RTB should be the best thing that ever happened to our industry, but it’s not living up to its potential.
While RTB can be very efficient and budget-friendly, there’s an unjust perception that RTB is solely the domain of retargeting and low-quality, remnant inventory. Moreover, RTB has a handful of fraud issues: ads that aren’t viewable, ads that follow you endlessly even after you’ve made a purchase, and ads that appear on “ghost sites.” Then, there’s the question of quality: brands can’t risk association with sensitive, offensive or otherwise unsavory content. Given these issues, many brands are simply reticent to invest in RTB campaigns.

Let’s take a look at the combination of factors that have precipitated these issues. For starters, RTB relies heavily on retargeting, which can be a great tool when used properly. But the retargeting pool is limited, and the tactic is now overused. In addition, the ecosystem unwittingly rewards unscrupulous behavior as a byproduct of broken attribution models. With all success metrics focused on conversion, there is a subset of ads that are never seen, but still allow a vendor to claim performance based on view-throughs. This is one of several attribution games vendors play on the exchanges.

It’s time to take the promise of RTB to the next level. We can’t allow it to devolve into tactics designed to game the system rather than deliver real results. It’s time to elevate the programmatic discussion into something far more interesting.

While the debate rages on as to what constitutes a “premium” buy on RTB, a few themes have translated from traditional digital media onto the exchanges: the publisher’s pedigree, private exchanges and even certain ad units. I would contend that another critical — and often overlooked — factor warrants a seat at the premium RTB table: real-time intent. Understanding the content a user is consuming in the moment can help marketers target intent in real time, which is the key to serving relevant ads that inspire interaction.

The importance of this is often overlooked. Page-level context doesn’t seem to factor into today’s definition of “premium,” but it can — and should. High-quality content is plentiful on the exchanges and can be purchased on a granular, page-level impression basis rather than a broad site or section buy. In fact, this mode of media buying can address advertisers’ concerns about relevance and brand safety on exchange-based inventory. How is this possible?

New advances in targeting now go beyond keywords and context to understand relevant, page-level “concepts:” a series of connected ideas and relationships that signal what a page is truly about and unlock the user’s intent at that precise moment.

Concept targeting also provides built-in brand protection through an inherently deep understanding of content. This can help advertisers with filters to avoid sensitive topics, URLs or specific terms. While quality content is produced daily, even the best publication can’t guarantee that the ad for your first-class air service won’t run adjacent to an article about Boeing’s mechanical problems if you’re buying across full sites or sections. As a simple example, if I’m reading a review of the latest smart TVs, and an ad appears for a smart TV, I just might click. In contrast, if I’m reading an article about the conditions endured by the factory workers who build smart TVs, I’m less inclined to click.

This might explain why some brands are hesitant to advertise on general news sites. Yet, within these same high-quality news sites are articles about health, finance and other topics that are individually of premium quality. By targeting concepts on each page rather than topical sections, advertisers can avoid negative or damaging content, and still capitalize on lower-priced, quality inventory.

Premium can’t be premium if relevance and brand safety aren’t in the mix. Let’s take that next step to transform the perception of RTB from “Race to The Bottom” to “Raise The Bar.”