In 2016, 73% of advertisers' total display budgets were spent on programmatic. And for good reason: programmatic ad buying gives advertisers the ability to target specific audiences wherever they go across the web.

But some advertisers are becoming more selective about where they'll target consumers using programmatic platforms.

For example, according to MasterCard CMO Raja Rajamannar, "we don't want to be anywhere and everywhere."

He explained to AdWeek, "We stick to reputed sites. We don’t just go into programmatic and give a price point and buy everywhere. We have a whitelist so we said, ‘We want to [only] be on these sites,’ which really helps with mitigating if not eliminating ad fraud."

As a result, Rajamannar says that ad fraud is a minor problem for the financial services giant.

The virtues of whitelists and blacklists

MasterCard's programmatic pickiness highlights the value of using whitelists and blacklists.

While extensive use of these lists would appear to be at odds with the promise of programmatic – the ability to target audiences instead of properties – the reality is that it's increasingly difficult for advertisers to take a hands-off, anywhere and everywhere approach to ad buys.

That kind of approach exposes advertisers to ad fraud, and leaves their ads vulnerable to placement on low-quality sites that have been created to exploit the complex digital advertising ecosystem.

These low-quality sites include fake news operations, which have come under scrutiny following claims that they may have impacted the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The Times of London recently brought attention to brand safety in programmatic

Of course, putting whitelists and blacklists to use requires extra work on the part of advertisers, and isn't without its challenges. Advertisers using whitelists can find that their programmatic campaigns are less effective if the universe of properties they have whitelisted is too small, while those using blacklists can find that keeping up with bad actors is incredibly difficult.

Does the future belong to private exchanges?

Given the challenges, it shouldn't come as a surprise that private exchanges are on the rise.

According to a recent survey conducted by the World Federation of Advertisers, more than two-thirds of respondents are investing more dollars into private exchanges.

And soon, advertisers will have even more options for buying high-quality inventory in programmatic fashion as premium publishers, which comScore says can deliver greater brand lift than their non-premium counterparts, are banding together to form programmatic cooperatives like TrustX.

As the amount of inventory private exchanges and cooperatives like TrustX make available grows, it should become easier for advertisers to use programmatic to be anywhere and everywhere worth being without many of the headaches they currently face.

For Econsultancy subscribers:

Patricio Robles

Published 28 February, 2017 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (1)


Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

Interesting article Patricio.

While the MasterCard approach that Raja mentions is definitely an improvement on simply running programmatic activity blind, however it only tackles one element of the problem. Fundamentally Online Display (as the problems existed long before data driven decisions or real time bidding came into play) has always fallen down in a host of areas as that's just one. The main ones I would flag include:

* Domains / Websites - Both in terms of the risk of ad fraud and in terms of relevance of the content for an advertiser to be associated with. While a whitelist, tackles the first of these, it still doesn’t ensure that the advertiser avoids appearing against inappropriate content as demonstrated by the recent revelations of large advertisers funding terrorism etc. and more still needs to be done here

* Placements / Visibility - Even on websites that most advertisers would deem as reputed, there is a need for the placements to be visible. This comes down to both the ad showing for long enough on the screen and for the ad to actually be eye catching enough (in part down to the creative but increasingly also a result of the context vs. the main content of the page).

* Scale - While the concept of Programmatic is good, the theory falls down as soon as advertisers look for scale. As a result, data platforms and data suppliers create large pools of people loosely connected to a theme and Programmatic solutions encourage ‘lookalike’ targeting to add further reach when unfortunately, all this means is that the advertising is less and less relevant to the end user

The difficulty we hit however is that with each of these is that the appetite isn't really there from the majority of the agencies / suppliers to solve them as it conflicts with their main purpose, to make money. As a result, instead they offer tiny improvements in performance while happily whiling away advertisers budgets…

over 1 year ago

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