down this path, we are starting to realise that there are many elements that need tackling if we are to improve media quality, and we are also starting to realise that many of these seemingly separate elects are interlinked.
Is there a hierarchy, in the client's eyes, to which one of these three issues is most important?
When we sit with advertisers and marketers, they are very quick to tell us that brand safety is the most important thing that they need to safeguard and protect their brand.
Things like fraud and viewability are important because this is about reducing wastage, and ultimately improving campaign efficiency. However, an ad being placed on an inappropriate site, like a pornographic site, or before an inappropriate video, like a beheading video, has the potential to do reputational damage to the advertiser. This is especially true in today's climate of social media, where one ad impression served to one person can be easily screen-shot and quickly shared hundreds of thousands of times at the click of a button.
Advertisers spend a lot of time, energy and resource ensuring that they are talking to the right people with the right message, it's important that the environment within which that is served online, complements the values that the brand or service represent.
Speaking from our experience, we'd argue that some parts of the industry have buried their heads in the sand over these issues, particularly ad fraud.
Here's the thing. A 50p fraudulent impression will work harder on your campaign buy, than a £10 impression on a quality publisher. Why? Because of the way the industry is set up to review and reward campaign performance.
Here's the thing. A 50p fraudulent impression will work harder on your campaign buy than a £10 impression on a quality publisher."
Last touch attribution is ultimately flawed, and while we are still set up to reward websites that showed the consumer the last ad, we will continue to have cheap ads that are served to bots or served and never viewed, that appear to be more effective than £10cpm impression on quality websites that were served to humans and in-view.
Unless we readdress attribution and how we reward campaign effectiveness, these issues will not go away.
Does - or should - any one part of the industry own these problems?
John Wanamaker once said that he knew that half of his advertising was wasted, but he didn't know which half. With digital display advertising, we now know that more than half of all paid impressions are wasted, and we know exactly which ones.
Ads appearing on inappropriate pages or video content, ads not viewed, and even ads served to bots and not humans, are contributing to approximately 60% waste within digital advertising budgets.
Who should own these problems? The simple answer feels like the seller. If I bought my weekly shopping online, and it turned up Saturday morning all perished or missing, I wouldn't be very happy and I would most likely be straight on the phone to Ocado to demand a replacement or my money back.
I think that we have an inherent belief that sellers are responsible for the products and services that they sell us, and should be responsible for the quality of product that is provided.
Who should own these problems? The simple answer feels like the seller, but digital advertising is complex."
However, digital advertising is more complex than just a buyer and seller, and there are now many different touch points as impressions pass from content owner to marketer - the site, Exchanges, SSPs, DSPs. Which one of these sellers is ultimately responsible for the impressions and guaranteeing quality?
Whilst we wait for that decision, marketers are still pouring their digital advertising budget away, so in the short-term at least, I think that it is right that marketers and their agents are taking on the responsibility for reducing the waste. Reducing wastage improves campaign efficiencies, and can you trust anyone else to do this important job for you?
What should the different parts of the media and ad industry be doing to limit the damage?
First, it's about understanding the risk. Advertisers, agencies and sellers of digital media need to educate themselves on the issues around attribution and media quality and ensure that they are doing everything they can to mitigate risks.
Sellers and agencies should ensure that they are using data from vendors within DSPs to inform and improve programmatic buys. These buys should be tracked and reported to optimise away from poorly performing sites and bad actors that are diverting digital revenue via fraudulent means. All of this information should inform future media buys and programmatic bids.
It feels like advertisers themselves have the most to lose, in revenue, and most to gain, with better performance, from seeing improvements in media quality. Advertisers need to create a quality baseline that is the bare minimum requirement for any future investment in digital advertising, this should ensure the brand is protected and ads are shown in an environment that complements; that advertisers only pay for ads targeted to humans; that the humans their ads target are in the right market or region; and finally that these qualified targets have the opportunity to engage with the advertising campaign.
If advertisers follow these baseline steps, they have the best chance of eliminating impressions that have no chance of telling their brand story or selling their products and services to consumers
Niall Hogan is UK managing director and strategic development EMEA, Integral Ad Science. With more than 16 years' experience in digital media, he represents Integral Ad Science across industry initiatives, including the IAB UK's Display Trading Council, the Viewability working group, JICWEBS' Anti-Fraud Commercial Working Group and across IAB Europe.
Interview by David Pidgeon.