Is Programmatic Media Buying Raising Consumer Concerns?


The “merits and flaws” of the $40 billion programmatic advertising market — especially the risks of digital display ads appearing alongside objectionable content — have emerged as key concerns among both marketers and advertisers.

That’s just one of the key takeaways from detailed findings of research conducted in 2017 by the CMO Council and Dow Jones on the impact of programmatic media buying and automated digital advertising placement on brand reputation, consumer perception and customer trust.

According to the jointly conducted research, some 72% of brand advertisers engaged in programmatic buying are concerned about brand integrity and control in digital display placement.

As the CMO Council and Dow Jones note, AdTech limitations have resulted in notable, image-sensitive brand ads appearing within or alongside hateful, derogatory and offensive rich media content, fake news, as well as non-contextual and inappropriate online channels. According to their research, brands and agencies alike will be seeking tighter controls, greater visibility and a renewed commitment to brand safety and reputation management.

The CMO Council/Dow Jones study is based on an online survey of some 300 senior marketing decision makers, combined with the perspectives from selected members of the CMO Council.

According to Zenith Media, programmatic ad spend has grown from $5 billion in 2012 to $39 billion in 2016, reflecting an average growth rate of 71% per year. It predicts an additional 31% growth in 2017, making programmatic the principal method for trading digital display advertising this year.

Yet, big brand advertisers still have significant reservations. Nearly half of marketing respondents report problems with where and how digital advertising is viewed, and a quarter state that they have specific examples of where their digital advertising supported or adjoined offensive or compromising content.

The CMO Council says the research was aimed at assessing the impact of digital advertising experiences on consumer perceptions and purchase intent. Part of the three-month discovery process looked at digital brand safety from the consumer’s perspective and found that consumers are punishing even preferred brands if they don’t use trusted media platforms or take active steps to control the integrity of their ad environments. The findings of the consumer-focused study—titled “How Brands Annoy Fans”—goes on to reveal that nearly half of respondents indicated they would rethink purchasing from a company or would boycott products if they encountered that brand’s ads alongside digital content that offended or alienated them.

Trust also emerged as a key issue for consumers when, despite delivering the second most ad messages, social media was said to be the least trusted among the top five media channels. The majority of consumers (63%) said they respond more positively to the same ads when they find them in more established and trusted media environments. To answer this call for trust, marketers plan to respond by bolstering their guidelines and standards that will shape advertising placements moving forward.

Perhaps most noteworthy, as Advertising Week takes place in New York through Sept. 29, is that marketers are committed to taking the right steps to ensure the integrity of digital ad positioning and placement in safe and reputable content environments; they view this as a new client imperative.

“Our member research shows that clients are going to be putting more pressure on their advertising and media-buying partners to provide greater due diligence, control and monitoring when it comes to ensuring ad placement efficacy through automated platforms,” says Donovan Neale-May, Executive Director of the CMO Council. “They want to see greater ad spend effectiveness and better attribution from a performance measurement standpoint. They will also likely dictate which channels are pre-approved and shift spend to those that are most trusted and proven.”

Findings from the CMO Council member survey reveal that brand decision-makers are focused on the following top five actions:


·       Developing digital advertising guidelines for their agency and ad-buying networks

·       Relying on their media-buying firm to better manage and control placements 37%
·       Tracking and monitoring digital advertising placements internally 32%
·       Moving to programmatic direct buys and private exchanges rather than bidding in open exchanges 27%
·       Developing whitelists of pre-approved publishing channels and reputable content/editorial channels 24%


“This research from the CMO Council validates the actions we have taken as a global marketing organization to protect our brand from the negative consequences associated with programmatic ad buying,” explains Suzi Watford, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for The Wall Street Journal. “To combat the threats in the digital ad ecosystem, we have brought our media planning and buying functions in house to maintain control of when and where consumers see our commercial messages. Maintaining credibility and trust are paramount to the Dow Jones brand, and we aim to apply the same level of scrutiny to our marketing practices that our journalists do in their reporting.”

Vera Bradley, TUMI and Morgan Stanley and insights from subject-matter experts at Integral Ad Science and Ebiquity are included in the report.