The most contentious part of programmatic advertising since its inception has been who controls it. As a traditional publisher ad server we had to deal with that early on. Our publishers exposed their inventory, and advertisers bid on it. Our job was to get the publishers the highest CTRs. That’s what advertisers said they wanted — clicks.
But advertisers weren’t getting the results they wanted, and at the same time publishers were fighting falling ad prices, so about a year ago advertisers took control, telling the publishers they wanted “first look,” and demanding it. Since advertisers pay the bills, this made a good deal of sense. Why shouldn’t the advertiser decide who they want to reach and ask for that inventory from the publisher, rather than buying a package determined by a publisher API?
That was the end of programmatic, and the beginning of something called header bidding, which is jargon for a “sneak peek” at the publishers’ inventory. Now header bidding seems to have taken over from programmatic direct, which can be seen as only a first step in giving brands more control over what they buy. Brands now want to buy engagement and brand equity, It’s supposedly a different world.
But the metrics still aren’t there to measure what brands say they want. We’re moving from a world in which digital advertising focused on direct response to one in which we focus on brand recognition and awareness. That’s what all the RFPs say. Yet what is measured? Metrics and clicks. Even viewability, the newer standard, doesn’t get close to measuring whether an ad is effective for building brand. Until the brands change what they want to measure, the publishers are stuck meeting irrelevant KPIs that are more suitable for performance advertising than building brand equity.
How can we fix this?
First, advertisers who pay the bills must decide what their brand goals truly are and make those clear in the RFP:
What audience do I want to reach?
Am I reaching it at the right time and in the right place?
Am I telling a good story?
Then they should measure according to KPIs like these:
Did my story elicit a positive response and good engagement?
Did it help the consumer make the right buying decision?
If this were what brands were truly measuring, publishers could then align their inventory and packaging to these goals and forget about impressions and CTRs. Viewability would, of course, still be critical, but other metrics, like video completion rates, time spent on a page, or even demographics might influence whether a publisher felt a campaign fulfilled the advertisers’ goals.
Right now, advertisers are still sending out RFPs that drive publishers in the wrong directions, and then wondering why sites are full of “clickbait” headlines and crummy content designed to attract impressions and irritate visitors.