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What’s In Your Site-List?

Vincent Flood  03 December, 2015

Brian DanzisIt’s remarkable that as we go into 2016, transparency on where ads are shown is still a major industry issue. Site-lists were originally devised to help advertisers understand where their money was going, although in reality they can sometimes be contain (very) misleading information, or even refer to publishers who the DSP or ad network no longer works with. However, as Brian Danzis, CRO at Virool, explains here, there are a few strategies and technologies that advertisers can use to safeguard their interests when it comes to site-lists.

Sight, sound and motion is the most powerful communication tool the world has ever seen. It has the ability to both evoke great emotion and drive people to action. Therefore, it’s no wonder video is the go to medium for marketers and nearly a quarter trillion dollars is spent on it worldwide.

However, not all of that spend is effective of course. In fact, improperly placed messages can do great harm. The wrong association and environment can destroy even the most well-intentioned message. Since the very first TV commercials, advertising in and around a program signaled an effective sponsorship and endorsement of that programme: “This episode is brought to you by.” If an audience were to object to the underwriting of content they deemed inappropriate, it could spell disaster for a brand. From the brash programming of a young FOX network to off-the-air comments made by cable TV stars, advertisers can move quickly to cancel investments under pressures from even just a few angry viewers. Today, disgruntled viewers can organise their opinion quickly and deliver a PR onslaught.

As more television marketing dollars shift to digital video, where the FCC doesn’t control such things as nudity, language or speech, brand safety concerns are heightened. However, with limitless content available for an advertiser to run adjacent to, the ability to approve show by show, page by page programming, is not scalable. At the very least though, marketers can and should know exactly who the creator or domain owner is.

Ergo, every marketer should always ask:  What’s in my site-list?

Unfortunately, many digital ad networks and DSPs, with their own marketplaces, use tricks to cover the risks their long tail inventory pose to advertisers. Clever language is placed at the bottom of their site-list to caveat the idea that they won’t deter from the listed publishers and are responsible for only delivering on those sites. It’s akin to shopping for organic produce and after paying AND consuming it, you realize you were sold conventionally grown fruit and vegetables, or perhaps something worse.

Sometimes, you’ll receive a site list that includes other ad-networks, exchanges or syndicators meant to roll-up thousands of sites that might not be relevant to you. You simply don’t know what you’re getting! Furthermore, consider that most all ad networks and DSP marketplaces offer no guarantee that the list of “example” sites they offer you are ones they even have a relationship with. These lists are directional; they might have an old relationship with this publisher, or have run on the site at only one point in time. They might not have the ability to serve on that publisher now, but because they say they won’t run on anything “off the list” they are OK to plump up their list in order to hide where their scale is really coming from.

Also, beware of the “custom channel” addition to the site list, this could be a hodgepodge of just about anything the ad network wants to sneak into this category. It’s like their own curated channel of crap. Always ask to see what is on the “custom channel” and don’t be afraid to ask questions about the listed publishers.

Third party auditing firms like DoubleVerify and White Ops have made big business out of catching rogue placements and raising false flags. Inventory on ad-supported versions of a site, typically sold as a subscription service, can be banished to the category of incentivised media. A placement on GQ, usually thought of as a premium site, might get flagged as inappropriate if a pretty girl was on the page. These services provide value, but do your own homework as well. They are in the business of finding trouble.

You can protect your brand with a little homework at the onset of planning.

First, demand full transparency from your network or DSP platform. You have a right to see every delivered impression or view just like the TV networks provide you logs of the exact day/time of your TV sport. Ask for it both on the front end and on the back end.

Second, ensure that your site-list only contains publishers where the platform received a legitimate number of ad requests in a recent period. This will weed out filler sites that might look good on paper, but you’ll never have any shot of running on. At Virool, we only include publishers where we’ve received 1000+ ad requests over the course of 7 days.

Third, use contextual targeting companies like Grapeshot to ensure you’re considering context, which sometimes is just as important as demo and behavioural targeting. We have all heard the phrase coined by Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone, that ‘content is king’. Well, a king without a territory to govern is an irrelevant one, so I’ll submit the argument that context is the kingdom and the environment of your message is ultimately more important than the content it is run against: the kingdom rules the king.

Site, sound and motion is powerful. Know the facts and know where you’re running. Your client will thank you for it.  So next time you’re in planning mode, ask your ad network or DSP partner: what’s in your site-list?

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