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Stop The Programmatic Blame Game


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

Today’s column is written by Tim Webster, co-founder and chief strategy officer at The Exchange Lab.

Advertising automation promises to give the advertising industry speed, efficiency and opportunities for precise audience targeting and messaging on a vast scale. Display first adopted automation, and now more than four in five US digital display ad dollars will be spent on programmatic advertising next year, totaling almost $46 billion.

Yet in spite of its success, the industry continues to blame quality issues, such as viewability, brand safety, ad fraud and transparency, almost solely on programmatic. Yes, some of these challenges are part of digital innovation and expansion, but not all are a direct result of programmatic. We need to stop singling out programmatic as the problem and continue to address the challenges faced by the digital advertising industry through further technological innovation.

Advertising issues are nothing new 

Viewability has always been an issue in advertising. No media owner could guarantee that a consumer wouldn’t flick past an ad in a magazine or that a TV viewer would sit through a commercial break rather than get up to make a cup of tea or fast-forward a pre-recorded show.

However, in other advertising mediums outside of digital where measuring viewability is more difficult, this inability to ensure eyeball retention is largely accepted.

Similarly, brand safety issues existed within the ad industry long before automation technologies arrived. From ill-advised ads placed alongside associated newspaper content to unfortunate billboard positioning, misplacements are an occurrence in most aspects of advertising.  While advancements in brand safety measures have come a long way in the last few years, there is still much work to be done.

It’s not all doom and gloom

It is important to remember that programmatic technology has inspired technological innovation to address some fundamental limitations of advertising.

For example, it has made possible the ability to use data to target audiences in a more granular way and at greater scale than ever before. It provides new opportunities to combat ad fraud using machine-learning algorithms that can detect and prevent suspicious activity on a huge scale. It enables previously impossible content verification processes, such as pre- and post-bid blocking and supporting user-defined whitelists and blacklists, which help advertisers execute campaigns in the most brand-safe environment possible for their specific objectives. What’s more, by driving increasingly accurate measurement, programmatic allows advertisers to determine the value and impact of a campaign in real time.


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So, while automation doesn’t end all fraudulent activity, it makes advancements in technology available to brands, providing them with new tools to mitigate fraud.

Transparency across the supply chain 

The complexity of automated advertising feeds the growing concern about the lack of transparency across the supply chain, from where budgets are being spent to campaign performance and where ads are displayed and to whom. However, this isn’t a new concern for the advertising industry either – it was the Wild West in the early days of ad networks.

Huge improvements have been made to improve transparency across the supply chain in collaboration, technology and best practices. Marketers must scrutinize how their budgets are spent and ultimately understand the value and effectiveness each link in the chain delivers.

Building a sustainable future for digital advertising

Instead of fixating on the problems, the industry should continue to push forward and focus on gaining a better understanding of omnichannel marketing and cross-device behavior. The data generated from these can improve our understanding of consumer buying patterns to drive campaign effectiveness and deliver a better user experience.

While automated advertising has created digital advertising issues, the technologies also provide unprecedented means of tackling problems and cleaning up the landscape. If the industry continues to work on those areas that need further improvement, and businesses understand the role they play in taking responsibility to build a safe, honest landscape, we’ll see innovation advance and an exciting future emerge.

Follow The Exchange Lab (@exchangelab) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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