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Programmatic needs realigning to premium to restore advertiser trust

By Luke Roback, Ad Operations Director, Inskin Media

Think ‘programmatic’ and thoughts turn to words like ‘cheap’, ‘opaque’, ‘bots’, ‘fraud’ – everything that’s wrong with advertising. And programmatics’ tarnished image severely compromises the industry, undermining trust and confidence, from brands to consumers.   It’s often quoted that the danger with the race to the lowest CPM is that you might win it. Well, this obsession with buying cheap inventory and increasingly exposing brands to fraud means the industry is in danger of being the ‘winner’.

But it doesn’t need to be like this. And, perhaps just in time, this is being recognised.

Two pieces of evidence point to the fact the industry may be putting its house in order.

The tide is turning to premium

Firstly, a survey by FatTail highlights that publishers are expecting a change in the digital media landscape as “advertisers search for safe and scalable alternatives to the open market.” A key takeaway is a shift from the high-volume, low-value inventory, typically associated with programmatic, towards quality environments.

Secondly, IAB Europe’s recently published 2021 Attitudes to Programmatic Advertising Report. This shows a significant yearly increase – from 20% in 2020 to 50% in 2021– in advertisers stating that getting access to premium inventory at scale is driving their programmatic investments.

These highlight the importance of solutions for advertisers that allow them to connect with audiences in premium environments. Yes, brands want the efficiencies of the programmatic pipes to transact deals but with a focus on “premium programmatic”. Those transaction models that allow premium programmatic to be delivered are increasingly critical, including programmatic guaranteed and preferred access deals.

Restoring trust and transparency

Brands are realising that by adapting these models, they can regain the control they have lost.  For example, programmatic guaranteed gives buyers direct access to a publisher’s premium inventory and audience with a fixed price and impression volume. They get the critical transparency they demand ­– including insights into fees, traffic, and data costs – which helps restore their trust in advertising. Naturally, increased transparency feeds into brand safety, and opting for premium environments significantly reduces the risks of brands appearing in inappropriate environments.

Some argue that concentrating on premium compromises reach and limits market potential as fewer impressions are bought. The reality is different. Swapping out bots for human eyeballs and advertising on real, quality sites rather than fake ones does not impact scale too much while the value gained is significant. By reducing wasteful spending on non-human non-converting traffic, brands are also saving money. 

Quality environments demand quality creative

By aligning on quality, brands need to be consistent with this across all their campaign activity. For any advertising, clarity of message and creativity are critical success factors. But too much credence is being given to technology and how the message is delivered. Focus has been on small formats, often taken from another medium and shoehorned into a digital environment. This lack of creativity has been reinforcing the idea that digital advertising is cheap, low quality and low value, only suitable for delivering short-term sales rather than building long-term brand value

And yet, thoughtful, interesting, impactful creative overcomes banner blindness, is visually engaging and delivers a better consumer experience. Aligning creativity with high impact formats allows this to be achieved, elevating brand advertising and helping build trust.

The adage that you get what you pay for rings true when it comes to programmatic. Programmatic has been synonymous with low priced, poor quality, bot-infested environments that are undermining the industry. But it doesn’t need to be like this. As CEO Rob Beeler of Beeler.Tech comments, “Programmatic is so much more than the open marketplace…”. Raising the programmatic bar by refocusing on premium and quality – of context, audience and creative – allows programmatic to be a positive force, rebuilding trust and confidence in advertising from brands to consumers.

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