The auction system in programmatic advertising ensures that advertisers pay a competitive price based on the demand for a particular audience at a given time. And while there is plenty of inventory available to bid on, advertisers must be willing to pay premium CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) for quality inventory to protect brand reputation and increase consumer trust.

Let’s examine how to prioritize quality over quantity in programmatic advertising through measuring ad viewability, implementing brand safety, and avoiding fraudulent inventory (malicious sites, bots, MFA sites, etc.).

Failure to Measure Ad Viewability Risks Missing Your Target Audience and Wasting Ad Spend

A crucial metric to consider in programmatic advertising is vCPM, which stands for viewable CPM or cost per thousand viewable impressions. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), an impression is deemed viewable if at least 50% of a display ad’s pixels are in view for a minimum of one second. Unlike the traditional CPM metric that counts all impressions regardless of viewability, vCPM provides a more accurate measurement of whether an ad was actually viewed.

Typically, programmatic media buyers prioritize inventory with the most cost-effective CPMs to maximize impressions. But what good is it to pay a cost-effective CPM if you are wasting ad spend on non-viewable impressions? This is where buyers need to evaluate the value of paying premium CPMs for quality inventory.

While viewability rates can vary across industry and platform, DoubleVerify reports the average viewability rate for display is 66%.  By measuring ad viewability, buyers can determine if a brand’s ads are being seen by human eyes, therefore understanding if they are effectively using media dollars. Additionally, they can adjust their strategies to improve viewability and overall campaign performance.

Pro Tip: Set up a viewability target based on a reputable ad verification provider within your brand protection set parameters; it will help ensure your ads are served and seen on quality inventory.

Neglecting Brand Safety Measures Could Severely Damage Your Brand’s Reputation

With the widespread use of misinformation over the last few years, the need for ad transparency is even more important for advertisers to build trust with consumers. Programmatic media buyers need to look more closely at the data to gain insight into where their ads are being shown. By doing so, buyers can ensure that the placement of their advertisers’ ads aligns with the brand’s values and resonates with target audiences, ultimately establishing credibility.

Reliable demand-side platforms (DSPs) should have built-in brand protection, but media buyers still need to be proactive:

  • Exclude sensitive content within your brand protection set to avoid ads being shown on controversial pages or pages that could be perceived negatively
  • Create blacklists and whitelists to ensure that brands are being represented in the most relevant and brand-safe environments

Even though implementing brand protection within a DSP can increase your CPMs, filtering out unsuitable content will secure ad placements on higher-quality inventory, thus improving campaign performance. Additionally, some of the fees you may accrue to measure viewability can be waived if they are included in the brand protection set therefore further incentivizing media buyers to target quality inventory.

It’s important to note that although this article addresses the open marketplace specifically, Private Marketplaces (PMPs) provide premium, safe inventory – which is another route to take when looking at brand safety measures.

Pro Tip: Use the below targeting as a guideline for building out your brand protection set in your DSP, and as always, doublecheck your Boolean Logic:

Include: 70% or higher viewability


Exclude (using AND statements): Made for Advertising (MFA) fraud pages, bot sites/non-human traffic, fraudulent apps, rated high maturity 17+, sites with content containing accidents/disasters, adult & explicit content, online piracy, arms/ammunition, fake news, negative news, controversial subjects, crime & harmful acts, drugs/tobacco, gambling/alcohol, and hate speech.

Ignoring Bot and Made for Advertising Sites in Ad Targeting Exposes You to Fraudulent Inventory

A Made for Advertising (MFA) site refers to a website that is specifically created to generate ad revenue. These types of sites typically have a primary purpose of showing ads rather than providing valuable content for visitors. They often use deceptive tactics to attract traffic and maximize ad impressions, such as using clickbait-style headlines or excessive ad placements (hello pop-ups!).

According to the Association of the National Advertisers, MFA websites represent 21% of impressions and 15% of ad spend.

While it might seem that you’d be better off serving impressions on sites with lower CPMs, that simply lowers your overall average CPM compared to serving impressions on quality inventory with higher CPMs, but the concern is vCPM and achieving business outcomes. In the long run, it doesn’t serve brands to run ads on MFAs when their target audiences are elsewhere. So, even if advertisers have to pay premium CPMs, it’s evident that quality inventory can drive better return on ad spend (ROAS) as targeting accuracy is improved.

Pro Tip: Set up exclusions for non-human and MFA sites as well as fraudulent apps within your brand protection set. However, media buyers still need to be diligent about monitoring fraudulent activity.

Use Data-Transparent Demand Side Platforms to Avoid Ineffective Budget allocation in Programmatic Advertising

By prioritizing quality, media buyers can use programmatic advertising to enhance the user experience by showing ads that are contextually relevant, compelling, and non-intrusive. This helps to build positive brand associations and increases the likelihood of user engagement. Media buyers can also leverage the transparency of DSPs by gaining insights into campaign performance, audience behavior, and ad placements and can utilize this information to refine targeting, creative, and overall campaign strategy.

Ad viewability, brand safety and avoiding fraudulent inventory should be top-of-mind for programmatic media buyers. Partnering with a DSP that prioritizes data transparency is crucial for ensuring that a brand’s ad dollars are being spent on viewable AND quality inventory – even if that means sacrificing cheaper CPMs.