If there was a 40% chance that when you bought something you weren’t going to get what you thought you were buying, would you take that risk? I wouldn’t, but apparently many advertisers and/or their agencies do so every day. Ghostery, which is a browser extension I use and would heartily endorse, says its research shows 40% of all URLs in automated ad auctions are masked. What is URL masking? As a recent Ad Age article defined it:
URL masking is often used to trick advertisers into running ads on sites with illicit or stolen content, which tend to generate lots of traffic but little ad revenue. URL masking is also used to fool buyers into thinking they’re buying premium inventory when they are instead getting low quality placements.
Ouch. Then again, this is just one of the issues that have arisen as programmatic ad buying becomes more prevalent. As a former TV sales guy, I just don’t get it. Oh sure – the costs of machines that are supervised by a couple of people is far less than the cost of the number of people required to do the equivalent work. But look what happens when it’s just machines.
Ask anyone connected with the programmatic ad business what the top three issues are and they should answer:
Traffic generated by bots, ads that are run underneath pages to generate impressions when no one is seeing them, fake sites which spoof domain names that clear buyers’ whitelists because they look like they belong to reputable publishers. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Another big issue is how little of what the buyers are paying actually reaches publishers – middleman upon middleman taking their cut drives revenues to the content creators down.
Putting aside the need for transparency, I’m not a Luddite. I know programmatic ad buying is an advantageous, time and cost-effective process. But the machines can’t do everything. In fact, someone has to understand the business well enough (and all of those bad actors who would seek to steal from it) to program the algorithms. Someone needs to bring the 40% chance down to 0%. Someone else has to come up with the next brilliant, breakthrough idea. It won’t be a machine.