Report: 34% of Ad Impressions Placed on Low-Quality Sites

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A new report by Gartner L2 examines the brand safety issues surrounding programmatic advertising and finds that more than one-third of ad impressions for insurance brands in the U.S. are placed on low-quality or blacklisted sites.

The topic is particularly relevant right now, as inflammatory content becomes even more commonplace online. Reputable brands have pushed back hard against having their ads appear alongside content that goes against their values—for example, advertising running alongside articles or videos about how to complete the Tide PODS challenge—but Gartner L2’s research shows that the pushback hasn’t been effective enough, and the industry still has work to do.

“Gartner L2 was surprised to see how quickly brands shifted their ad buying strategies in response to programmatic fails. Financial services brands are known for being slow out of the gate, but seeing insurance brands change their ad-buying plans in less than a year shows the increasing priority that digital advertising has become across industries,” says Liz Elder, senior research associate at Gartner L2.

Gartner L2’s 2018 findings are the culmination of years of changing dynamics within the programmatic advertising industry. Thirty percent of the insurance brands registered increases in low-quality ad inventory as a direct result of large players retreating from ad exchanges between 2017 and 2018.

The company partnered with Trust Metrics to calculate the safety of web publishers through a proprietary algorithm that factors hate speech, ad clutter, and dangerous content into a quality score. Based on that analysis, Gartner L2 discovered that the digital ad market is fraught with risk because of “fraudulent agents” who emerge during the buying and selling process with hidden agendas.

“A lot of marketers view programmatic advertising as a complex system of algorithms and black boxes,” Elder says. “I am hoping that with Gartner L2’s report marketers are able to understand the big picture and what happened in the past couple of years, and are able to have a conversation with their agency partner or team to figure out how to improve their digital ad-buying processes.”

As reports began to surface in 2017 showing that shoppers would rethink purchasing from brands after seeing their ads appear alongside offensive content, brands themselves started to change their buying behaviors. Despite the theoretical value proposition—brands being able to optimize their digital spend and target valuable prospects based on their web behaviors—brands began to pull back from programmatic.

Between April 2016 and March 2018, the number of demand-side platforms used by top 100 advertisers dropped 41%, according to Gartner L2. The perceived threat also led to a 91% increase in the number of static ads purchased by insurance brands between March 2017 and March 2018.

Bypassing the programmatic exchanges and purchasing most of their ads directly has allowed insurance brands to take the safest approach, but Elder cautions that it’s not a strategy without any downsides.

“Having that control over where their ads are showing up eliminates most, if not all, of the risk that comes with advertising programmatically. However, that can be costly, and if a team hasn’t been built out internally, it may not have the same levels of ROI—via impressions or click-through-rates—that the brand was used to seeing,” Elder says.

Instead, Elder sees greater upside when brands have open conversations with their agency partners.

“The programmatic landscape can be difficult to understand so they should know what the risks—and rewards—are for opting to advertise that way,” she says.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.