As a marketer, there are probably quite a few topics dominating your social media feed at the moment, from stories on transparency to the forthcoming GDPR legislation.
Arguably, the most terrifying topic must be the tsunami of pieces on ‘terror funding’ where programmatic advertising campaigns might be funding organisations such as Islamic State or Combat 18, a violent pro-Nazi faction.
Indeed, you have probably read at least one of the articles appearing in the mainstream media The Times as well as across the trade press Campaign and The Drum associated with this topic, peppered with mentions of large household names like Sandals, Mercedes-Benz, Waitrose, Marie Curie and most recently Thomson Reuters, all being caught up in the controversy.
It has never been more important to properly understand the world of programmatic media and how your advertising is being placed.
Why it isn’t Google’s fault
Many media agency networks are placing the blame for these placements at Google’s door, pushing for more open sharing of data around the categorisation of their placements and asking them to shed some welcome light into their closed ecosystem.
And whilst this will undoubtedly help, we believe there is a more fundamental issue at work – one which dates right back to the infancy of the programmatic world.
If we take a moment to unwind the whole programmatic system and look under the bonnet about how the vast amount of RTB (real time bidding) works, this might help to highlight just how this terrible situation might have come about.
Haplessly chasing audiences
Addition Plus’s origins are from the publisher side of the fence, working with premium publisher brands and targeted, upmarket audiences, to help publishers understand how to work with this new world of programmatic bidding and buying.
In those early years, many publishers were concerned about a flood of ad spend towards programmatic only strategies, which were focused solely on chasing an audience across the world wide web.
The premise was that a particular target audience didn’t need to be reached solely via the premium (expensive) media brands if they could be found across the internet at much cheaper prices. Brands were deserting their once trusted sources and looking to reach audiences at the lowest CPM across the web.
These early strategies were mainly cookie based – following the audience and, crucially, totally ignoring context.
Why cookie based technology is failing advertisers
Even today most programmatic solutions are based on cookie technology: they provide the simplest form of deploying programmatic campaigns.
As consumers we are all familiar with cookies and how they are used. There are cookie statements across every site you land on and as users, we have all been encouraged to accept the T&C’s in return for a better customer experience.
In reality we are chased around the internet by a pair of trainers we either already bought, or rejected, but still the ads keep appearing. The advertising ignores what we are doing (the context) and focuses instead on how interested we might still be in buying the trainers!
You can start to see how chasing audiences, without context, especially within those broad target audience demographics, might lead to appearing on webpages that carry less than salubrious content.
Using 3rd party data doesn’t make brands exempt
3rd party data segments are often just bundles of cookie data extrapolated from ‘similar audiences’ based on recent web activities.
The lack of context is still there, except now it is more expensive; the same data is available to all your competitors; you can’t optimise it in real time; and you are basing your strategy on what someone else tells you about your audience (normally based on one of your competitor’s audience type, user journey or web habits).
I thought I would share an example of the results of a 3rd party data segment which might best illustrate this point.
In our early days, Addition Plus tested a 3rd party data segment on behalf of a large IT infrastructure brand targeting decision makers in companies with more than 500 employers.
We ran the campaign and then analysed the results.
The vast majority of our ads (informed by the 3rd party data) were placed next to celebrity content – like news on Justin Bieber and the latest on the Kardashians.
Now, call me a cynic, but I have strong doubts that decision makers in large businesses are spending their working day acting like teen-obsessed Beliebers!
On this occasion, while the environment may have been innocuous (although unsurprisingly poor in performance), it demonstrates how placements can go badly wrong when we ignore context in favour of audience.
We know that there are systems that DO look at content of a page and try to match placements contextually. The issue with these technologies is that there isn’t enough scale to provide statistically relevant optimisation and therefore placements are small in number and often expensive.
Context, placement and ad engagement are key
At Addition Plus we don’t rely on cookie technology.
We believe the key to providing powerful programmatic solutions is to blend the elements of context, placement AND ad engagements together; only by viewing each ad placement through the prism of all three elements can we successfully – and safely – place our programmatic campaigns.
- Context – the context of the placement is crucial. Too often, programmatic systems have sacrificed contextual placement at the altar of cookie-based audience systems. However, through our proprietary algorithm, Illuma, Addition+ systems match context.
- Placement – or position on the page – finding the right ad position to drive ad engagement
- Ad engagement – optimising to a specific ad engagement metric, set according the brand’s own objectives.
All our machine learning systems use cutting edge AI to make constantly better, more informed choices, all underpinned by a high degree of intelligent human curation.
Our ad serving and optimisation systems are built by, and created for, data statisticians to use and interrogate using advanced statistical techniques; they act as the constant surveillance of our digital campaigns.
By combining all these elements, we have been able to provide the brands we work with safe, programmatically-enabled, performance-driven environments in which to place their digital campaigns.
Content me directly to discover how to deploy safe and powerful programmatic solutions.