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Is programmatic cleaning up its act?

Integral Ad Science


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March 8, 2017 | 6 min read

According to a recent eMarketer report, digital ads traded programmatically will soon account for 70% of all UK digital display ad spending, and by the end of 2017 this will rise to over 75% of spend. These figures are proof of the exponential growth of programmatic advertising. Amongst this rapid rise to success, much has been said on the quality of the media being traded through programmatic channels. Has the quality of programmatic advertising also experienced exponential improvement?

Programmatic advertising has come a long way since the initial perception of simply providing scale relatively cheaply in order for brands to advertise to their target market. Today, programmatic is viewed as one of the most effective and efficient ways for advertisers to reach their target consumers. Programmatic has made the adage of one-to-one marketing possible,rather than a scattergun approach to buying up space on a website, in the hope that the target audience is reading. Thanks to the proliferation of data points, we have become data-driven in our targeting within digital advertising. Surely this is the best improvement to advertising quality our industry and consumers could have hoped for?

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Integral Ad Science

Is programmatic cleaning up its act?

As the digital advertising industry as a whole has begun to take more notice of programmatic and express concern around the quality of digital media, programmatic has come into the firing line. There has long been the perception that inventory traded programmatically was of low quality – a solution for publishers to package up and sell remnant inventory. Programmatic offered no guarantee that ads were being seen or even served to real consumers.

Fast forward to 2017 and although programmatic inventory isn’t perfect, as is no method of trading inventory, programmatic advertising has made real inroads towards trading on inventory that is free of fraud, brand safe and viewable. Due to this, we have seen a huge increase in the levels of trust around programmatic over the last two years, as brands and agencies learn more about the channel, how it works and how to apply it to achieve the best results.

Today programmatic is no longer seen as a term associated with remnant publisher inventory, these preconceived notions are being shattered, and this is largely due to programmatic direct and predictive verification data being applied to target away from low-quality inventory. Programmatic direct provides more control over ad buys and guarantees those buys will deliver on agreed-upon premium inventory.

Many programmatic technology providers have learned that in order to stay ahead of the game and ensure greater trust and transparency into programmatic, they must work with third party verification companies to help protect brands online. Data from last year’s Integral Ad Science H1 2016 Media Quality Report shows that the gap in quality – levels of brand risk, ad fraud and viewability – between inventory sourced via publishers direct and that sourced via programmatic channels is narrowing.

In the report when IAS compared display ad impressions purchased through programmatic channels, versus directly with a publisher, viewability rates were found to be 57% and 62% respectively.

The risk of ad fraud impacting impressions was seen to be 3.2% for programmatic inventory and 2.6% for direct. And the risk of appearing on inappropriate content, the brand safety risk, came in at 8% for programmatic and 6.8% for direct. It was also seen that the category of content that caused the posed the highest risk was violence, with the majority of risky impressions being flagged for violence when trading through programmatic channels, (34.4%). In comparison, in publisher direct deals the category of content that posed most risk was offensive language (40.25%).

Whilst publisher direct results still fare better than programmatic in the findings from the IAS report, it is promising to see that over time, a trend is appearing showing that the gap between publisher and programmatic inventory quality is narrowing.

Programmatic trading is definitely taking the right steps and measures towards cleaning up its inventory. If programmatic continues to work towards providing, viewable, fraud free and brand safe inventory then hopefully in the future we will see programmatic trading providing the same level of media quality that we expect to see from publisher direct inventory.

In this next stage of the programmatic lifecycle, I expect there will be more intelligent data-driven targeting that will result in increased precision and more informed media buying. This will encourage advertisers to develop more personalised content that communicates one-to-one with target consumers. Alongside this, advertisers and programmatic providers will increasingly work with verification partners that are data-agnostic – allowing them to easily apply third party verification data to ensure that the programmatic industry continues to clean up its act.

Lee Moulding, Business Development Manager, Integral Ad Science



Twitter: @integralads

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Integral Ad Science (IAS) is a global leader in digital media quality. IAS makes every impression count, ensuring that ads are viewable by real people, in safe and suitable environments, activating contextual targeting, and driving supply path optimization. Our mission is to be the global benchmark for trust and transparency in digital media quality for the world’s leading brands, publishers, and platforms. We do this through data-driven technologies with actionable real-time signals and insight. Founded in 2009 and headquartered in New York, IAS works with thousands of top advertisers and premium publishers worldwide. For more information, visit

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