Programmatic marketing will be responsible for more than 75% of all digital display advertising in 2017. Yet while programmatic is all the rage and has provided brands with a powerful new tactic, this technique has created as many problems at it’s solved, by way of both wasted ad spend and brand risk exposure. CMOs have taken note are employing measures to their brands by reducing spend in certain digital channels until improved controls are in place.

Digital Advertising Fraud & Viewability Challenges

With all of the talk over the past couple of years about ad fraud and compromised viewability rates, we as an industry have often overlooked the implications of online advertisements that are seen, but in less-than-ideal settings. That is to say: How are consumer behaviors impacted when they interact with ads in an unseemly or unexpected context? (Example: a banner ad layered over a hate group recruiting video on YouTube.) Marketers need to understand the impact of these negative advertising experiences.

This issue, to be sure, has been a persistent problem for advertisers since the early days of the business. One needs to look no further than Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) of Mad Men’s Sterling Cooper agency. They launched the firm’s new television department and charged it with monitoring a client’s ad buy just as the medium took off. Fans of the show quickly learned what media buyers the world over already know: Advertisers do not appreciate their promotions running anywhere but in the slots they’ve approved.

Managing this challenge across the digital channel has been a problem since the first banner ad was sold in the early 2000s. And it has only worsened in the wake of programmatic. To date, this issue has evaded intense scrutiny because the digital channel is some much more cost effective than its offline counterparts. But, as advertising economics continue to evolve and companies become smarter about managing a multi-channel environment, brand safety in the digital channel is gaining steam.

The Industry Responds

Leading this movement’s charge are private companies such as Integral Ad Science and industry organizations like the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and and CMO Council. Indeed, digital marketing auditing is emerging as a cottage industry unto itself as advertisers are becoming more aware of inefficiencies in the channel.

To that end, this month, the CMO Council released a report titled “How Brands Annoy Fans: The Impact of Negative Advertising Experiences,” which explains the steep consequences associated with ads running in undesirable places.

The study’s highlights:

  • Almost half of survey respondents say they would consider defecting from brands who fail to control where their ads appear. This suggests that marketers should be “deeply concerned” over the integrity of content environments.
  • 66% of those surveyed say their respect for brands decreases when they encounter ads near hateful, inappropriate, or distressing content.
  • Where an ad runs is just as important as its message. And consumers seem less likely to give their preferred brands “a pass” for appearing in inappropriate environments or next to jarring content.
  • 85% of those surveyed expressed some level of concern about how easily they are directed or redirected to offensive or objectionable sites.
  • According to publishers, consumers are actively contacting them to ask if their properties endorse certain content, given their stated values.
  • With increasing fervor, consumers are demanding that brands respect their time and their messages appear in environments they trust.

The bottom line: context matters. All parties in the digital advertising ecosystem must ensure that great advertising experiences are delivered in equally excellent environments.


Tim Bourgeois is a director at East Coast Catalyst, a digital strategy consulting company in Boston, where he leads the management consulting, digital marketing auditing, and reputation management practice areas. He can be reached at tbourgeois(at)eastcoastcatalyst(dotcom) or 617.517.0066.


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