Publishers Can Grab More Programmatic Brand Spend by Focusing on Quality Inventory

After a decade of lagging behind the rise of digital content consumption, the floodgates on digital ad spend opened wide around 2012. Much of this has been due to a tide of brand dollars flowing through automated pipes, with eMarketer estimating that over four in five US digital display dollars will be spent on programmatic channels this year.

In order for publishers to capitalize on this spend, it is necessary for them to focus on the push toward quality that P&G’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard demanded as a critical and urgent supply chain issue, along with more accountability and transparency. Unfortunately, many publishers still view this quality mandate as a direct threat to revenue. It doesn’t have to be.

In reality, inventory quality is as important for publishers as it is for advertisers. Initiatives such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are causing demand partners across the ecosystem to scrutinize their digital supply chains. As a result, many brands are requiring their marketing departments to account for every media dollar and agencies and demand-side platforms (DSPs) are leveraging supply path optimization to avoid partners that don’t meet their transparency and quality standards. Publishers offering high-quality inventory will be better positioned to capitalize on programmatic brand spend.

The concept of inventory quality is often equated with invalid traffic (IVT) within our industry. However, the problems extend beyond bots and nonhuman traffic. Various aspects of a publisher’s business must be examined in order to address brands’ trust and safety concerns.

1. Content. The first step publishers should take is to offer original content that attracts real humans and loyal audiences. While this may seem obvious, it is sometimes easier said than done. The proliferation of fake news and click-bait has shined a spotlight on the importance of quality content, and content aggregators need to be mindful of these challenges.

2. Audience. When building an audience, it is important for publishers to take the long view. Buying inexpensive traffic to fill gaps in supply increases the odds of IVT and can reduce engagement with content, especially when visitors expected something different — a frequent problem with click bait. For ad networks and other downstream supply partners, it is imperative to create policies and workflows that place a significant emphasis on quality vetting.

3. Control. Finally, quality content creators must take ownership of their monetization to ensure they can continue to fund quality journalism. New fraud-fighting initiatives have put control back in the hands of publishers and allowed them to manage their pricing and partners while investing in brand safety. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)’s ads.txt effort, for example, has provided visibility into the certified supply path for quality inventory. As a growing number of buyers will only work with certified ads.txt inventory, the estimated 60 percent of comScore 1000 publishers that have obtained ads.txt certification can expect to offer the most in-demand inventory and secure a larger share of brand spend. Further, monetization tactics like header bidding have also given them greater access to demand, resulting in higher fill rates and increased revenue.

The torrent of brand spend into our ecosystem provides tremendous opportunity, and quality is the rising tide that lifts all boats. For publishers, this means offering desirable content that attracts real humans. For advertisers, this means working with trusted supply partners and knowing where your ads are running. In the new programmatic world, digital content creators who focus aggressively on inventory quality and demonstrate their commitment to advertisers will benefit.

Eric Bozinny is the Director, Inventory Quality at PubMatic. Bozinny started at Razorfish, where his team was responsible for the technical implementation of display advertising. He joined Microsoft in 2007 and worked to ensure all stakeholders in the digital marketing world understood the size of the fraud and malware problem. He landed at YuMe in 2014 to develop their brand safety policy and provide enforcement for supply side traffic acquisition business development. At PubMatic, he has been working to improve processes and safeguards in place for clients. He has presented at various technical conferences, educating audiences on the problems of fraud in advertising.