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Buyer beware: Programmatic advertising report emphasizes the importance of brand safety

October 3, 2017 | By Tim Bourgeois, Partner—East Coast Catalyst @ChiefDigOfficer

For the past several years, marketers shifted digital ad budgets “gleefully to programmatic engines that promise efficiency and hands-off effectiveness.” These days, as much as 80% of all online display activity is transacted through technology-based exchanges that offer promises to “hyper-define, hyper-target and hyper-engage with minimal human monitoring.”

In retrospect, it all seemed to just a little bit too easy: superior targeting, engagement and trackingand all for lower costs. However, in response to significant concerns around fraud and brand safety, the advertising industry is taking a collective pause on programmatic.

That’s not to say programmatic won’t continue to play a meaningful role in the advertising ecosystem, but its flaws have been exposed. There is a dark underbelly associated with with programmatic advertising (see: the 2016 US president election and Facebook-fake news aftermath. So, today many big brands, experienced marketers, and agencies are in the process of carefully reevaluating their adtech-enabled digital media buying strategies.

During the summer of 2017, the CMO Council interviewed hundreds of brand leaders to gauge their thoughts about these issues and recently published Brand Protection From Digital Content Infection report.

Here are the key findings that media executives and marketers need to be thinking about:

 

Digital can be a dangerous place

“Buyer Beware” might be the best sign to hang outside of the digital advertising gates. Of the marketers engaged in programmatic advertising buying, more than half (52%) are focused on risk and reputation management across ads placed on social media sites. Marketers are also aware that issues like ad fraud plague brand safety.

Guilt by association

The overwhelming majority of marketers believe that inadvertent association or negative adjacency has had a direct (and negative) impact on their brand. Some 78% of respondents say that unintended associations with objectionable content, images, topics, audience or conversations have hurt their brand’s reputation.  

Reputation management problems lead to  lost dollars

Brand safety and integrity in advertising are not simply reputation issues anymore; they can directly impact the bottom line. When consumers were asked about their reaction to seeing the brands they love being associated with inappropriate or questionable content, the answer was clear: Customers will walk away with their wallets—even if it means walking away from their most beloved brands.

Marketers not waiting for industry solutions

Marketers are taking specific steps to ensure the integrity of digital ad placements and, by extension, the integrity of the customer’s experience. First and foremost, marketers are developing stronger digital advertising guidelines for agencies and buying networks to adhere to. And many are choosing to move to programmatic direct buys and private exchanges rather than having their programmatic dollars spread across open exchange networks.

Core recommendations focused on proactive governance & adjusted KPIs

Marketers are taking specific steps to ensure the integrity of digital ad placements and, by extension, the integrity of the customer’s experience. First and foremost, marketers are developing stronger digital advertising guidelines for agencies and buying networks to adhere to. And many are choosing to move to programmatic direct buys and private exchanges rather than having their programmatic dollars spread across open exchange networks.

The programmatic advertising train has left the station and there’s no risk of stopping it or even slowing it down in a meaningful way anytime soon. The actual and perceived benefits are simply too powerful. As well, with deep-pocketed and influential behemoths Google and Facebook so thoroughly dependent on the category’s health to grow and be successful, its likelihood of continuing as a force for years to come is practically guaranteed.

But it’s emerging from the shadows, and marketers are getting more sophisticated about how they assess its performance, and how they plan its role in broader strategies moving forward. While this trend should cause companies like Google and Facebook to at least pause, it’s hard to imagine how it doesn’t translate positively to both tightly controlled ad buying networks and premium publishing brands. At the end of the day, it is about targeting and engagement, where premium properties continue to hold sway.


Tim Bourgeois (@ChiefDigOfficer) is a partner at East Coast Catalyst, a Boston-based digital consulting company specializing in strategic roadmaps, digital media audits, and online marketing optimization programs.

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