While waiting in line at a copy shop recently, I saw a handwritten sign behind the counter that read, "You can have it fast, cheap or good, but not all three." Brands and media agencies must keep that thought in mind in the context of programmatic buying. Your brand can serve ads on premium sites, but not on the cheap.
If "cheap" is the highest priority, your ads could land on websites that run unsavory or pirated content, putting the brand at risk of being tawdry by association at best, and legally compromised at worst.
Such is the downside of efficiency in the digital age.
Just as we've all had to learn about "safe computing" -- not clicking on suspicious links and now, not revealing too much in social media -- brand marketers need to be educated about "safe buying" -- that is, taking as much precaution as possible to minimize the possibility of their video ads popping up on websites that could tarnish hard-earned brand equity.
Here are some "rules of the road" in selecting reputable vendors for programmatic buying:
1. Validate. Find out as much information about the vendor as you can and who they work with. The IAB keeps lists of reputable ad networks and actual performance data from your distribution partners.
2. Test and verify. No company should expect to be taken at its word. Ask vendors if they use the accepted tools that determine quality of inventory. For instance, Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings help companies verify the audiences a campaign is running against. comScore's Validated Campaign Essentials ensure that video ads are visible on the screen and not "below the fold" of a web page where nobody will see them.
3. Measure and audit campaign performance during flight and post flight. Many agencies don't do this and instead focus on specific, in-the-moment delivery. This data is available to every agency, but they often skip this step because there's an acceptable level of inefficiency in this process. Every brand has a responsibility to do auditing all the way downstream.
4. Test run a voided campaign. Brief the vendor and provide an RFP for a campaign that's already been completed to see how the company builds a media plan and proposal. Then go over that plan with the vendor to dig deep into the capabilities and solutions. Ask about site lists: Where will my ad run? Will it run on the sites you've proposed? Will it run outside these sites? Will I be able to get reporting across this list on a site-by-site basis? Can I view the performance of the campaign across this list of publishers? These are typical questions that should not rankle any reputable vendor.
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5. Ask for evidence: Screen shots by domain, site-level reporting, performance, viewability, click-through rates and shares against your key performance indicators. Does your vendor audit sites and channels so you know that they have trusted publishers?
6. Consult third-party measurement. Nielsen, comScore and Visible Measures are the industry standards. These third-party verification firms are attached to eight out of 10 online campaigns.
7. Check the fine print. Before signing the insertion order, make sure it contains everything you agreed upon prior to execution.
Like it or not, there's a lot of low-quality, questionable content online, not to mention pirated content. An ardent fan of "Game of Thrones" who is also a high-value customer for a mainstream brand or service could be "followed" by a programmatic ad to a site running pirated content, even though the media company or third-party agency didn't intentionally place it there.
But do you want your brand landing next to unsavory content or be thought of as supporting pirated content? The potential tarnish to -- or lawsuit against -- your brand is likely not worth the risk.
So please, practice "safe buying." Choose vendors wisely. Let's be careful out there.