With Brand Safety in Focus, Digital Advertisers Are Quickly Shifting Toward Direct Programmatic

While moving away from real-time bidding

Brands are adjusting to the automated ads landscape.
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Bots, fraud and particularly brand safety—given YouTube’s recent controversies—are among the reasons “programmatic advertising” has become a dirty term in some marketers’ minds. Yet, there appears to be an acceleration toward direct programmatic (or “premium” in the parlance of some industry players) that shows the marketplace may be adapting with more urgency than in the past.

Typically speaking, real-time bidding—an impressions-focused form of programmatic that can often lead to brands either appearing alongside questionable content or, worse, falling victim to ad fraud—is on the decline, eMarketer reported this week. The New York-based researcher said that in 2017, 44 percent of all programmatic advertising will be purchased via real-time bidding, or RTB, while programmatic direct will represent 56 percent of programmatic display spending. It’s the third year in a row that programmatic direct will make gains on RTB, per eMarketer; for instance, its 2016 estimates declared a 53 percent (direct)-to-47 percent (RTB) split. More specifically, for 2017, eMarketer said, 74.5 percent ($24.25 billion) of domestic digital display ads will run via private marketplaces and programmatic direct setups. These kinds of systems usually offer higher-quality placements and should avert ad-buying problems, and it sounds like they are growing in popularity by the day.

"Buying privately increases the chances of being in a brand-safe environment and serving to human traffic."
-Julia Welch, vp of MediaMath

“Clients are moving their dollars to private marketplaces with intention of bringing transparency into the transaction, knowing from whom you are buying and what you are buying,” said Julia Welch, vp of MediaMath. “Additionally, they are doing it in hopes of reaching more of their best customers in contextually relevant environments. Buying privately increases the chances of being in a brand-safe environment and serving to human traffic. Buying programmatically provides the opportunity to do that in a data-driven way, ensuring that you are reaching as many of your best customers as possible.”

Steve Bagdasarian, general manager of PCH/Media, the digital arm of Publishers Clearing House, said that “brands are, without a doubt, focusing on high-converting ad units” and even shifting toward another realm of programmatic—native. “Brands are being forced to go more direct-to-consumer in nature and are being held to performance obligations to show that media is working for them,” he contended.

There’s a lot of money at stake. Nearly 80 percent, or $32.56 billion, of the U.S. digital display dollars will go to programmatic systems this year, according to eMarketer, which said that automated ad buying’s market share will rise to 84 percent by 2019.

“There are too many middlemen in this game,” said George Levin, CEO of video programmatic player GetIntent, who said he’s seen a move among clients toward more programmatic direct buying. “Direct deals solve this problem. Buyers will negotiate a deal directly with publishers and know the final price. [They] understand where the ad will be placed, unlike open RTB, when you buy premium domains.”

The new numbers from eMarketer come at a seemingly apropos time, with YouTube’s troubles with advertisers like AT&T, Verizon and Johnson & Johnson pulling their ads from the platform because of its sometimes racist, sexist, homophobic and extremist videos. Because of that particular brouhaha, the pendulum is swinging toward direct faster than before, suggested Joe Kowan, evp of strategy and product at Media iQ.

“Quality issues, as you’ve seen brought to surface recently, we feel have simply expedited that evolution,” Kowan said.

Jason Kint, CEO of publisher Digital Content Next, added, “There is a virtual absence of trust in blind programmatic and user-generated content, which can’t be controlled. We expected the market to move this way, and it can’t happen fast enough.”