Programmatic Media Buying Has Marketers Worried About Brand Safety, says CMO Council Report

CMO Council

CMO Council Releases Milestone Report on State of Digital Brand Advertising Based on Consumer Response and Marketer Reactions to Issues With Automated Ad Placement

The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council and Dow Jones released detailed findings of extensive research undertaken this year on the impact of programmatic media buying and automated digital advertising placement on brand reputation, consumer perception and customer trust.

 The findings call into question the merits and flaws of the $40 billion programmatic advertising market, especially the risks of digital display ads appearing alongside objectionable content. Notably, 72 percent of brand advertisers engaged in programmatic buying are concerned about brand integrity and control in digital display placement.

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 the new study, much of what will be discussed during this year’s Advertising Week in New York City (September 25 to 29) will face new scrutiny as brands and agencies alike call for tighter controls, greater visibility and a renewed commitment to brand safety and reputation management.

The CMO Council’s milestone research report, entitled “BRAND PROTECTION FROM DIGITAL CONTENT INFECTION: Safeguarding Brand Reputation Through Diligent Ad Channel Selection,” provides valuable insights gathered from an online study of more than 300 senior marketing decision makers, along with perspectives from among the CMO Council’s 13,000-plus members in 110 countries, controlling an estimated $500 billion in aggregated, annual marketing spend.

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

However, 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 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 percent) 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.

Most notable—especially for the 100,000 professionals from the advertising, marketing, media and related creative industries convening in New York City this week—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, and they view this as a new client imperative.

Donovan Neale-May
Donovan Neale-May

“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,” notes 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


• Tracking and monitoring digital advertising placements internally


• Moving to programmatic direct buys and private exchanges rather than bidding in open exchanges


• Developing whitelists of pre-approved publishing channels and reputable content/editorial channels


“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.”

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