Thanks in large part to programmatic, advertisers have more ways than ever to reach consumers online, and to target their ads at scale.

But according to comScore, not all ads are created equal. Instead, ads that appear on premium sites are far more productive, particularly mid-funnel.

comScore came to this conclusion after looking at data from sites owned by publishers that are members of Digital Content Next (DCN), a trade organization that consists of brand publishers that have direct relationships with the consumers they serve, such as The New York Times and Condé Nast.

As detailed by comScore’s Andrew Lipsman…

One of the key findings from the research demonstrated that ads appearing on DCN premium publishers were significantly more effective in driving brand lift. While some of this effect was due to higher ad viewability on premium sites, the more significant driver was the halo effect of appearing on these sites. 

Overall, sites operated by DCN members delivered 67% higher average brand lift.

Mid-funnel, where favorability, consideration and intent to recommend are established, the lift was even more pronounced, with DCN publishers delivering three times the lift as their non-premium counterparts.

According to Lipsman, “This outsized mid-funnel performance is of particular significance for the large consumer brands that drive the majority of digital ad spending.

“These brands will tend to have already established high brand awareness and therefore prefer to focus more on influencing how consumers feel about the brand so that they are more likely to purchase that brand when they are in the market to do so.”

In addition to the “halo effect” of high-quality content, the outsize performance of ads on premium sites can partially be attributed to higher viewability rates (50% compared to 45%) and lower levels of illegitimate traffic.

Implications for programmatic

The rise of programmatic has been fueled, in part, by the notion that advertisers can more easily target audiences they want to reach at scale.

In many cases, programmatic also creates arbitrage opportunities for advertisers in which they can reach audiences similar in composition to those they would have to pay higher rates to reach if they purchased premium inventory.

comScore’s data, however, suggests that it’s not quite that simple.

Instead, there appears to be a relationship between the quality of the site on which ads appear and the lift advertisers can expect to see from those ads. In other words, performance is not just about audiences, it’s about where those audiences are reached. 

Should this change views about programmatic? Not necessarily. Audience-based media buying still makes sense, and just because ads on premium sites deliver higher lift doesn’t mean that premium inventory is uniquely capable of delivering healthy ROI.

Different campaigns have different goals, and even for those brand advertisers that highly value the kind of mid-funnel lift comScore observed, there is only so much premium inventory available.

But comScore’s research does suggest that advertisers would also be wise to consider looking for premium programmatic opportunities, such as those offered by private exchanges, to ensure that they’re tapping into the apparent advantages of premium inventory.

For more on programmatic, why not attend our Get With The Programmatic conference in London.