Keeping your brand safe online shouldn't mean hiding in a programmatic cave

24 Aug 2017  |  Attila Jakab 
Keeping your brand safe online shouldn't mean hiding in a programmatic cave

Infectious Media’s Attila Jakab looks at how brands can maintain their audiences while tackling the threats they face online

There's a fascinating yet fruitless game of throwing the baby out with the bathwater in the world of digital media right now.

Advertisers and agencies know that their top priority is to reduce the chances of online ads appearing next to extremist content or falling prey to ad fraud. But some have become so risk-averse, they’re struggling to reap the true value of programmatic advertising.

It's tempting to identify which types of domains are the common perpetrators. Our research, for example, unsurprisingly shows the highest rates of fraud happening on illegal download sites. However, whilst limiting campaigns to so-called 'whitelists' of acceptable media might allow advertisers and agencies to sleep at night, they are likely to be drastically reducing their return on investment.

As a company that puts programmatic at the heart of everything, we've considered how to avoid those media pitfalls while still keeping audiences as large as possible. In our new whitepaper, we’re asking advertisers to demand a whole new level of transparency from agencies. Trust is part of any working relationship, and you should feel comfortable challenging their approach to these risks.

The many-layered onion of fighting ad fraud

Ad fraud is constantly evolving as criminals develop new ways of faking audience figures. But whitelisting can in fact increase the risks of ad fraud; research repeatedly shows that bots and fraudsters target higher quality inventory, tempted by higher CPMs (cost per thousand) on offer.

It’s not enough to rely on just one system of protection anymore. Instead, work with partners that employ a variety of tools and methods, creating a multi-layered approach which can be customised to your individual needs.

For example, we recommend you use pre-bid filters as your first layer of defence, rather than post-bid. This prevents SSPs and exchanges from sending risky impressions to your DSP, stopping you bidding on them. Agencies should deploy as many filters as possible to ensure nothing slips through undetected, and should always seek out new options to adopt.

Your systems should also monitor non-human traffic - bots programmed to mimic users. While getting the right human expertise is vital, many tasks will require automated software which may come from a separate provider. Working with multiple partners creates more layers of security, minimising ad fraud before it ever affects your results.

Dive deep into the domain to ensure brand safety

Protecting a brand's ads from appearing next to offensive or dangerous content isn't easy. In a way, it’s a new version of an old problem - your print ad appearing next to a tragic story that couldn't have been anticipated when the ad was inserted. However, there are multiple ways to keep your brand safe without resorting to whitelisting, again, by establishing a multi-layered process.

For example, you might only buy from domains which provide full transparency about their audience and inventory; you’ll know exactly what they host and where your advert will appear.

This first vetting stage protects brands from the risk of adverse 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.

Finally, a firewall should be the final line of defence when it comes to brand safety. If any page bypasses the filters, the firewall blanks over any adverts there, ensuring they’re neither placed nor seen. Even though firewalling is a last resort, it helps capture problematic impressions before they’re ever served to an audience - yet another layer you can deploy.

Perfect viewability is a pipe dream

Viewability - asking how much of your ad users can actually see and for how long - has been a thorny issue for years. Some advertisers and agencies are demanding that they only pay for impressions that were viewed, calling for 100% campaign viewability. While it’s a commendable effort to improve media quality, this benchmark simply isn’t possible without hugely harming your performance.

However, we can still maximise viewability without jeopardising campaigns or reputation. Consider for example factoring it into 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 depending on each individual brand owner.

You can also tie viewability to user action and measure the ads which actually prompted conversions. Ignoring results from unviewed impressions will offer a more realistic overview of your campaign’s true value, focusing instead on incrementality.

By applying this approach to impressions and your overall return, you can understand exactly how your audience reacted to a specific creative.

Post-impression measurement is dead

While using the right technology and approach can improve the situation, we need to take a more fundamental approach to combat these issues. In the face of limited budgets and the demand for results, advertisers sometimes find that buying low-quality inventory pushes up their cost per action values, and this metric doesn’t reflect the real results of a campaign.

Post-impression measurement is a blunt instrument designed solely to measure on the basis of volume over value. Advertisers can easily buy cheap inventory to reach as many users as possible and claim credit for any conversions that would have occurred anyway. It’s outdated for the modern age, and advertisers should demand to know the true value of their campaigns.

This drive for incremental measurement also plays a role in the wider media quality debate. It incentivises media buyers to purchase the best quality inventory; they know which viewable impressions generate conversions, and can optimise their campaigns to purchase more.

What’s more, incrementality minimises ad fraud often associated with low-quality pages, creating better results for brands.

Business is a game of risk and reward, and programmatic can potentially unlock incredible value for advertisers. However, a lack of knowledge undermines this brilliance and hiding in a cave solves nothing.

While there’s no single fix out there, there is strength in numbers; collaborating with the right partners can help you manage the challenges without limiting your options to a small whitelist.


Attila Jakab is managing director of Infectious Media

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