ANA: 15% of programmatic ad spend is wasted on click-bait websites

Dive Brief:

  • Marketers could save, at minimum, $13 billion by improving programmatic practices and cutting click-bait websites from ad buys, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) claims in a new study. 
  • A major hindrance to programmatic efficiency is a prioritization of cost over value, including wasted spend on “made for advertising” (MFA) publishers, the trade group found. The average campaign runs on 44,000 websites when just a few hundred would reach the majority of audiences. 
  • Lack of access to quality data was named as another culprit. The ANA recommends brands seek direct contracts with primary partners on the supply chain, including demand- and supply-side platforms and ad verification vendors.

Dive Insight:

Marketers in recent years have made more strenuous efforts to wrest control of quality data and streamline their media buys as they face down the deprecation of third-party cookies and signal loss at the major walled garden platforms. Yet, the $88 billion programmatic market remains a mess, according to the “ANA Programmatic Media Supply Chain Transparency Study,” defined by a misalignment between stated goals and actual practices, along with a lack of visibility into the transaction process. Over a year in the making, the study was released in tandem with the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, one of advertising’s most closely watched showcases.

One takeaway is that a spray-and-pray approach persists in programmatic media-buying, with the average campaign appearing on tens of thousands of top-level domains. The ANA described that level of scale as “incomprehensible” when a more selective approach could reach about 95% of valued audiences, according to its estimates. 

The trade group representing brand marketers also called out the prevalence of click-bait websites rife with junk content. MFA publishers commanded 15% of programmatic ad spend and accounted for a “startling” 21% of impressions tracked by the study. As sustainability concerns loom larger over programmatic decision-making, MFA inventory was also found to carry 26% higher carbon emissions compared to non-MFA inventory, per Scope3 data cited by the ANA. 

“The primary incentive driving programmatic media buying behavior is cost — getting the most impressions for every dollar,” the ANA stated in its report. “On its face, this might seem like a sensible incentive. However, in the media world not all inventory and not all impressions are equal. Common sense should tell buyers that not all ‘cheap’ inventory is ‘quality’ inventory.”

On the flip side, marketers often have a less clear window into inventory than sellers do and can tend to overpay for programmatic campaigns. The ANA pushed for brands to take on more direct contracts with ad-tech vendors to account for some of what it termed “information asymmetry.” 

The ANA acknowledged that streamlining programmatic strategy can be complex. In cutting back on the number of website buys, marketers should remember not to disadvantage smaller or minority-owned and -operated services providers, the trade group said. Given the scope of the ecosystem, inclusion lists could be more feasible to construct than exclusion lists. 

Some of the ANA’s recommendations are perhaps easier said than done. The organization urged marketers to “lean in” and become more active stewards of their investments rather than delegating those duties to third-party agencies. But in-housing programmatic know-how can be a costly, time-intensive process. Calls for such stewardship have been sounded in the industry for years, while actual progress has appeared to move at a snail’s pace. 

The ANA’s report is billed as a “first look” to more complete findings that will be issued later this year and will closely analyze factors including ad quality and pricing. The trade group estimates that its recommendations, in total, could save programmatic marketers $20 billion in media spending. While 67 ANA member companies originally volunteered to contribute to the research, only 21 ended up doing so due to legal complications and other obstacles to participation. The study surveyed $123 million in ad spending, representing about 35.5 billion impressions, between September 2022 and January 2023. 

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