Digital advertising’s shift from impressions to quality assurance, though still in its infancy, has been swift and profound.
In the past year, for example, the Media Rating Council published its guidelines for mobile viewability and began auditing measurement companies against their previously published Invalid Traffic Guidelines. Meanwhile, GroupM, the world’s largest advertising media company, announced it created a new executive role, global EVP of brand safety, and that it would begin enforcing a 100% viewability threshold across all of its buys.
Brand safety, viewability, and fraud have become a central focus for this industry—and for good reason: Proper controls and standards across these areas will eliminate a lot of waste in digital advertising.
But the spirited emphasis on verification and quality control has also brought with it a corrosive side effect: Since they’re so fixated on holding publishers accountable, CMOs and brand marketers are losing focus on engaging and impacting audiences, which is why they’re advertising in the first place.
Advertising is supposed to help grow a business. Part of the mandate of a digital ad partner is to help media buyers optimize toward that goal. Today, this fundamental pursuit is getting lost in a list of checkbox requirements primarily focused on “not getting hosed.” It’s like homebuyers becoming so preoccupied with inspections, leaks, pests, and plumbing that they forget to look out the window and notice the view.
I‘ve received many RFPs from marketers, each itemizing detailed questions about our verification and viewability capabilities: What kinds of fraud can we detect? What level of viewability can we measure? What sort of ads can we block? But never once have I seen a request, with any comparable granularity, asking how we can deliver more relevant advertising, find more prospects, engage more users, and grow the companies’ bottom line.
This pattern is all the more curious because the underlying technology to answer both sets of questions is similar: The same tools that CMOs license to help their brands avoid contextually unsafe content like scandals and emissions, if sophisticated enough, can be used to help them find contextually relevant content like gardening tips and travel guides.
Just like brand safety is important for steering clear of embarrassing or unwelcome juxtapositions, contextual relevance is important for seizing opportunities to connect with your user.
Ad context is at the heart of what advertising is supposed to achieve. It helps brands reach users at the right time, when they are in the right mindset to receive and engage with your message. On the other hand, brand safety lapses, low viewability, and fraud are just hurdles to getting there. So if you’re not doing advertising to drive your business forward, what’s the point?
Too often, the art of contextual targeting gets lost in a larger table stakes conversation about verification, and sadly that’s leading us to a place of simply doing and measuring rather than exceling and optimizing. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that advertising is supposed to not only reach an audience, but also engage and impact people in a way that helps grow a business.