Note To Publishers: Not All Of Your Inventory Is ‘Premium’

brand-aware2“Brand Aware” is a column on the data-driven digital ad ecosystem from the marketer’s point of view. It is written by Bob Arnold, Director of Digital and Social Media at Kellogg Company.

One of my main responsibilities for Kellogg is to steward all of its digital media spend in North America, so a lot of media pitches and proposals end up on my desk.  In just about every one of these, a publisher claims to have “premium” inventory, backing up the claim with a multitude of reasons why they deserve this label. And why shouldn’t they?  After all, there is no universally accepted definition of “premium” inventory, and I’d argue that, like beauty, “premium” is in the eye of the beholder.

That said, as someone who invests heavily in programmatic buying, I want to share my perspective of what makes inventory “premium.”  Keep in mind that this is my perspective as a brand advertiser who does only a negligible amount of direct-response marketing.  So success equals driving top-of-mind brand awareness, purchasing intent-to-grow sales and building brand equity and affinity.

For me, the definition of premium inventory is “inventory that enables the highest probability to increase sales and long-term brand equity.”  That is a high-level definition, so here are the attributes that I feel do and don’t make ad inventory “premium.”

Any one of the following, alone, is not enough to make inventory premium:

1)      Viewability: Obviously, the ads need to be viewable. That said, having viewable inventory in and of itself is not enough, in my mind, to constitute “premium.” Viewability is a bottom-line expectation.

2)      Contextually Relevant: To be clear, I’m in no way saying that having contextually relevant inventory is a bad thing. In fact, purely intuitively, I think there’s significant value in context. That said, it’s very hard to define what is or is not contextually relevant, and even more difficult to measure its value.  How do I know (in a scalable and measureable way) that one publisher is more contextually relevant and, therefore, worth the extra cost? So while I do value contextual relevancy, in most cases – without a systemic measurement –  it’s hard for me to consider inventory “premium” just because the publisher says it’s more “contextually relevant.”

3)      100% Share Of Voice: 100% SOV (for a site or a section of a site) can be very beneficial in certain situations, e.g. during a competitive play when we need to squeeze out competition. But that’s a rare situation. Having 100% SOV means we have no ability to frequency cap and, after a certain point, impressions will begin to deliver diminishing returns. Assuming a CPM model, this leads to lower ROIs. That’s not “premium.”

What premium inventory is:

1)      Transparency: I want to better understand what drives advertising effectiveness, and to optimize our advertising based on what we’ve learned. While publishers want us to be successful so that we’ll continue to partner with them, few are willing to be transparent enough to truly help us get the data points we need to gain insight about – and optimize – our campaigns. I value transparency and reward it with sustained business as well as transparency into our results, in return, to help publishers improve and value their inventory.

2)      Targeting Data: Based on internal testing, we’ve found that using targeting data strongly enhances ROI; however, not all data is created equally.  For example, third-party data (while still valuable) is not a differentiator, but first-party publisher data that ties in closely with our consumer/shopper insights is.

3)      Innovation: Whether it’s a new ad format, targeting technique, or something else, we’re always looking out for something new to try – with two caveats. First, it needs to be scalable. When I find something valuable, my role requires me to drive to as many brands as possible. Second, it needs to be measurable. I’m an engineer by background and all my internships were in the Toyota Production System, where the mantra was “You can’t improve what you can’t measure.”  I think much of Kellogg’s success is due to our relentless analytics approach. We’re willing to invest our funds, time and expertise to measure exciting innovations.

In a hyper-changing world of media buying, where data and automation are becoming increasingly commonplace among brand marketers, I strongly believe that – to fulfill the promise of programmatic buying – advertisers and publishers need to come together and form true partnerships that benefit both sides. I hope I have provided some actionable insights here about what brand marketers are seeking, and that this creates opportunities to drive stronger partnerships going forward.

Follow Bob Arnold (@bobbyarnold) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. Thanks Bob. Interesting thoughts. Is it fair to say that rather than those three being the elements that total up to premium, they are three axes you prioritize consideration for (as opposed to others you called out) along which really any publisher can be slotted? Those inventory providers that fall on the perfect blend of the three are then identified as the biggest drivers of your business goals, hence ‘premium’.

    As an aside, I was a little surprised to see that for a marquee brand discussing what premium means, quality [of content] was not called out.

    Quality is one of the biggest and most important challenges in the programmatic space, especially when you start to discuss scale, so would like to understand how you generally think of that relative to the other dimensions.

    I suppose this is in the eye of the beholder as well.

    • Bob Arnold


      Thanks for your thoughts.

      The objective of my column is to bridge the gap of knowledge and understanding between advertisers and adtech. And “premium” inventory is huge grey area that seems to be tossed around quite a bit, so I thought it was important define “premium” from an advertiser’s standpoint. To you point, yes I define the factors “premium” as those variables that will drive my business further.

      Regarding “quality”, I agree with you, that it is in the eye of the beholder… for now. I think there are some interesting tools that are on the cusp of defining “quality”, “contextual relevancy”, etc, but we’re not quite there yet.

      Once things like quality, contextual relevancy, etc can be fed real-time into programmatic buying, I think it will open growth for brand marketers tremendously.


      • Hey Bob,

        Great article. Thanks for sharing.

        I love your idea’s around what “premium” really means. Just a quick note on your comment above, and from the panel you spoke on in Chicago a couple weeks ago…Data from companies like Peer39, Proximic, AdSafe etc. are already being fed in real-time, allowing bidders to make decisions based on their classification of content, brand safety, and page quality (in-view %).

        Have a good week.


  2. Bob, your points are spot on and from reading the article much of this is solved in the newer “Programmatic Direct” channel. Of course direct orders you place with publishers can offer control over these elements and deliver results, so I’m assuming most of the challenges you mention are related to the programmatic channels you invest in. The efficiencies of programmatic are highly attractive and as another channel Programmatic Direct provides a buyer access to price, real time avails, known ad position and 1st party data. As guaranteed orders these buys also have a higher priority in the publishers’ ad servers so the likelihood of getting access to the earliest user frequencies is high which should provide better brand performance metrics.

  3. Jonas Abney

    There is also the question of programmatic optimization of in-flight campaigns so that marketers get the best performance based on their KPIs and media outlets maximize revenue generation by managing inventory better. Ad ops and yield ops teams will always be necessary but they need better tools to be able to optimize at organizational scale, meaning optimizing for each campaign to the clients goals while maximizing the total value of their inventory, with minimal risk. Software providers can help in this respect.