The brand safety row shows marketers still need to get wise to programmatic

This week’s publicity about ad placement and brands being near inappropriate content is more than just a seven-day wonder.

Or at least it should be: what it shows is that the checks and balances that should exist in the marketing ecosystem aren’t working for digital. Marketers need to get wise and provide leadership and guidance.

In fact, programmatic has become a lightning rod for a host of digital advertising challenges. Notably transparency, highlighted by both the ANA in the US last year, P&G’s Marc Pritchard this year, and now, brand safety has come to the fore.

But the risks with programmatic can go well beyond ad placement. We’ve just published a white paper with comScore – Programmatic Advertising: The Impact on Brand and Delivery Metrics and What Advertisers Can Do to Maximise Returns – highlighting the gaps in performance between programmatic and direct buys.

One way to look at the current situation is to think about programmatic right now as a teenager, a bit stroppy and prone to unflattering behaviour – as well as being a bit reluctant to tidy up all its mess.

Some examples of mess include invalid traffic, bots and the like. In Q3 of 2016, according to comScore vCE data, invalid traffic accounted for 5.3% of programmatic indirect buys compared to 3.6% of direct display. On video, it was 10.7% of programmatic and just 4.6% of direct buys.

Viewability over the same period was also better on both display and video for direct buys. Video in-view hit just 53.7% for programmatic, but 72.6% for direct buys.

Invalid traffic and viewability should really be standard hygiene factors for any marketer investing in digital.

These are all red flags that should be encouraging marketers, the parents of this unruly child (ultimately they are the ones paying for its upbringing!) to take more of an interest in what programmatic is doing for their brand.

To date, very low expectations have been placed on programmatic – it’s pretty much considered to be a direct response medium. But programmatic is much more than just a click-generating channel. It can be used to build brand awareness and associations.

So marketers need to start to apply some solid measurement techniques to understand its true effectiveness and return on investment.

Delivering on upper funnel metrics such as awareness and understanding, means greater focus on three key areas:

  • Firstly, marketers need to be aware of the impact that programmatic has on their brand. Buys tend to include less premium content, and we know that placements in high-value publications result in stronger brand impact.
  • Secondly, they need to move to more strategic measures to truly understand the effectiveness that programmatic can deliver. Too many continue to rely on clicks and impressions rather than more strategic metrics to show impact on business results.
  • Thirdly, they need clear objectives for campaigns. Agencies can only follow instructions and make recommendations. Marketers need to have a view and make issue clear briefs that are appropriate for their brands.

Getting on the front foot means no longer treating programmatic as a shiny new toy – there’s too much money, and risk, involved now.

Marketers must ask the right questions of their agencies, publishers and technology partners. Some are now are hiring senior in-house media experts who have the knowledge and experience to determine the strategies and policies that their brands need to adopt. This is a sensible approach.

Once they get wise to programmatic, marketers will be in a position to reduce the risk to their brands and get the most out of their investment. Programmatic will then be able to reach a new level of maturity.

Jane Ostler is managing director of media and digital at Kantar Millward Brown

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Jane Ostler

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