The issue of poor advertising placement has hit the headlines recently. But it’s important to remember that blind network advertising and blind chain buying are not the same, writes Phil Coote.

Blind network advertising involves the agency or advertiser buying from a network without full knowledge of which sites their campaigns will run on.

This is the only necessary ‘blind’ part and this does not always mean that the network itself is not aware of where the campaigns will be placed.

Many networks are fully aware of which sites are within their network and often have full control of the placements of ads within the sites themselves.

It is well within the ability of most networks to ensure accurate campaign placement and monitor publisher content.

By being in control, the network can offer the agency or advertiser levels of guarantee regarding inventory quality.

Blind chain buying, by comparison, is where a network buys inventory blind from another network or through an exchange, creating a blind chain.

In this process, the chain may be three, four or more networks deep; all of which are buying cheaper and cheaper inventory so they can make a profit.

In theory, this is a perfectly viable and cost effective option if all networks in the chain can guarantee the quality of their inventory – if the inventory produces the desired results then what’s the harm?

However, in reality, the primary network – that is the network with whom the agency made the initial purchase – loses considerable or complete control over the placement and quality of inventory bought.

Each network or exchange in the chain can accidentally, or otherwise, purchase cheap inventory to make a bigger margin and not have to explain placement to anyone.

That is, until the ads appear somewhere they shouldn’t.

The key issue at stake here is trust. Agencies and advertisers place the reputation of their brands in the hands of blind networks and in return, these networks need to offer the advertiser or agency a guarantee that their brand will be protected.

There needs to be a clearer differentiation made to agencies between networks who undertake blind chain buying, and therefore may not be in control of campaign placement, and those who do not.

Ultimately, a differentiation that makes it clear whether or not the network is in control.

Blind network advertising is a viable, cost efficient display advertising product. It provides a valuable outlet for larger, brand name publishers with unsold inventory and provides agencies with a simple mechanism to reach large audiences across many websites from a single buying point.

Many agencies rely on blind network advertising to provide the reach and performance necessary to hit targets.

The simplest way to create this clarity is for networks to clearly label how they purchase inventory – in short, a buying policy.

As well as outlining the type of sites inventory is bought from, and the practices and procedures involved in doing so, such a policy should also state the types of sites that are actively blocked from the network.

It should also state whether the network undertakes blind chain buying or not.

Clearly, some advertisers and agencies may wish to take a greater risk than others but the issue here is about controlling that risk – and being aware of what risks are being taken.

Many billions of adverts get displayed on blind networks every day. The fractional percentage of ads that appear in the wrong places is damaging the online industry.

With just a little increased awareness of purchase practices and a few simple controls, blind network advertising can continue to be the cost-effective, performance driver that it has always been. 

Phil Coote is the COO of Adviva