Why The ‘Good Internet’ And Programmatic Premium Will Cut Out The Rotten Core Of Digital Advertising

Ciaran O’Kane, ExchangeWire global editor, reflects on how a ‘good’, or brand safe, internet can help advertisers and publishers reap the rewards of programmatic-buying, and tackles rampant inertia over click fraud, plus the lurking threats to the agency model status quo.

As I disappear into the ether for three weeks without phone, laptop, or internet. I thought I’d lay bare some of the observations I’ve had around some critical problems that continue to plague and indeed jeopardise the growth of digital advertising globally. Thanks to some brave reporting by Mike Shields and the insight from the ‘bot brain trust’ at spider_io we know that a good chunk of our industry is built on lies and indeed fraud.

Fake clicks and fake impressions are rampant. It might be a stretch to say it, but having worked on some sideline publisher projects for the better part of the year I have seen how bad the problem really is. Indeed this experience has also shown how bad the plight of the premium publisher has become. I would say we are now at crisis point. And the time has come for serious action.

Kill the bots, torrents and the UGC; time for the premium publisher to reclaim the web and let CPMs rise.

The economics of display is effectively a race to the bottom. More impressions equates to more money. Brand ads appearing on dodgy torrent sites and indeed unsuitable political sites happens every 100 milliseconds. I was shown this first hand at the recent d3con when a member of the Project Sunblock team showed me a site they were monitoring as part of a block list on behalf of a client. AdolfHitler.com was carrying several ads including a prospecting ad from a leading German car manufacturer as well as a retargeted banner from a leading German trade show. Oh dear.

The problem is so bad now that the industry has almost imposed an omerta on any mess up. Scrambling around to keep stuff out of the press is idiotic – as ultimately everyone knows. Do you think a five-paragraph piece with a throwaway comment in the Drum or Marketing Week is really going to blow this controversy up? Get real. Everyone knows, and everyone is effectively complicit. Quite simply, more needs to be done.

In the five years I have covered this industry I have never seen a bigger opportunity for publishers. At least 70%-80% of the web is total garbage. Around 40% is allegedly bot-related with the rest made up of torrent sites and UGC. And let’s reflect on the UGC bit first. Facebook, despite what the industry tells you, is user generated content. Regardless of targeting, it is not brand safe. Most of the people posting on Facebook have zero intent. They are not in market for anything. It’s a message board for intellectual bubblegum blowing.

What’s got more brand context? The FT? That’s a given. The Guardian? Without doubt. The Telegraph? Of course. Facebook? Sure, I want my ad appearing alongside some teenage fool engaged in idiotic drinking games.

Seizing the opportunity of chaos and confusion

I would suggest publishers examine the La Place model and look to take themselves out of the 80% ‘bad internet’. Sure there will be some pressure applied by agencies and buyers looking to keep a cap on CPM prices. But this short-term pain will be a better result than their ultimate demise. Which will happen? Brands may avail of cheap CPM prices in the ‘bad internet’ but at what cost? Premium publishers taking a stand would be in their benefit. I really feel the AOP and IAB have badly let down premium publishers during the rise of programmatic, siding with the big US media giants at the expense of their core membership.

I hope now News UK, The Telegraph, The Guardian, the Mail and others sit down and discuss this. ExchangeWire will even facilitate the meeting. And let's not stop at the UK, let's include all global publishers. How we create the ‘good internet’ – and make more money. Because, let’s be honest here, it costs money to create content, and when you have UGC sites with hundreds of millions of fools creating content at scale (For Free!) it gets even harder to get access to budget.

Who knows what the ‘good internet’ looks like? A conglomerate, akin to the La Place model? Or simply a hived off brand safe buying landscape?

Once they have decided on a path, then go pitch it to ISBA, and buy out advertising in every marketing trade title, talking about the ‘good internet’, and why it’s brand safe and has context. Speak at marketer conferences. Be in their faces telling them how it really is. Expose the brand damage caused by appearing on illegal sites. Be relentless. Be aggressive. And don’t relent. In this case be like Google. Your survival depends on it.

Why Programmatic Needs To Happen

The media buying model is broken. The concept of pitching to media planning teams is antiquated and riddled with unparalleled inefficiencies. Having sold into some agencies in a previous incarnation I know this first hand. Often you only get to the table if you have scale and then it’s often a case of who can provide the best jolly. That is the reality of our industry – still. Often quality content and context is sacrificed in the name of a fun weekend in Barcelona. I don’t blame those kids. If I was getting paid a pittance, I'd do the same thing. Wouldn’t we all? But the model is doomed, as programmatic premium is going to change everything in this industry.

Why I don’t want to have a sales team selling £5-£10 CPM campaigns

Honestly, I don’t like the idea of a media sales team. I am programmatic purist. I want to sell all my impressions without the need of long lunches and trips away. I have audience and brand safe context - and I should be able to sell that via tech. With programmatic premium it makes zero sense to have a sales guy do the negotiating of price over a console, when this can be done by my ad ops team. And this will happen, as we get closer to full automation. The sales guy can be redeployed to getting in high touch campaigns in the hundreds of thousands – not 50K IOs. This will mean less media sales people, and sadly less media planner buyers.

If you are smart enough to read ExchangeWire, then I will impart some advice to you, media planner buyer. It’s time to get a new job.

If you are the go between amid the execution layer and the client, then it’s time to reposition yourself – because the premium programmatic model is going to make your role obsolete in 12-24 months. The workflow will reduce inefficiencies, meaning there will be less need for people to execute. The smart and forward-thinking already saw this coming. But there is still time to reassess your role in the organisation as programmatic premium becomes ingrained in the buying process.

Publishers should be rubbing their hands at the prospect of programmatic premium. Reallocating good sales talent within the organisation means more revenue on top of both spot and programmatic premium revenue.

Despite the malaise we currently see in the space, there is a big opportunity for premium publishers as the vagaries of the 80% 'bad internet' is exposed to the world. Coupled with the efficiencies of programmatic premium, quality content might actually be finally be able to trump the 'fakery', the meandering ramblings of the UGC ecosystem and the gross misallocation of advertising spend.