The number of brands placing ads programmatically dropped 17% in April compared to the same period last year. The reason? Brand safety.
Brands are more concerned than ever that their ads are being displayed next to offensive content. Things have escalated in light of the most recent YouTube scandal. As a result, some are beginning to shift programmatic spend. But is this the right move? How can agencies and brands better control quality? How can the industry improve?
Earlier this month, my company, MediaRadar, hosted a panel discussion around these questions and the future of programmatic. Panelists included top experts from GroupM, Vox Media, The Trade Desk, LinkedIn, and Sizmek.
Here are their thoughts.
Who’s to blame?
When asked who was at fault for the distrust within the programmatic supply chain, Joe Barone, Managing Partner, Brand Safety Americas for GroupM cited the system as a whole.
“I think it’s the programmatic supply chain,” Barone said. “Brand safety means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. One of the issues that’s very emotional for the client is brand equity associated with negative content. And it’s not even the biggest issue from a financial standpoint. There’s a lot of issues, which is why there are so many different ways to try to fix it.”
Similarly, Kathleen Comer, Vice President, Client Services at The Trade Desk, thinks it’s up to the industry as a whole to fix it. “I might focus less on blame and more on missed opportunity,” she said. “There are a lot of big-spending advertisers who are starting to reevaluate the transparency of our supply chain. And they’ve scrutinized us. To me, it’s all of our responsibility to fix it because that means there are budgets on the sidelines that haven’t been leveraged yet.”
How to fix it
The panelists also offered up solutions on how to make programmatic more transparent in the future. Mike Caprio, Chief Growth Officer at Sizmek, says that the company plans to deliver more transparency via one of the company’s recent acquisitions.
“We just made a recent acquisition of a company called Rocket Fuel,” said Mike. “And one of the big initiatives that we’re undertaking over the next couple of weeks is moving to a 100 percent transparent marketplace. For us, that means that we’re going to disclose every fee, every bit of inventory that’s blocking our platform, the viewability rates – everything that’s available. That’s the starting place where we can make sure buyers know what they’re getting from using our marketplace, by working with our supply partners to make sure everything is being disclosed, including fees.”
Matthew Hogg, Head of Programmatic at LinkedIn, believes it’s a complicated issue without a single solution. “With this kind of space, there’s no silver bullet. There’s no ‘hey, we’ve done this thing and it’s going to fix all of your transparency and trust needs and wants.’ But we’re trying to think very strategically. Big on our list of priorities is ads.txt, which I think is a step in the right direction.”
What still needs to be done
The discussion concluded with the panelists commenting on what they think still needs to be done. “I think the first thing that needs to be done is a behavior change,” said Ryan Pauley, VP, Revenue Operations & General Manager of Concert, Vox Media. “There’s enough technology and solutions today to make a real difference. Publishers need to make sure the inventory is viewable and leverage the ads.txt file. DSPs should do the same as trade desk. Marketers and clients need to assess the level of risk they’re willing to tolerate because they can manage it too. There are enough solutions in place that I think a few behavior changes can make a difference.”
Barone thinks that better attribution is the solution. “One of the biggest problems is that we give credit to things that never happen,” he said. “When this happens, you don’t even know what drove your business. If we could build better models and know what is working, it will be a huge benefit. Better attribution is a big part of the answer.”
At the end of the day, programmatic buyers are demanding a more transparent and brand-safe environment than ever. And while there’s no single, clear-cut solution, the industry will keep taking measures to mitigate the problem.