Nearly 80 percent of ad buys today are made programmatically and spending on automated ad purchasing is expected to exceed $30 billion in 2017. It’s an appealing form of ad buying and campaign management that can have several benefits for marketers, including an ability to time when digital advertisements are placed, view information on the sites where ads will be placed before committing to a purchase and set up guidelines to stop campaigns that aren’t performing as expected. While there are many potentially wonderful things about programmatic advertising, trust is an equally important part of the equation for marketers.
Understandable Ad Fraud Concerns
In today’s big data world, there’s a lot of information marketers can access to see how advertising campaigns are performing. Even so, there are fraudsters out there who are just as adept at using technology to their advantage to deceive marketers looking to make smart ad buys. One common fraud method is to take control of multiple computers with automated programs that produce false stats by mimicking the actions you want real people to take when seeing your ads online.
These botnets are capable of generating millions of false impressions to encourage a flow of payments for placements. Actions like this cause buyers to have major trust issues, which makes some of them hesitant to fully take advantage of what programmatic ad buying has to offer. It’s understandable that marketers are concerned about programmatic ad buying, especially when you consider deceptive techniques that may also include:
• Non-viewable placements
• Placement online where there won’t be any actual conversions
• Ads placed on sites that are either irrelevant or not safe
Avoiding Potential Ad Placement Issues
It’s easy to see why the controversy over ad placement issues with programmatic ads on YouTube made some marketers hesitant about automated ad buying, so much so that AT&T and Verizon pulled their ads from platforms within Google’s ad network. And in early 2017, Google settled a class action involving ad buyers who claimed the company permitted AdWords ads to be placed on inactive websites. The problem with the placement of ads goes beyond a potential loss of revenue or a lack of meaningful leads.
Ads placed around questionable content can significantly damage a brand’s reputation. Such issues illustrate the importance of taking precautions with programmatic ad buying to avoid placement problems. For instance, bots tend to be more active at night since it’s assumed there is less supervision during later hours. So, avoid setting up automated placements at night, if possible. According to a survey on why marketers are sometimes hesitant to fully embrace programmatic buying, top concerns listed are:
• Website quality and brand safety concerns
• Viewability issues
• Ads targeting the wrong demographics
Gaining Better Control Over Inventory
With real-time bidding (RTB), inventory is purchased blindly. Marketers will only know the category of the site where the ad will appear. It’s the most common way to buy inventory programmatically, but it’s also a potential source of fraud since there is still some uncertainty involved with the process. On the other hand, fully automated open exchanges will give you access to a much larger audience, so there’s a tradeoff with this approach.
A private programmatic marketplace (PMP) is an invitation-only version of real-time bidding where only a select group of buyers are invited by publishers to bid. The appeal of this type of programmatic buying is that the inventory that’s purchased is transparent. It’s still an auction environment, but buyers will know exactly where the ad will be placed. The inventory itself can also be accessed before it’s made available on open exchanges. The advertiser must be approved, so there is some human intervention required.
Programmatic direct, however, doesn’t require human intervention. And it’s appealing because buyers have access to a guaranteed inventory. It’s an appealing form of programmatic ad buying because it allows for increased brand safety and better control over inventory. While RTB is the most common way to buy inventory, buys concerns with the risk of fraud may appreciate some of the benefits of other programmatic ad buying options.
100 Percent Viewability Isn’t Possible, But It Is Possible to Be Cautious
According to an assessment by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), 100 percent viewability isn’t possible because of the sheer volume of programmatic ad buying. Even so, steps can be taken by buyers to minimize the ad fraud risks associated with automated buying.
A lot of the risk with programmatic buying comes from the amount of separation you have with the companies you purchase from (they have hundreds and publishers and those publishers, in turn, have hundreds of publishers). So, minimize your risk by opting for partners who buy direct from the source as opposed to ones who buy from a source’s source (there’s less control over quality when this happens). Additional precautions that may also help minimize the potential for deception include:
• Asking your suppliers what steps they’re taking to minimize fraud risks
• Focus on placements that are actually producing results where human actions are required and ditch non-performing sites (bots aren’t able to make purchases or fill out forms to complete a conversion)
• Take advantage of third-party technologies to identify bots
• Look for unique identifiers with each click (time stamp and IP address) to look for discrepancies between platform data and the data you have available
• Exclude certain questionable sites from your list
• Access website-level data that includes conversions, impressions, click-through-rates, CPM rates, etc.
• Set schedules for your ads to avoid placement at hours when bot activity is highest
• Working with an agency that’s actively taking steps to minimize fraud issues