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Programmatic advertising has a quality problem

June 27, 2023 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

In the ever-evolving world of programmatic advertising, marketers’ quest for transparency and efficiency is paramount. The 2023 ANA Programmatic Media Supply Chain Transparency Study found that marketers have major concerns about the quality of programmatic buying. The report identifies that approximately 15% of programmatic spending and 21% of impressions appear on low-quality made-for-advertising (MFA) websites. And while marketers include 4,500 MFA sites on exclusion lists, few provide inclusion lists of quality sites for their advertising campaigns.

The study also reveals that the main problem centers on accessing and analyzing data log files. In fact, only half of the 67 initial participating advertisers (52%) owned direct DSP data access through their contracts. For the remaining advertisers (48%), their access to DSP data was mediated through their agency’s DSP contracts.

As background, 67 ANA member companies agreed to participate, but 46 encountered legal issues or could not access their log data from DSPs, SSPs, and Ad Verification providers, effectively barring their participation.

The research identifies additional issues and recommends a more transparent and efficient open web programmatic marketplace. It is based on log-level analyses across $123 million in spending with 21 advertisers and 35 billion impressions and supplemented with 35 qualitative interviews with supply chain intermediaries.


The report observes several operational challenges in programmatic practices. It also offers corrective steps to get more value from the programmatic ecosystem.

Information asymmetry and waste

The study identifies information asymmetry as a significant roadblock to achieving transparency in the programmatic supply chain. Advertisers often lack crucial information about the quality of media inventory sold in auctions, leading to overpayment, inefficient decision-making, and wasteful media investments.

To address this issue, advertisers must demand access to comprehensive and reliable information about the media inventory they purchase.

Data access challenges

Despite the growing interest in data-driven marketing, many companies struggle to access log data from demand-side platforms (DSPs), supply-side platforms (SSPs), and ad verification providers. This lack of data access creates transparency issues, inefficiency, and wastage.

Advertisers should establish direct data access contracts with primary supply chain partners to maximize transparency and gain control over their media campaigns.

Misaligned incentives

The study reveals that advertisers often prioritize cost over value in purchasing programmatic media. Chasing cheap cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPMs) may seem attractive initially, but it often leads to downstream issues in ad quality.

Advertisers must balance cost and quality to avoid wasteful investments and focus on the value their media buys deliver.

Website overabundance

The study shows that campaigns utilized an average of 44,000 top-level domains, raising concerns about fraud, viewability, and brand safety.

Advertisers should streamline the number of websites used while ensuring fairness for small or minority-owned service providers. By reducing the number of websites, advertisers can concentrate on high-quality inventory and mitigate the risks associated with excessive website usage.

Low-quality made-for-advertising websites

The study highlights that low-quality made-for-advertising (MFA) websites, which are created simply to generate ad revenue through sensational headlines and subpar content, accounted for 21% of impressions.

Advertisers must evaluate the suitability of MFA inventory for their brands and consider their tolerance for including such sites in their campaigns. Striking a balance between reach and brand safety is crucial.

Sustainability concerns

Programmatic advertising has a notable environmental impact due to its energy-intensive nature.

Advertisers can contribute to sustainability efforts by making more productive and non-wasteful media buys. Certain website types, especially MFA sites, generate higher carbon emissions. Advertisers should prioritize sustainability in their media buying strategies and opt for environmentally conscious platforms and vendors.

Importance of log-level data (LLD) analysis

The study emphasizes that improved data matching and analysis can significantly reduce the “unknown delta,” which refers to unattributable ad spend.

Leveraging log-level data allows advertisers to achieve a zero-percent delta, gaining valuable insights into their ad spend and performance. Analyzing log-level data empowers advertisers to make data-driven decisions and optimize their media investments effectively.

Manage the supply chain

The ANA report emphasizes the importance of properly managing the programmatic supply chain. This enables advertisers to make informed decisions based on transparency and data-driven insights. Further, it allows advertisers to analyze ad impressions’ impact on consumers and evaluate the financial transaction between the publisher and the overall value delivered to the target audience. This way, advertisers can optimize their campaigns and publishers can improve the ad placements and enhance the overall effectiveness of the advertising.

Effective advertising is not simply a question of reach. While programmatic advertising allows for efficiency and scale, marketers must manage the supply chain in order to make the most of their investment.

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