It's Time We Had A Standard Way To Measure The Quality Of Ads

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Photo: Sequoia Capital

Programmatic buying of ads has seemingly taken over display buying, offering agencies unlimited access to display inventory, the ability to apply data models for predicting success and the confidence that by using their own data they reach only the audiences appropriate for the client.But, if it is so easy, why are brands still so reluctant to move 100% of their budgets to programmatic buying? The answer is quality!

We have a fundamental challenge in our industry when it comes to determining the quality of inventory. Let’s put aside for a second the obvious fact that context and adjacency matter for a brand, and instead focus on audience buys where context is of less concern (#not). When planning and buying digital media today, especially when the decision to purchase is automated, it is extremely difficult to evaluate quality and provide a score, whether in general or for a particular campaign.

Let’s look at TV for a minute. The number of programs and sales channels is still small enough that a human can vet the quality and context for their own plans – why do you think planners get stacks of tapes and DVDs sent to them to watch in advance of the buying season? Plus both buyers and sellers have agreed upon a critical element of audience measurement (GRP) and a common currency which enables them to have an even playing field when pricing and buying inventory. This makes the transaction far simpler for everyone involved, especially when ¬†explaining campaign results to a client.

So, the question is, how do we solve for this in digital where the inventory, programs (websites) and sales channels are fragmented, changing daily and not on the same measurement standard? These factors have created major obstacles for moving dollars to digital and making the inventory quality easy to understand. 

Today, within the exchange landscape, we’ve tried to solve for these factors by passing the page URL of where the ad placement resides at the time of purchase-decisioning in hopes that the DSP or trading desk has previously purchased that placement and has some historical knowledge that can be applied. Sounds great in theory, except that this requires the buyer to do an immense amount of work and it limits the publisher’s ability to inform the buyer of quality attributes that could enable increased pricing. Also, for those publishers concerned about sales channel conflict, brand erosion and price deterioration, this level of transparency is very risky.

What we really need is a standard score, agreed upon by both buyer and seller, that can be applied to any type of inventory (video, display or mobile) and then verified by a third-party group or ad serving company. This score would encompass important elements of quality such as audience size (reach), placement location, content rating (eg. PG or R), viewability, time spent, interaction rate, click rate, etc. This score would be a single measure that could be bought against, but could also be traversable, so post-campaign analysis could be done with the metrics that make up the score. This would provide transparency into the quality without the need to expose the actual location or publisher where the ad resides.

The standard score would therefore enable programmatic buying to be used more efficiently for the buyer, offer protections for the publisher, likely increase inventory value, and provide comfort to the brand clients wanting to leverage digital to reach targeted audiences with confidence.

Is a single industry quality score possible or just a pipe dream?

The views expressed here reflect the views of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of 24/7 Media, its affiliates, subsidiaries or its parent company, WPP plc.

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