Have you ever been provided a full domain list by your media buying vendor inclusive of all metrics relevant to you? This is a question I’ve been asking brand marketers and agency media planners in meetings over the past couple months. The answers I’ve received have varied from “no”, “yes”, “only a small sample size” to even “I’ve never thought to ask because our KPIs are being hit”.
Let’s set aside the obvious rationale for why brand marketers and agency buyers should demand to know what their money is truly buying them. Rather let focus on exactly why marketers should start holding media buyers to a higher standard by bringing to light exactly that which many of the players in ad tech don’t want you to see…A real vendor domain list.
An unintended consequence of publicly sharing my prior experiences working in digital media has been the number of individuals currently working in ad tech who have privately reached out to share theirs. One such individual who was unhappy with the business practices at their company provided me with the below site list. I want to pre-empt that the media vendor in question here is one that every digital media veteran has heard of, and the client who is the victim here is a brand most people have heard of as well.
The site list itself is a long one. In total there are over 200,000 domains on it. For the sake of brevity, I’ve only included the top 20 domains by volume, but that in itself is telling.
Immediately your attention should be drawn to the top 2 domains which in this case are “Null” and “All Others” which account for approximately 30 per cent of total impressions on the entirety of the campaign. When you see instances of Null or All Others in place of where an actual domain name should be, that is an immediate red flag. These aren’t instances of individual domains. But rather, groupings of an unknowable number of domains that do not pass back their information to the DSP and are completely unmeasurable.
Oftentimes these impressions are sourced from mobile in-app environments which themselves are unmeasurable. Mobile also explains the high 0.30 per cent CTR that Null is returning. Now, why would a media vendor knowingly buy inventory that even they themselves don’t have transparency into as opposed to a quality site like ESPN.com which returns a much more realistic 0.03 per cent CTR? The answer again is simple and devious.
These impressions come at a very low CPM and drive a disproportionately high number of clicks. By washing them in with a sprinkle of quality more higher-cost media impressions as seen in the site list, media vendors are able to hide behind opaque business practices to maximize profit margins for themselves while also making it appear as if their media buys are legitimate and driving performance. In actuality, most impressions aren’t being served to real people and the clicks are being driven by bots. When a marketer is provided with a high-level performance report from their media vendor, the rolled-up nature of performance reporting hides what is truly happening underneath the surface.
Given that this was what’s called a branding campaign, where reach and click engagement were the primary KPIs. This client’s campaign was an ideal candidate for what amounts to nothing short of theft. The fact that marketers and agency planners also request low-cost efficient CPMs from their media partners only helps to worsen the problem. Real quality media does not come at a $2 CPM.
You may be asking yourself right now, was there a brand safety and measurement vendor on this campaign? The answer is yes there was, yet they did nothing in preventing the outcome described above. And when digging into the site list further, they did nothing to prevent the vendor or notify the client that their media ran on the below sites as well.