Get MMi's Media Watchdog delivered to your inbox.

Are you suffering from information overload with your Digital advertising plans?  Does the number of metrics, research providers, ad exchanges and agency departments make your head spin?  Do those LUMAScapes and industry news articles about fraud keep you up at night as you allocate more and more of your marketing budget to Digital?  Yep, me too.

Here has been the challenge of the past decade:  measurement and accountability have not kept pace with consumer behavior.  Sure, Millennials are cord-cutters and everyone is on Facebook.  But to move precious advertising media dollars there, don’t you need to know that you are getting what you pay for?  How do you even define that, when you have data for digital media that spans everything from media property transaction currency all the way down to your own conversion or sales KPIs?

Our accountability reviews of digital display ad campaigns over the past several years have revealed a relatively short list of vendor transactional metrics that can be managed to improve performance (regardless of how campaign success is quantified down-funnel).  These are areas that can be negotiated, defined, and credited with your partner media properties and exchanges that can have an impact on conversions and efficiencies.Here are the top questions you should be asking of your Digital advertising managers and agencies,  and some recommended action plans to protect your Digital display investments.

1.  What is our % In-View? (How do we know this, and how are we working to improve it?)

Appropriate Answer:

  • 48% or higher (40%+ for programmatic, 60%+ for premium direct). These are based on industry averages for first quarter, 2016.  Video viewability is lower, averaging 41%.
  • The number is based on third-party measurement such as comScore, Integral Ad Science (IAS), or MOAT, for your individual campaigns. (Not vendor self-reporting, not agency guess, not industry average

Definitions & Considerations:

  • Viewability is the measure of whether your ad rendered in front of a human. (Yes, this is really a question!)  The official Interactive Ad Bureau (IAB) definition for a viewable impression is that 50% or more of the ad’s pixels were on the visible part of the screen for 1 second or more.  This does not require your ad to render fully or that it stays there for longer than a second!
  • The IAB target for Viewability is 70%. This is an agreed goal of the industry group, but is currently hotly debated and negotiated.  It is not yet common to see this standard documented in vendor contracts as the basis for invoicing.
  • The MMi norm for first-time viewability evaluation is below the industry average, and this is among advertisers who are pre-disposed to accountability. This is a huge opportunity area.  MMi also sees ongoing clients achieving in the 45-55% range.
  • “What? Half of my impressions have no opportunity to be viewed and I have to pay for them anyway?”  This concept was more life-changing for me than realizing 10% of local TV ratings purchased could fall off the truck with no advertiser recourse, and that (at least) is due to statistical reliability of the only available measurement.
  • In fairness to both publishers and advertisers, the technology to measure this has been accepted for only two years, and only more recently widely used. In addition, “viewable CPMs” often bring budget sticker-shock to the buy-side that must be managed.

What You Can Do:

  • Add Viewability language to T&Cs. The standards and thresholds to include will be part of the negotiation, but the metric should be addressed and elevated on an ongoing basis as much as possible
  • Require third-party viewability research be deployed with every campaign. (Don’t kid yourself:  the added cost should be more than offset with minimized waste.)
  • Within ad exchanges and ad networks, require domain-level transparency in order to blacklist under-performing sites as an optimization tactic regardless of your vendor invoicing terms.
  • Above all, understand your viewable CPM and how it varies by site and placement. If a vendor or placement with lower viewability has a disproportionately lower CPM relative to other options, it may still be worthwhile for some advertisers.

2.  How are we monitoring and preventing fraud in our digital display ad initiatives?

Appropriate Answer:

  • We deploy third-party measurement to monitor non-human traffic.
  • We require vendor transparency on sourced traffic and limit our exposure via Buying Guideline maximums.

