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No more tunnel vision: see the whole picture of media quality

Integral Ad Science


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June 14, 2017 | 5 min read

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Does media quality always need to be top of mind? The short answer is yes. As we’ve seen every month so far in 2017, digital media is repeatedly tested by threats to its efficacy, and subsequently its reputation with advertisers and agencies.


No more tunnel vision: see the whole picture of media quality

In December, there was Methbot. The bot was estimated to be stealing USD$3m-$5m from digital advertisers every day. While the actual figure is likely closer to $500,000 per day, according to the Trustworthy Accountability Group, the immediate outcry highlights the fragile nature of advertisers’ trust in digital advertising.

In January, Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at P&G, raised a call-to-arms by describing the digital advertising supply chain as “murky at best, and fraudulent at worst”. The harsh assessment raised alarms throughout the industry.

In February, the Times of London and the Straits Times in Singapore ran front-page investigations into how programmatic advertising funded terrorist organizations whenever ads were placed near their content. This led major advertisers in the US and UK to pull their ad spending from YouTube. Even one of the ‘Big Five’ agencies took action, as Havas Digital suspended all UK investment on the platform.

In late March, Forrester published a report estimating the cost of non-viewable ads and fraudulent traffic to be as much as $7.4bn per year in the US alone – just across desktop and laptop usage.

Houston, we have a problem. And acknowledging it is only the first step.

We must act now, or media quality issues will continue to become front-page news. Brands will continue to be called out for appearing next to unsavory content, or for accidentally fueling fraudsters or illegal organizations.

Advertisers and agencies must look at the whole picture of media quality, a picture that is anything but one-dimensional. Too often, we see agencies fixated on viewability, when they need to take a more holistic approach.

For example, if a brand buys an ad placement that has 100% viewability, but it appears on a pornographic site or before a beheading video, is it of any use? No. Instead, it will damage the brand’s reputation by being associated with such poor or offensive content. The same is true of viewable ads that are served to a bot rather than a human. Bots do not buy products or services, so the advertiser has just wasted that impression – and their money.

The good news? If advertisers are vigilant about addressing media quality, estimates put that loss closer to $1bn.

In response to the Forrester report, Rob Norman, chief executive officer of GroupM Digital, said: “If all advertisers protect themselves, it is highly likely that the real economic wastage will be well below 2% for ALL digital advertising, giving a total real cost to advertisers of around $1bn. It may even be much less.” How can they do this? It’s “important to ensure that all protection tools are activated and that similar vigilance is conducted in markets outside the US where viewability measurement may be less widely deployed and counter-fraud measures less effective”.

Viewability alone will not answer the media quality question for advertisers. Brand safety, viewability and ad fraud all need to be dealt with at the same time if we’re to improve overall media quality in a meaningful way. And they must be dealt with across programmatic and publisher direct buys, as well as social media platforms. Facebook and YouTube have made large strides in recent months, now allowing third-party companies to track for brand safety, viewability and ad fraud. But there’s still more that can be improved.

Whether it’s display, mobile web, mobile in-app, video or social, advertisers have a ton of data available to help them make the right targeting decisions and improve their campaigns. For the risk-adverse, there’s also blocking technology that will stop ads from serving next to unwanted content. There are no excuses for advertisers. If they really want to deal with these issues, they have the tools.

The only way we’re going to solve this very real problem is if advertisers and their agencies look at media quality concerns holistically, using all of the tools at their disposal. It’s time to stop talking about media quality, and do something about it.

Niall Hogan, managing director, Southeast Asia Integral Ad Science.



Twitter: @integralads

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Integral Ad Science

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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