Why RTB is failing media buyers

Peer39 recently surveyed media buyers on what they'd like to see from exchanges when it comes to real-time bidding (RTB). Nearly three quarters said that knowing if an ad is above or below the fold is a critical factor in their purchase decisions. At the same time, 43 percent said that knowing the number of ads on the page is important as well. In short, media buyers want what they can't have.

Why this data specifically? If I asked you to remember an ad you saw in Times Square, you'd probably have trouble because of the sheer number of billboards on display. The people, the lights, and the traffic create a sensory overload. Now, could you also recall a flyer you passed by quickly? Unlikely. But there's a reason the Times Square ecosystem works, from billboards to sandwich boards. Sometimes advertisers want to go big, other times small.

Online advertising is like an amplified version of Times Square. The industry is a cacophony of people, pages, great inventory, and a lot of junk. In the old days, traditional direct buys provided media planners with the comfort of knowing the sites where their ads would show up. But today, the most effective buying approach utilizes network and exchange models and RTB technology, with very little insight at all into where the ads actually show up on the page, or how many competing ads appear.

Imagine selling ads in Times Square but the buyer doesn't know whether an ad will appear up in lights or plastered on a building site -- oh, and you can't determine if it's actually Times Square, either. That's RTB.

Ad location and clutter
The terms above the fold (ATF) and below the fold (BTF) may be associated with newspapers, but they carry a lot of meaning and power when measuring online ad performance and price.

Casale Media found that ads appearing above the fold -- in the first screen of a browser when a user arrives at a page -- are seven times more effective at driving clicks than ads found below the fold. Driving clicks is just one metric that marketers look for.

Contextually relevant ads placed lower on the page can be very successful for advertisers. According to a Yahoo study, the bottom of the screen is consistently the fifth spot on a page a viewer looks, scoring higher than placements on the side and top. When the context is right, ads below the fold can be very effective.

Pricing, not just performance
The real issue is not performance but pricing; publishers and media buyers want ATF and BTF inventory priced accordingly. ATF CPMs run as high as $5, while BTF go for a dollar CPM. Knowing ad location helps the buyer determine a bidding strategy and evaluate performance.

A few individual ad networks offer ATF and BTF indicators on its blind RTB, but the vast majority of major data networks don't provide those insights at all. This industry loves audience targeting, but there's no real way for a media buyer to know if the audience even gets to the point on the page where the ad appears. They don't know the degree of ad clutter on the page, or how many other ads compete for the user's attention.

The industry wants media buyers to give us their money, but we're consistently falling short of what they want. If we can't provide buyers with the actionable data they need to succeed, then there's really no reason for brands to move budgets online.

Measurability gives digital a big advantage over other media, but it's not enough. Placement, context, brand safety -- all of these things matter, and the major networks, exchanges, DSPs, trading desks, and data firms need to do their part to reveal it. RTB relies too much on consumer surfing insights rather than page-level data. Sharing all the available information treats the buyer like a partner in the process, rather than someone who simply cuts the check.

Andy Ellenthal is CEO of Peer39.

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Comments

Christine Benoit
Christine Benoit October 22, 2014 at 9:32 AM

The answer to this is very simple! Build an Agency Trading Desk, or start to leverage the one you have even more - work very closely with them.

I provide all my strategies and tactics to my team. If this is a concern, you have the option in the DSPs/Platforms to target ATF only, or a mix of both. You also have the option to make sure you run on sites that don't have more than a certain # of ads.

Working very closely with you team and showing them how you are getting the results gives them a lot more confidence and creditability in where they are investing their money.