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Caught between resignation and resistance, ad industry grapples with the prevalence of made-for-advertising sites

A recent study from Ebiquity discovered that advertisers are spending roughly a tenth of these budgets on clickbait sites. Nothing new there. Over and over reports spotlight how often ad dollars find yourself anywhere but premium sites. The true surprise is that there appears to be an evergrowing resignation these clickbait sites are likely to siphon a lot more money from respected publishers.

The analysis, as Marketing Brew reported, discovered that advertisers spent an eye-bulging $115 million between January 2020 and could 2022 on something ad execs call made-for-advertising (MFA) inventory sites which exist for the only real reason for aggressively monetizing traffic so that they dont need to worry about the price of acquiring it to begin with. Basically, these sites come in the business enterprise of ad arbitrage.

And business is booming at the very least it really is if that study from media management firm Ebiquity, programmatic consultancy Jounce Media and brand suitability business DeepSee is usually to be believed.

This isnt surprising to listen to but it is still disappointing since it highlights the continued insufficient transparency in the media supply chain, said Joshua Lowcock, chief digital and global brand safety officer at UM, told Digiday. Ive had clients browse the [MFA] report and get in touch with me to see if they have the proper controls set up to limit their exposure.

These study discovered that $115 million makes up about around 7.8% of the $1.47 billion that 42 clients of Ebiquity allocated to programmatic display and video ads across 5,490 unique MFA domains. Thats money that couldve attended quality publishers. In the U.S., Ebiquitys clients spent roughly one atlanta divorce attorneys 10 dollars (9.8%) typically on clickbait. Perhaps more worryingly, though, this appears to be an issue thats getting worse, not better. In Q1 2020, MFA inventory was 10% of the bidstream. Now its 20%, per Jounce Media, which includes been following a flow of media dollars to these sites since 2020.

Cue the obligatory reactions of shock and denial which are becoming par for the course whenever reports such as this are published. Undercutting everything, though, is really a pang of resignation. Or even to put it more bluntly, ad execs are adopting an if-you-cant-beat them, join-them strategy.

Ad tech vendors that once steered free from selling MFA inventory are actually folding them to their own marketplaces. For instance, native advertising ad tech vendor AdYouLike launched a fresh integration with Exorigos, a MFA publisher, in April. Even premium publishers seem in the same way cynical concerning the issue nowadays. Group Nine has outsourced monetization to MFA specialists to fulfill the ad arbitrage demand opportunity.

Needless to say, these companies would prefer to be rewarded for producing quality content that attracts readers. But doing this doesnt always guarantee top-line growth in market wired to reward cheap reach. MFA partnerships might help plug that gap. Not that the MFA sites themselves need partnerships necessarily. They appear to be doing fine by themselves, especially because they grasp running ad arbitrage businesses at scale.

The arbitrage math scales effectively for MFAs, said Chris Kane, founder of Jounce Media. Theres enough demand for cheap, high viewable traffic that MFA publishers can scale these lenders profitably.

It doesnt need to be in this manner. No. The isnt likely to stop heading toward the farthest corners of the net searching for cheap reach (theres more potential for getting a beachfront in Arizona). You can find, however, other more palatable alternatives.

  • There may be a couple of industry standards to tell apart more clearly between what’s and isnt invalid traffic. Standards would ensure it is more challenging for ad tech vendors in order to avoid weeding out this traffic.
  • Publishers might use what influence they do need to push other ad tech vendors into phasing out MFA sites. Theyre not likely to fire any ad tech vendors for selling these impressions. However they could decide never to give those vendors anything special on the sites to market until they do drop MFA sites. No vendor really wants to be yet another commodity open auction demand partner.
  • Like publishers, buyers could have a stand. A large demand-side platform, for instance, could decide never to buy impressions from these sites.

Maybe, its items of each one of these alternatives that coalesce into some meaningful progress on shady inventory, instead of one of these.Because the industry appears to awaken to the huge opportunity cost of wasted ad investments, priorities are shifting and you can find early signs of real progress, said Ruben Schreurs, group chief product officer at Ebiquity.

He expanded on the idea: Its not only concerning the dollars lost, but these trillions of zero-effectiveness bid requests and impressions emit terribly huge amounts of CO2 equivalents. And its own not only one group that may achieve change alone. Brands, agencies, publishers, and (legit) ad tech companies should rally behind a united stance on acceptable practices and hold one another accountable.

For publisher execs, its a tricky situation. The truth that MFA sites are winning more media dollars can be an indictment of the pathetic state of the marketplace given the probability of those ads having any positive influence on any metric that truly matters is close to zero. Having said that, publishers dont want this to be another sob story.

Publishers must become better at communicating their strengths and should be more vocal within their day-to-day cooperation with brands and agencies and, if competition rules allows, publishers could possibly be better at delivering standardsthereby rendering it easier for the buy-side to gain access to publisher inventory, said Thomas Lue Lytzen, director of sales and ad tech at among Denmarks biggest news publishers Ekstra Bladet. That said, we believe that supply-side platforms should start realizing that you truly have more quality on sites that proper journalism. Its well documented that folks trust news outlets a lot more than long-tail sites.

Its very little, but its a start exactly like it really is on the buy side.

The Trade Desk is really a case point. The ad tech vendor, which helps advertisers bid on programmatic inventory, blocks open auction spend against MFA inventory. Its not just a complete ban. Buyers can still buy this inventory should they setup one-to-one private marketplaces with MFA publishers. Its been in this manner going back 12 months. A spokeswoman from The Trade Desk confirmed the stance but declined to talk about any longer detail.

The perfect solution is to the issue is having major advertisers and agencies create a conscious effort to focus on quality news publications, said Chris Hajecki, director of the curated portfolio of trusted local news websites Ads for News. There needs to be a deliberate intention here in order to avoid money likely to MFA sites along with other places that intentionally take money from quality publishers regardless of their size.

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