For years, the digital advertising industry settled into a predictable pattern. Let’s call it SBLR for short: Soul Searching, Big Speech (typically at the IAB or ANA annual meeting), Little Industry Action, Repeat. Not much progress was made toward cleaning-up programmatic advertising or even defining what “cleaning-up” actually meant.
But recently, things began to change. CMOs like P&G’s Marc Pritchard began pulling dollars from sellers that failed to meet minimum standards. We saw real momentum behind several industry initiatives focused on quality supply and user protection. After Unilever CMO Keith Weed delivered this year’s Big Speech at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting, I’m more optimistic than ever that we’re poised to break the SBLR cycle in 2018. Real progress is being made across three critical areas that hold the keys to ensuring programmatic advertising delivers on its core promise of reaching and engaging consumers at scale.
- Quality: This is the foundational bedrock. Most of us can agree that ads should have the opportunity to be seen by humans without putting a brand at risk. Increasingly, minimum viewability thresholds for buys have become the norm, and many buyers have expressed a desire to raise the bar by optimizing toward a time-in-view threshold that exceeds the current one second standard for display ads. Giving buyers more confidence in the inventory they’re buying is also critical. Ads.txt, a simple but powerful mechanism for reducing fraud and improving transparency, gained significant momentum last year. According to estimates from Pixalate, more than 50% of the top 5,000 websites are now using Ads.txt.
- Impact: Initial programmatic creative executions were built to maximize scale, but not necessarily for brand impact. Recently, we’ve seen a wave of ad unit innovation across display, video, and native toward creative formats that deliver enhanced viewability and storytelling potential across devices. Finding the sweet spot among impact, scale, and consumer experience will be transformative with regard to bringing even more brand dollars into the programmatic ecosystem.
- Experience: Speaking of consumer experience, recent progress in this direction deserves special discussion. For too long, the focus on cheap CPMs was also driving an unsustainable march toward cluttered ad environments. Last month, we saw the roll-out of the Coalition for Better Ads, the Google-driven initiative that threatened to block websites serving mobile interstitials and other intrusive formats. Overall, an increased focus on the user is driving a “less is more” approach that promises to improve the quality of ad experiences for the benefit of the marketer.
If we as an industry continue to invest in standards and innovation that seek to raise the bar for both brands and consumers, we can make meaningful progress toward “cleaning-up” the programmatic ecosystem. I am hopeful that by this time next year we’ll see a significant shift from SBLR to BBR: Big Speech, Big Action, ROI.