Best Practices for Ensuring High-Quality Inventory & Ads

We’ve all heard the stories about ad placements that make brand managers cringe: ads for respectable brands appearing in terrorist recruitment videos, and the like.

Obviously, marketers want to avoid such placements. But that’s just a start. In an ideal world, your ad will be seen by real people alongside content that makes sense for your brand.

Marketers everywhere want to know, how do we achieve these goals? Fortunately, we asked Criteo to share their best practices for getting the kind of placements that move the needle for brands.

Criteo's Commerce Media Platform helps brands, retailers, and publishers meet their business goals.

Multiple Aspects to Quality

First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that there are multiple aspects to quality and it differs from brand to brand. Let’s break this down.

Brand safety is a broad approach to quality. The goal is to ensure that all ads meet industry standards, as well as comply with local and global regulations (e.g. don’t show cigarette ads to kids, or fail to include mandated disclosures in ads for specific products).

Brand suitability takes this concept down a level and is customized to the individual brand. It asks: what is a brand’s appetite for a variety of issues? Some brands have a low tolerance for certain types of content, while others are comfortable with topics many consider risky, e.g. COVID-19 and social justice issues.

Quality also entails ensuring that ads are seen by real people who have a genuine interest in what a brand has to offer. The fight against invalid traffic (IVT) has seen many successes, and gone are the days when campaigns saw as much as 40% IVT. IVT detection and removal are particularly important in retargeting campaigns, where high CPMs are an irresistible lure for fraudsters, and in campaigns designed to build the upper funnel.  

Finally, there’s ad safety, which seeks to ensure that the ads are safe for publishers, meaning they have no malware or other egregious content.

Best Practice #1: Work With a Partner That Has Close Relationships With Publishers and Has Built Strong Internal Quality Controls

Programmatic buying has evolved into an incredibly complex ecosystem, and it’s no surprise that the complexity has led to huge challenges. Key among them: how do buyers know what they’re really buying when they purchase inventory on the open exchanges?

The industry has worked together to address some of these challenges; ads.txt and sellers.json are good examples of these efforts. In addition, individual companies have pioneered advances in supply chain optimization. While these initiatives are critical, they alone cannot guarantee the level of quality that brands demand, which is why it’s a good idea to work with a partner that goes to great lengths to vet its supply sources and has a dedicated team and rigorous quality-assurance policies in place. It’s also a good idea to work with partners that have built a dedicated IVT-detection team. 

Specific questions to ask a potential partner:

  • How do you vet direct publishers to ensure policy? For instance, Criteo requires publishers to declare their domains so that they can be properly vetted. They also have supply partner guidelines to which all publishers must adhere, such as content-related policies, regulatory policies, and best practices.
  • Do you have dedicated teams for IVT detection, ad safety, traffic quality, and do they work closely together to create a cohesive and coherent approach to advertiser and publisher quality?
  • What types of education and training do you provide your teams? Do all teams worldwide receive the same level of training?
  • What are your inventory controls? For instance, do you have a global block list of publishers that tend to violate your supply partner guidelines? Can this be refined to your brand? 

 Best practice #2:  Take a Holistic View to Quality

Quality is often seen primarily through the lens of the advertisers, as they’re the ones with the budget. In reality, quality is just as applicable to publishers, which is why we need to take a holistic view.

2020 was a difficult year for publishers and their ability to monetize their inventory. COVID-19 led advertisers to deploy overly broad brand-safety solutions, which devastated publisher revenues. Digital advertising isn’t possible without a strong and vibrant publisher ecosystem.

Fortunately, new granular solutions, such as contextual intelligence solutions, take a more nuanced approach to content rather than reject inventory based on broad keywords. This ensures that the advertiser’s brand-suitability needs are met while allowing publishers to monetize more of their revenue.

The ultimate goal is to produce an advertising ecosystem that will build trust and performance among all parties.

Best Practice #3: Buttress Internal Controls with Industry-Leading Partnerships

Partnering with industry-leading fraud detection and prevention vendors is not just a best practice — it’s an absolute must. You can gain a higher level of quality by working with measurement companies that are at the forefront of detecting and removing IVT automatically across all inventory types, including desktop, mobile, video, and CVT, as well as vetting publisher and app quality. 

The best providers offer contextual intelligence tools that help ensure brand suitability. These tools will provide an additional level of bid filtering to remove bid requests that are out of compliance with supply partner guidelines, automatically and at no extra costs.

Best Practice #4: When it Comes to Brand Suitability Think Granular

Granularity is the key to driving brand suitability. The more granular, the more you can protect client campaign performance, as well as safeguard monetization opportunities of your supply partners. As mentioned above, brand suitability is very specific to the brand, and you should plan on spending some time and effort with your partners so they can ensure your ads appear near content that meets your standards.

Working with an external partner that offers contextual intelligence solutions can help protect your brand-specific content categories. For instance, it’s possible to create very specific controls that help brands avoid negative news cycles and to create granular custom content segments on a brand-by-brand basis, such as avoiding content that deals with COVID-19, fast-fashion or non-vegan content. These segments can be used to assess the impact of brand-suitability requirements on campaign performance, and still ensure that campaigns don’t defund the news.

Are these solutions perfect? In truth, they’re still evolving, and scaling brand suitability to the entire internet is incredibly difficult. (Be wary of any partner that promises 100% safety or accuracy, that does not exist). Other technologies, such as sentiment analysis and the IAB taxonomy/GARM brand suitability framework are just beginning to emerge and may deliver even greater granularity in the near future.

Best practice #5: Seek Certifications or Work With Certified Partners

Working with a certified partner, or seeking certification yourself, is a great way to ensure inventory quality. For instance, the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) has several certifications for reducing fraud, and campaigns that run through TAG Certified Channels have less than 1% fraud (proof positive that by industry leaders working together, tough challenges can be solved). 

TAG offers several certifications, including TAG Certified Against Fraud and TAG Brand Safety Certification. The certification process is rigorous and detailed, but it’s worth the effort, according to Criteo, which has achieved both.

Ensuring high-quality inventory and ads isn’t a static process. It’s an ever-evolving process that demands dedicated teams, technology, processes, and partnerships. This is a case of the ends justifying the means; companies that commit to quality will enjoy safe ads in brand-suitable environments.