Definitions & Considerations:

  • The ANA and White Ops Report “2015 Bot Baseline Fraud in Digital Advertising” estimated $7.2 million in global advertiser losses for 2016. Don’t let your media budgets bankroll these malicious operators.
  • The ANA/White Ops study found 11% fraud overall for display advertising.
  • The current MMi norm for Bot activity is around 5% (among actively monitoring clients).
  • Not all Bots are bad – but you don’t need to pay for them. “Good” web crawlers help companies like Google “index” the web.  Note these good bots represent only 0.1% of total traffic.
  • Sourced audiences are a means by which publishers obtain third-party traffic to fulfill an advertiser’s order. If their own content doesn’t generate sufficient visitor volume to meet audience delivery requirements, they pay another entity to increase traffic or construct lookalikes.  This is also sometimes called “audience extension.”  Though not fraudulent in itself, this practice lacks transparency and also has higher likelihood to include fraud – 52% per the ANA/White Ops study.
  • Video, particularly programmatic, and high CPM buys are more at risk according to the ANA/White Ops study (based on higher profitability for fraudsters) as well as a comScore Custom Analytics study that indicated the factor of sophisticated fraud for programmatic video was 4.5 times higher than for direct video.

What You Can Do:

  • Add non-human traffic and fraud-prevention language to T&Cs that requires credits for any identified.
  • Assure that non-human traffic is being tracked and measured across your activity.
  • Limit or avoid sourced inventory.
  • Use caution when planning high impressions levels which may require lower quality traffic in order to be fulfilled.

3.  Are we running only on sites and near content that is safe for our brand

Appropriate Answer:

  • We deploy blocking for all of our digital display ad initiatives based on specific blacklists of restricted domains that has been created over time based on prior findings as well as available indexes.
  • We deploy blocking based on specific blacklists of keyword phrases that has been created to avoid ads appearing next to problematic content for our brand.

Definitions & Considerations:

  • Unlike a TV commercial or magazine spread, Digital ads aren’t easily found. How do you know where you are running?  A vendor sample site list isn’t going to show a comprehensive distribution list to you ahead of time.  Without a third-party tool that provides domain-level reporting, you may not even see this detail after it occurs.
  • Brand safety monitoring and blocking is only as good as the specifications a buyer inputs. The IAB has a list of domain categories that can be reviewed and shared with vendors for restrictions (these categories translate to 142 classifications in MMi system).
  • MMi norms for a broad definition of “Brand Risk” activity is 10% if no controls are in place.
  • The IAB publishes standard definitions for Illegal, Non-Standard, and Unmoderated Content.
  • Not all research providers include a scan of page content for brand safety in addition to domain type. Maybe you are an airline.  com is probably a good site for your target audience and on your whitelist, but you don’t want to pay for an ad to run next to a story on an airline crash, do you?  Less harmful but just as unproductive is an ad for a hamburger chain on a vegan website.

What You Can Do:

  • Ensure you regularly review and update your whitelists and blacklists with your buying team and vendors.
  • Add language to T&Cs that requires credits for any impressions appearing on blacklisted domains or adjacent to defined negative content.

4.  Are we running only in the geography we wanted and being responsible with local budgets?

Appropriate Answer:

  • We make specific placements with vendors who assure geographic targeting
  • We use third-party monitoring that identifies impression distribution by market.

Definitions & Considerations:

  • It is typical to generate impressions and clicks outside the U.S. Whether fraudulent or not, this activity can deplete budgets intended for local customers.
  • MMi norms for impressions outside U.S. is 10% on monitored campaigns.
  • A recent case study for a local franchise operation showed 13% impressions appeared outside booked geography.
  • If this criterion is important to you or your stakeholders, make sure a research tool is deployed that provides reporting on a market level. Also, be aware that there may be limitations on classifying every last impression by market, and decide how those “non-validated” impressions will be handled.

What You Can Do:

  • Add language to T&Cs that requires credits for any impressions appearing outside purchased markets.

As some popular programs profess, awareness is the first step.  Don’t be scared of the answers – despite how scary the industry norms may sound.  Ask, validate, adjust, repeat.  It’s a simple process that will let you improve productivity of your digital ad dollars based on transactional metrics.  And surely show results downstream however those are measured.

If you found this post informative, you might also like “5 Things You Didn't Know About Your Local Cable Ad Buys”.

Better yet, subscribe to receive Media Watchdog updates in your inbox.