Premium Publishers Must Address Programmatic Concerns Of Agencies, Marketers

jeremyrandolThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Jeremy Randol, vice president of programmatic sales strategy at Pandora.

Five years ago, programmatic buyers were in the driver’s seat, with access to an overabundance of cheap, programmatically accessible inventory. Cookies were all you needed, because cross-device audience targeting wasn’t on anyone’s mind yet. Executives from long-tail websites – which were arguably fraudulent – addressed sellout crowds at major industry events. In retrospect, the underbelly of Internet advertising was living high on the hog.

But a few years later, the accountability issue started creeping in. Marketers and agencies began to understand where their media was running and demanded more transparency. Terms such as fraud, viewability, bot traffic and audience verification became commonplace. Private exchange deals between big, premium publishers and marketers now had a leg to stand on.

Although programmatic life has become simpler, more complex questions are still emerging. Accountability has greatly improved, but marketers and agencies still fret about issues like brand safety, viewability and nonhuman traffic. This represents a prime opportunity for premium publishers to understand their concerns and how to fix them.

A More Transparent Landscape

Today’s programmatic market is in the midst of a migration to a more controlled and accountable environment. Premium publishers are increasingly building out teams to address programmatic, rather than punting inventory to managed service supply-side platforms or ad networks. If a publisher can provide a premium relevant environment, scale, viewable impressions, a valuable audience and relevant first-party data sets, there is now an opportunity to build meaningful one-to-one programmatic partnerships with major advertisers and agencies. These private exchange partnerships can address programmatic’s good things, such as efficiency and data targeting, while eliminating the bad ones, including fraud and nonviewable ads.

Yet marketers and agencies still have reservations about programmatic. They want different things, depending on the devices they run on and where they are trying to reach consumers within the purchase funnel. Metrics range from clicks to downloads and viewability to reach demographic segments. This leaves premium publishers well-positioned but also occasionally scratching their heads when answering the question of what marketers really want most from programmatic.

In a recent Undertone study, 40% of marketers and 43% of agencies said they are concerned about brand safety, while 27% percent of marketers and 29% of agencies worry about nonhuman traffic. Viewability troubles 22% of marketers and 24% of agencies.

These are legitimate concerns for any brand engaged in digital advertising, regardless of the vertical the companies fall under. Some marketers clearly have more concern in one area than another, but publishers that want to win in programmatic must understand not only what the concerns are, but also why they exist and how to address them.

Brand Safety And Nonhuman Traffic 

Programmatic doesn’t change the commitment that marketers have to reaching their end audience with the right message, in the right place and at the right time. Ensuring that they’re reaching consumers in the right context and across different devices means knowing precisely the inventory being used and as much about the end user as possible.

As consumer behavior shifts to mobile and in-app, there is a major need for programmatic targeting and attribution to follow. Advertisers with cross-screen data sets and publishers with scaled, persistently logged-in user bases can and should help lead the industry forward here. When a user is logged in, there is a pretty good chance they are human. 


Simply, I look at viewability as the core component of premium inventory. It’s fair to say that premium can mean different things to different people. But viewability, ad clutter, demographic reach and the content itself that a publisher represents are certainly good places to start in evaluating and defining what premium inventory means.

Legitimizing all of those metrics through third-party verification companies will help determine which publishers pop against “premium.”

Unique Ad Formats 

While this wasn’t identified in the research by Undertone, it’s another key question on marketers’ minds. This is a tricky one in programmatic because nonstandard formats took a back seat to data as ad tech built out the programmatic infrastructure. Slowly, that’s changing. Many publishers are actively looking at interesting (native) ad formats for programmatic execution and the necessary pipes to support them. Understanding where these interests are will determine wins in the industry.

In order to embrace the value that programmatic can deliver to marketers, such as efficiency and data portability, and then mitigate all the negative traits associated with programmatic, including fraud, bot traffic and bad data, it’s important for marketers and agencies to come together with thoughtful publishers in private exchange partnerships.

There’s a time and a place for open exchange programmatic buying or buying through ad network intermediaries, but with more large, data-rich publishers moving into the programmatic space, buyers and sellers now have an opportunity to build meaningful one-to-one relationships that leverage unique strengths. It’s time to bring accountability to programmatic.

Follow Pandora (@PandoraPulse) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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