Read the Label: 3 Things You May Not Know About RTB (But Should)

Hasty Buying Decisions Can Lead to the Dreaded 'Ad Fail'

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The world's a dangerous place. We're bombarded by fear at every turn. Product warnings are everywhere. Look at the few I noticed today:

"Do not eat toner," on a toner cartridge for a laser printer.

"For external use only!" on a curling iron.

"Smoking Kills." Duh.

Nearly everything contains some element of danger, and technology is no exception. In online advertising, media buyers are often slow to embrace new tools because of their fears: fear of the unknown, of unfamiliar technology, and potential pitfalls. Real time bidding (RTB) is one example; a groundbreaking tool for ad buying and serving that also contains perilous elements.

RTB success isn't as easy as plugging in a bid price and watching the system match your ads to targeted consumers. It's more complicated than that , and media buyers must be aware of the challenges. I present you a Warning Label for RTB.

1. Warning: You're putting your brand at risk

RTB is a blind-buying format, which creates many opportunities for things to go terribly wrong, with inappropriate or misaligned ad placements. RTB engines give potential buyers information about a consumer's browsing history and suppositional demographic information, but they've only recently started providing other information such as page data, context and ad visibility to determine the category, quality and safety of the impression. To counteract the risk, many media buyers first venturing into RTB will often black list the URLs of domains they'd like to avoid.

The problem is that this drastically limits potentially good inventory before the first bid. RTB might be risky, but eliminating inventory makes it even more difficult to make an impact. Buyers might blacklist so-called answer sites and discussion forums, but these present a great opportunity to advertise against a competitor's product, especially if consumers are voicing displeasure about that product.

Rather than blacklist, find an RTB platform that guarantees impressions that fit your definition of safety.

2. Caution: You still don't know where your ads will show up.

Even with improvements in RTB technology, buyers still receive very little page data about the impression. Associations and connotations change in the blink of an eye online. We had an airline client launch a campaign in September, only to remember that this year marks the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Airline advertisers normally want impressions next to content related to airplanes or competing brands. This past September, a lot of news content discussing planes was related to the attacks. The only way to avoid this change in association is to determine the true meaning of every page.

Hasty buying decisions can lead to what we call "ad fails," where an ad is matched to inappropriate content. Industry publications love to call out and laugh at bad placements, and these ad fails undoubtedly infuriate online advertisers. Indeed, the fear of ads landing in inappropriate environments keeps many media buyers away from RTB altogether. However, with the emergence of page-level analysis and pre-emptive safety selection solutions, new technologies can prevent advertisers from bidding on pages that don't align with campaign goals.

This is far different from building a black list. Large portals and news sites contain all varieties of content, and the definition of brand safety is unique for every advertiser. Soda brands don't want to advertise next to articles about obesity, but they want to appear on major portals. Filtering on page context isn't common practice in RTB yet, but it helps advertisers avoid bad placements.

3. Beware: You'll blow your budget just searching for your audience.

Online marketing today is increasingly focused on audience buying, but audience data and targeting are additional costs. By reading this article, you've probably discerned that targeting solely based on audience data is only half the battle, and the actual piece of content on the page is equally important.

Studies repeatedly prove that targeting by page content pushes the user further down the marketing funnel, meeting key performance indicators such as awareness, engagement, and consideration. Buying on brand safe pages gives the marketer a better chance for hitting these success metrics and driving results. RTB also lets media buyers value each page impression as its own discrete unit of inventory, which lets them value content-rich pages higher than others.

When taken into consideration, these variables make RTB a compelling and valuable approach to media buying. We climb into cars on a daily basis knowing that it's a dangerous risk, but we also know alert, defensive driving prevents the likelihood of accidents. RTB is an easy and efficient way to match ads to the content with which audiences actually engage. Media buyers just need to take the right precautions.

Andy Ellenthal is the CEO of Peer39.
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