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The future of media quality in digital advertising

By Tanzil Bukhari, Managing Director



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January 7, 2020 | 6 min read

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Research from Harris Poll and DoubleVerify earlier this year finds that the majority of consumers feel it is critically important that a brand advertises on content that is safe, accurate and trustworthy. In fact, nearly 90% of consumers feel that brands bear responsibility for ensuring their ads run beside content that is safe.


Digital advertising continues to evolve, but the core challenges around brand safety, fraud and viewability remain front and cen

This is no surprise. Issues like brand safety, fraud and viewability are top of mind for advertisers – and for good reason. Fraud has undercut campaigns across marketing channels, from desktop to mobile and social, and there are constant reports of brands running ads alongside fake or objectionable content. In fact, while desktop brand safety and fraud have improved, mobile app brand safety violations are on the rise.

The stakes are high. So, what does the future of media quality look like? What developments might impact strategies as marketers think about 2020?

Ad-driven internet under siege

The internet is under siege as a sustainable marketing platform. The ad-supported web has traditionally been based on a fair value exchange. Consumers access content like text, video and apps at no cost, in exchange for viewing brand promotions. For the paradigm to continue, online advertising must perform; yet technologies like ad blocking and new cookie policies have affected the value exchange, making it increasingly likely that paywalls and micropayments will gate content. Publishers and advertisers shoulder some of the blame given a glut of intrusive and annoying ad formats. For example, over 90% of consumers say ads are more intrusive today than they were just two years ago. But the ad industry is taking steps to promote higher quality ads and ad formats.

As the industry looks to improve the user experience, and brands work to protect themselves against negative situations across the expanding digital ecosystem, the opportunity to leverage the data from transparency around media quality to drive performance is massive.

Viewability is one of the primary metrics advertisers use to measure success. It is often seen as a proxy for performance. However, viewability represents a minimum standard of performance, meaning that the ad has the opportunity to be seen. There are more sophisticated metrics beyond this, such as how much real estate the ad takes up, if a user interacted with the ad, or indicators that a consumer is actually present. Measuring performance, therefore, starts with a baseline of quality - did an ad have the opportunity to be seen, by a real person, in a brand safe environment, in the correct location? If this baseline is met, new, more nuanced metrics will emerge as superior predictors of performance – including brand lift, propensity to buy and actual conversions.

Transparency in scalable media

That social media platforms are finally accepting independent, third-party verification and authentication of inventory quality, is one welcome trend. This greater transparency offers advertisers more measurement parity among different ad buys and a better view of the media supply chain across campaigns and platforms. The walled gardens will continue to improve in the coming year by providing greater access for third party measurement providers.

That being said, some of these platforms still have a long way to go. Many have started going in the right direction such as Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and Pinterest, but content consumption habits are constantly evolving, so we will need to continue to be vigilant about verification as users migrate to newer platforms like Reddit, Imgur and TikTok. Brands are expecting more of a data exchange between these platforms so they can better track performance across all channels.

Existing industry concerns still in CTV

According to TruOptik, OTT/CTV spending will reach more than $20bn next year – and, because of the quality of the content and a scarce supply, the inventory is sold at a premium, often at 10 times the standard for digital video inventory. The number of CTV and mobile apps identified as fraudulent is increasing because the channel is commanding more ad dollars.

Traditional TV measurement isn’t enough for digital advertisers who will demand greater transparency across the entire CTV landscape and adherence to the same standards around quality and performance as other digital channels.

Targeting 2.0: reaching consumers in a post-GDPR world

Regulations around consumer privacy and security like GDPR, now into its second year of implementation, restrict the data advertisers can collect and use for targeting, optimization and analysis. These restrictions have affected marketers’ ability to use advanced analytics, AI and machine learning.

As an alternative, advertisers could use contextual targeting at scale as a substitute for cookie-based targeting, since contextual targeting uses information about the content of the page, not bid or impression data. Marketers can go beyond broad contextual categories, using detailed semantic concepts, to get an understanding of where users are in the buying cycle while not requiring their personal data.

Brand reputation

Brand safety has material commercial implications for marketers and those at Fortune 500 companies, who believe that where they place ads, including the content surrounding those ads, can shape consumer attitudes about the brand. According to a Verizon Media study, almost 40% of consumers would have a negative perception of a brand that advertises near offensive content. Meanwhile, 29% said they feel more favorably toward brands they see advertising on sites they trust. 2020 will see a continued focus on brand reputation.

Digital advertising continues to evolve, but the core challenges around brand safety, fraud and viewability remain front and center. Fraudsters will continue to follow the money to new, lucrative channels, and regulatory action means advertisers, publishers and platforms will have to evolve their practices. The challenges are real. Still, digital advertising remains one of the most effective marketing channels available. To address its issues as an industry, we need to set a baseline, challenge the status quo and align digital activity to actual business outcomes.

To hear more predictions for 2020, attend our Predictions breakfast event on 21 Jan, register here.

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