Home Data-Driven Thinking Media Buying Doesn’t Have To Be A Mixed Bag

Media Buying Doesn’t Have To Be A Mixed Bag

Nico Ricci, Head of Data Science, Scope3

Growing up in rural southern Italy, town festivals honoring various saints or traditions were a recurring delight. My grandfather or uncle would always take me and, without fail, buy me a special bag of candy unique to these fairs. I enjoyed some of the sweets, but others weren’t to my taste, and I still recall tossing away perfectly good, uneaten pieces.

So why buy a mixed bag if part of it is going to become garbage?

This not-so-subtle analogy applies to media buying on the open web, where advertisers also sometimes buy a “mixed bag” without meaning to, wasting millions of dollars as a result. 

Ad quality issues are widespread, even on legitimate websites. Some publishers are misconfiguring their inventory, lowering their overall value and hurting advertiser performance. But today we can have much more control over what goes into the bag. 

The mixed bag of ad buying

The common practice of buying media at the domain level (i.e., the “bag”) subjects a media buyer to invest in junk they don’t want. Advertisers spend millions on a mix of high-performing and low-performing impressions. This junk inventory includes impressions on made-for-advertising (MFA) placements that are misconfigured or loaded in a way that is unlikely to ever be seen by a human. 

A media buyer might read this and think it doesn’t apply to them. “I don’t buy at the domain level. I bid on individual impressions.” That’s true. Based on many programmatic media buying rules like price, audience and context, media buyers decide whether or not to buy a specific impression. But not all of the layers of decision-making are as granular. 

The very first consideration is whether an impression is allowed or not. Brand safety and performance filters make that decision at the domain level, with block or allow lists that still let far too much garbage into the media buy. 

Consider Forbes, which operated a subdomain that went undetected for seven years simply because websites are evaluated at the domain level and not more deeply.

Time to get granular

It’s ironic that an industry so focused on log-level data for campaign performance measurement still uses blunt tactics to determine what media is acceptable at the beginning of the buying process. We need to update our de facto practices to encourage more granular analysis and decisioning around subdomains, pages or even individual placements (i.e., the pieces of candy in the bag).


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Sincera provides its customers with metadata that can be modeled for a number of purposes, including privacy and made for advertising. The company now exposes subdomain data that makes it possible for buyers to identify and avoid nefarious behavior one level deeper than by looking at domains.

Global Placement ID or GPID is another option that provides placement-level information from publishers to buyers through SSPs. Scope3’s latest research exposed that nearly a quarter of placements on the web’s top 7,000 sites either load out of view or refresh too frequently or both. But using GPIDs from publishers, it’s possible to assess when an ad loads improperly or refreshes too often. 

Evaluating websites at a granular level can also expose elements like the number of ads on a page, what percentage of a page is made up of ads, or the percentage of native ad content. (We found that for about 3% of sites, more than 70% of ads are native, which means there is often “endless scrolling” of sponsored content at the bottom of the page.) 

With more granularity, everyone wins

By evaluating every part of the site and making more surgical buying decisions, brands are conveying to publishers that quality matters. 

According to Jounce, there’s been a significant drop in MFA supply over the last nine months since the ANA released its report about how much media spend brands were wasting on it. And the change is benefiting everyone.

Feedback from our SSP partners shows publishers that eliminate low quality sub-domains and poorly configured placements see increases in CPMs. Meanwhile, their advertisers see increases in performance, which creates a positive feedback loop.

Advertisers’ focus on low CPMs and unrealistic scale is what fuels MFA. It’s also what keeps low-quality subdomains, pages and placements in play. 

If advertisers change their focus and assess media value at a more granular level, what used to create tension between these two ends of the supply chain should ultimately unite them, leaving publishers, advertisers and consumers better off. 

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

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