Modern Marketing Ad Spend Adtech

Agencies and brands still can’t agree who polices programmatic media quality


By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

November 17, 2021 | 6 min read

Despite the pandemic, overall spend via programmatic has been relatively stable and programmatic video spend has seen some growth. But recent research from Integral Ad Science (IAS) finds that agencies and clients still can’t agree on the brand safety risks programmatic offers.

IAB Europe found that over half of advertisers are using programmatic primarily to access premium inventory at scale, though there are issues around transparency. Its Attitudes To Programmatic Advertising Report found that: “In 2020, the top barrier among advertisers to investing in programmatic advertising was supply chain transparency, with 60% citing this.

“However, in 2021 this dropped by more than 50% to just 25% of advertisers, suggesting that the industry is making significant paths to enhancing transparency on the buy-side.”

Arm wrestle

Agencies vs. clients in the battle for programmatic media quality control

Those findings are backed up by a new report from IAS, which examines the issues surrounding programmatic buying and selling. It found that social video (71%), mobile web video (61%) and mobile app video (60%) formats are bought programmatically most often, while emerging formats including CTV (38%) and Digital Audio (37%) show there’s still room for growth.

Crucially, the research found there is often a gap in the levels of understanding and concern between brands and agencies around some of the issues.

The report states that 54% of advertisers state that maximizing audience reach and scale remains the primary benefit – with ease of buying at scale the key driver of spend. However, they also believe that a lack of transparency in programmatic (42%) is a top challenge, along with increased ad fraud (44%) and brand risk (46%).

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Divisions over brand safety

In some cases, brands and agencies don’t see eye to eye; nearly 1.5x more agency experts are concerned about increased ad fraud in programmatic than brands. Over half of agencies say programmatic technology “elevates the risk of encountering ad fraud in digital campaigns, while only 36% of brands share that perspective.” It presents a challenge to cleaning up the space, as the majority of brands do not consider there to be much if any impetus to drive that change.

A further division can be found in attitudes to monitoring media quality, where both brands and agencies believe they should be taking the lead. Nearly six in 10 brands see themselves as responsible for media quality monitoring while, by contrast, nearly four in 10 agencies say media quality is theirs to monitor, with only one-third believing it is the role of the brand.

Despite those issues, ad buyers are still allocating the majority of their media budgets to programmatic advertising, with 80% of respondents saying that roughly one-third or more of their advertising budgets are transacted programmatically.

As a result supply path optimization – which mitigates the issues from allowing multiple programmatic routes to the same inventory – is a major point of interest among marketers. 36% of ad buyers say maximizing supply path efficiency will be a top programmatic advertising priority in the next 12 months, with only improving consumer engagement (37%) and increasing viewability (40%) seen as being more important.

Consequently just under half (44%) of relevant agencies are looking to increase spending around supply path optimization in the next year.

However – as you might expect by now – brands and agencies differ on who they believe should be responsible for that optimization. Brands primarily believe that they should take on the task, while more agencies than brands believe agencies should be responsible.

Tony Marlow, chief marketing officer of IAS, said: “This report showcases that a fundamental shift is under way toward quality path optimization. Rather than simply focusing on low-cost ad inventory within programmatic environments, marketers are carefully deploying SPO strategies to seek high-quality media underpinned by efficient investments.”

While programmatic is a regularly-used tool for brands then, there are still a number of ways in which the process can be improved. Happily for the industry it appears that the majority of marketers on the buy-side – from the agencies to the brands they work for – are taking the initiative to remove some obstacles from the optimization process.

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