Protecting Your Digital Media Buys

Luke Adkins, Programmatic Media Associate

Buying digital ad space isn’t difficult these days, or is it? With programmatic revolutionizing the landscape and new digital ad platforms popping up everywhere, marketers and brands now have the digital ad world at their fingertips and can immediately begin reaching their customers on any device, anywhere and anytime. The proliferation of digital advertising is exciting for a number of reasons, but we must remember that as attractive as digital media buys are right now, they still carry a considerable amount of risk and uncertainty.


There is now a lot of evidence out there suggesting that the ad spaces we are buying online do not actually receive the amount of impressions we are promised. Marketers have started talking a lot about the problem of “viewability,” and brands are becoming rightfully concerned. Currently the Media Ratings Council (MRC) has defined the standard for a billable ad impression as 50% of the desktop display ad being in view for at least one second, and 50% of an online video spot needs to be in view for two seconds.


You might be wondering if these definitions are good enough to accurately capture legitimate impressions - and you’re not alone. Publishers, agencies, and advertising standards organizations, like the MRC, have been debating for years on how a billable impression should be defined. Sherill Mane, the SVP of research, analytics and measurement at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, expressed her support for MRC’s definition and was quoted by AdWeek saying, “The standard is the standard. It was developed by agencies, advertisers, and publishers. It is supported by empirical data. Billions of impression were analyzed down to the millisecond by the MRC.”


Others disagree and think the loose standards contribute to inaccurate impression numbers and forces advertisers to pay for impressions that would never turn into a click or conversion. Many of the inherent problems with viewability come from how digital ad space is bought and sold. By using a cost-per-thousand (CPM) impressions pricing and bidding structure, there is a large incentive for ad sellers to inflate impression counts instead of basing it on actual performance. This translates to thousands of wasted media dollars and can exaggerate the effectiveness of a campaign, ultimately yielding a low ROI and making us all look bad.


The debate over media quality goes much deeper than just viewability. Advertisers are also concerned with brand safety, ad fraud, geo-compliance, ad collision, ad clutter, contextual relevance, professionalism, language ID, and device-type to name a few. Guaranteeing that an ad was viewed at the right time on the right screen within the right content in the right language and in the right location is becoming increasingly difficult. Not to mention trying to protect your ads from illegal bot traffic and other ad fraud like pixel stuffing and ad stacking.


To best address these issues, be sure to choose agencies and partners who are transparent. The industry has taken steps to improve brand safety and fraud, but as buyers we must still beware and know what to look for. We recommend doing your research on non-human traffic, unviewable ads, and how to get your ads to show only on sites that support an audience and content in line with your campaigns.


DWA is a global strategic partner with programmatic company DataXu, who provides a 97% Fraud Free Guarantee. If their fraud rate exceeds 3% during a monthly investment in their exchange media offerings, they will automatically provide a billing credit. The additional protection from DataXu comes at no cost because this shouldn’t be our clients problem. If you’re working with the right partners, issues of viewability start to diminish.


We also work with companies like Integral Ad Science (IAS), a media valuation platform that enables digital buyers and sellers to assess the value of every ad opportunity across multiple channels and screens. These companies help us identify poor quality ad spots, reduce bidding on fraudulent ad space, and on payments for false impressions.


As an agency committed to media quality assurance, we evaluate and leverage the best technology companies who are increasingly helping tackle the challenges of digital advertising, so that we can deliver the most effective media solutions and performance to our clients.