Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Why responsible investment is the key to advertising ROI

By Nick Reid, SVP & Managing Director, EMEA, DoubleVerify

After a period of belt-tightening, brands everywhere are looking ahead to new opportunities for growth. While advertising investment will remain closely watched by businesses during this period, this does not mean that marketers must accept trade-offs that result in poorer performance. In fact, as technological shifts take place in the ecosystem, now is the time for us to rethink advertising approaches—to the benefit of brands and consumers alike.

Moving forward, by prioritising a responsible approach to investment—one which is led by data and focuses on context, personalisation, protection, and values—brands will flourish.

Spending alone is not enough

The role of advertising in supporting businesses through transitional times like today’s is not new. In fact, during turbulence and downturns throughout the 1920s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, those businesses that invested in advertising thrived. For example, during the 1989-1991 downturn, a well-known multinational restaurant chain went against the grain and increased ad spend. As a result, they saw sales grow by 61%—despite the challenging environment. Other chains that cut advertising, meanwhile, saw sales crater.

Of course, every dollar of advertising spend does not have an equal impact. The company above’s success was not just a result of budget and timing alone—it will have also been a combination of the right investments, punchy creatives, and a savvy marketing strategy. The lesson is not to always spend. The lesson is that responsible and thoughtful investment will always bring in a greater ROI than poorly targeted or non-existent investment.

New technologies are the key to optimisation

History has shown us that responsible advertising can support brands even during challenging moments. Nevertheless, marketers cannot only point to the past; they must improve the return on ad spend today. Today, responsible advertising has a further added dimension. Responsible advertising is not only about timing and creatives, but about using advanced technologies that can unlock new opportunities to optimise performance, increase audience impact, and boost ROI.

Those technologies go well beyond the third-party cookie, which has dominated the conversation for too long. To date, a reliance on the third-party cookie has often led to overexposure and a lack of personalisation in digital ads. Now, with Google’s plan to phase out third-party cookies fast approaching, we have the opportunity to recalibrate. This could not come at a better time—brands today are ready to prioritise a values-based marketing approach which resonates with audiences and which can be enabled by a shift away from cookie-reliance.

To get that recalibration right, there are three key priorities advertisers should focus on to drive more responsible advertising spend and increase the ROI of their budgets. 

Three priorities for driving responsible advertising

The first priority is protection from unsuitable content. To achieve this, advertisers need solutions which offer precise controls to determine where their ads appear. These can include content classification tools which, for example, today can be used to stop ads from being served on negative financial or military news (as well as dozens of other categories). To ensure this does not lead to a high-volume of trusted news content being blocked, exception lists can be used to allow ads to run irrespective of content avoidance categories on specific trusted news sites. This can be put in place for trusted publications where consumers associate brands being advertised with the news publication, rather than specific headlines. 

The second priority for brands is to focus on delivering contextual placements of ads. Contextual targeting and semantic technology can now identify content topics at scale and enable brands to appear in the right context and environments. This technology can act as an alternative to cookie-based targeting that empowers brands to place ads in value-aligned environments. For example, a sportswear brand can use contextual targeting to place ads alongside content focused on training, the FIFA Women’s World Cup, nutrition, and more.  

Finally, brands should focus on measuring quality and attention metrics. Unlike a traditional reliance on clicks, attention metrics can give clear data that shows the exposure and engagement of digital advertising. Exposure metrics showcase how an ad is presented—for example, how much screen real-estate it takes up. Meanwhile, engagement metrics show how a consumer is interacting with an ad—for example, by turning the volume up on their device. With these insights, brands can gain a full picture of the attention being paid to their ads, which they can use to optimise their campaigns toward preferred outcomes.

Each of these three priorities: protecting brand equity, driving contextual placements, and optimising for attention, will help drive more responsible media investment—and ROI. They do so by reducing spend on unsuitable ad placements, increasing value-aligned placements, and optimising campaign performance.  

Responsible ad investment is the key to advertising ROI 

By investing in solutions that deliver on the three areas above, brands can boost the ROI of their ad spend, and put a digital strategy in place which drives impact even as the ecosystem evolves.

As brands look to drive growth while aligning with their more values-driven audiences, reducing investment may be a mistake. Instead, they should look to technology partners who can go beyond the era of the third-party cookie. Such partners can offer solutions that protect brand equity while creating new opportunities for engaging consumers in ways that resonate for them—even in changing times.