All aboard the struggle bus: 4 programmatic problems facing publishers

Buyers put a lot of faith in the publishers they choose to work with. But with more and more of their transactions taking place programmatically, they’re often asked to blindly accept the results of complex technology with few opportunities to peek under the hood.

According to a study released by the Association of National Advertisers and White Ops, up to half of publisher traffic is generated by bots, and viewability continues to be a stumbling block for the industry. These are serious issues.

But buyers can rest assured that responsible publishers are responding to an increasingly tech-literate market by ensuring a more efficient, transparent experience with the help of their partners. Here’s how.

Guaranteeing eyeballs
Not only does The Economist guarantee its buyers that 75 percent of their ads will be viewable (the IAB recommendation is 70 percent), but the publisher also offers a sizeable makegood if it misses the mark.

The British magazine uses a third-party vendor to measure viewable impressions. If that viewability comes in under the guaranteed rate, it offers advertisers twice the difference. For instance, if only 70 percent of a client’s ads are verified as viewable (thus falling short by 5 percent), The Economist will supply the buyer with additional impressions totaling 10 percent of their initial order on the house.

An internal study is currently underway to see which factors are still keeping viewability rates from even greater heights. In many cases, it might come down to something as minute as moving an ad unit five pixels higher.

“I don’t know if you’ll ever get to 100 percent viewability,” said Ashwin Sridhar, vp of online advertising at The Economist. “But we as a publication and as a good partner need to do the things on our end that we have control over to increase the aggregate viewability on our site.”

Keeping the bots at bay
Meanwhile at Mode Media, owner of the blog network, the operations side is hard at work minimizing the amount of fraudulent impressions, saving buyers from wasted spending. Yes, we’re talking mainly about bots here.

Their server first calls on a set of algorithms to determine whether traffic is bot-generated. Beyond this, the platform also has a human filter, employing staff in the US and India to monitor traffic day and night to flag fraudulent impressions.

But, as in most cases, it starts with education. A group of programmatic sales specialists are available to walk buyers through Mode Media’s programmatic direct, open exchange and private marketplace inventory, laying out the potential threats and the way the publisher works to mitigate them.

“Ads that are seen by real people are core to how we approach all of our business – not just programmatic,” explained Dan Lagani, Mode Media’s president and CRO.

Advertising’s own form of “stranger danger”
While bot traffic definitely keeps many buyers up at night, they’re just as concerned that their ads will be placed alongside content that reflects poorly on their brand.

While clients of premium publishers like The Economist are unlikely to see their names beside videos of terrorist beheadings, as happened to Nissan a year and a half ago, it’s very careful to ensure that ads avoid off-brand contexts. How?

According to Sridhar, the publisher uses semantic software that identifies the key themes of an article, checking against an approved list for each brand before placing an ad. This precaution goes a long way in preventing gas companies’ ads from running beside hard-hitting stories in the latest oil spill.

But the software also allows The Economist to do the reverse: intentionally place those companies’ ads next to content deemed positive or beneficial to the brand or industry.

“What we need to do is to ensure that we’re displaying an ad against relevant content,” Sridhar said. All the better when that content enhances the ad’s effect.

It’s not all automatic (quite yet)
And sometimes the difficulty comes from the wiring itself. Automating the more routine parts of a transaction have clear advantages, but publishers find that, in some cases, the human touch is still essential, especially in the case of their programmatic direct campaigns.

“The initial set-up can sometimes be confusing and cumbersome. These deals still need to be negotiated upfront with agencies and brands,” said Anthony DeMaio, Slate publisher. “But when a deal goes live, it’s become a smooth process to transact.”

Over time, Slate has worked to make the process more transparent for both sides of the transaction. And while these relationships require person-to-person interaction before any premium inventory changes hands, DeMaio says they pay dividends down the road.

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