Bots Don’t Buy: How Retail is Overcoming Programmatic’s Viewability Challenge


Programmatic advertising has proven that it’s here to stay. eMarketer estimates that programmatic spending will account for nearly two-thirds of all display ad dollars by 2016, totaling more than $20 billion. But there’s a catch. While this form of ad buying has significant benefits, one of the biggest obstacles programmatic faces is overcoming its inherent challenges with viewability and fraud.

Although statistics vary, studies from ComScore and ANA, in partnership with WhiteOps, show that around 50% of display ads are either clicked on by a bot or are not being viewed at all. Not surprisingly, this has led to a number of transparency and fraud concerns among advertisers, who feel they aren’t receiving sufficient information about the ads they purchase from their partners.

While the industry tackles viewability and fraud, retail publishers have a unique advantage that might save programmatic for the time being.

Programmatic’s Viewability Headache

Advertisers deserve to know their ads will be seen by humans. They’re already starting to take matters into their own hands by buying impressions that are “viewable,” particularly at a pre-bid level. However, systems like these don’t tell the full story, and often neglect other important metrics like post-click, click-through and view-through that additionally influence success for advertisers.

There are signs that we’re headed in the right direction—earlier this year the Media Rating Council (MRC) lifted its advisory urging publishers and advertisers not to use viewability as currency—but we still have a long way to go. While 14 MRC-accredited vendors have agreed to meet the MRC’s new standards, which require 50 percent of an ad’s pixels to be viewable for a minimum of one second, there is still inconsistency on where each vendor falls above that scale. And there’s still no way to tell if a human or a bot saw the ad.

Retail’s Viewability Solution

Until buy-side fraud prevention products are more readily available, retailers are able to offer programmatic transparency based on the simple fact that bots don’t buy. A bot might “shop” around, but it won’t fill up a cart and check out.

With the assurance of human-verified traffic, retail publishers can guarantee that advertisers will reach actual consumers based on proprietary first-party data. For example, retailers using their data to create private programmatic marketplaces that only target users who have already made a purchase with that retailer.

As we move slowly towards industry-wide standards that will increase the quality of viewable inventory, retail could be programmatic’s saving grace in delivering ROI in the form of real shoppers, not bots, in the digital ad space.


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