UK 'Brands Funding Terrorism' Fallout: Playing the Blame Game
Reaction is to attack programmatic advertising, but that’s not entirely fair
A recent report from The Times of London highlighted how some UK brands were “unwittingly funding extremists” when their ads appear on radical websites or digital video content. This prompted some fairly radical responses, with Jaguar Land Rover, for example, ceasing all digital advertising in the UK. Thomson Reuters, meanwhile, halted some elements of its programmatic advertising activities.
The finger of blame often points in the direction of programmatic advertising when such negative press stories emerge. But it’s not entirely fair to single out this method of trading digital ad inventory.
“It’s important to remember that programmatic is a broad term that encompasses many forms of automated buying, a good portion of which enables buyers to maintain tight control over who they buy from and where their ads show,” said eMarketer senior analyst Lauren Fisher. “There is value in buying from ad networks and the open markets via intermediaries, but brands really need to vet these opportunities and these sellers and make sure the necessary guardrails are in place.”
Programmatic trading gets a bad rap because it’s still seen by some as a way to offload low-value, remnant inventory. Much of this type of trading happens in the open marketplace, where there’s historically been a lack of transparency. But brands and publishers are increasingly moving toward more controlled environments like private marketplaces and programmatic direct deals, where only single publishers and select buyers are involved.
eMarketer’s most recent forecast for programmatic ad spending in the UK (available only to eMarketer PRO subscribers) found that of the £3.30 billion ($4.45 billion) in digital display ad spending expected to be transacted programmatically in 2017, just £963.2 million ($1.30 billion) would be traded on open marketplaces. Private marketplaces—auction-based trading limited to a few select buyers—will account for £655.6 million ($884.9 million), while programmatic direct—a nonauction-based approach to buying or selling ad inventory between one seller and one buyer—is set to account for £1.68 billion ($2.27 billion) in ad spend.
There have even been moves by some buyers to operate whitelists on the open market in order to guard against such missteps as uncovered by The Times.
“Publishers in the UK have experimented a bit with whitelists and blacklists, and different controls which can go right down to an ad unit level so you can have different controls on each page,” said Andrew Buckman, managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at advertising exchange OpenX, in an interview with eMarketer in July 2016.
Programmatic trading might not be perfect, but it is only a tool with which to trade ad inventory. And any tool in the wrong hands can be misused.