With programmatic ad spend expected to reach £2.5bn in 2016, factors such as brand safety, ad fraud, and viewability are ongoing concerns for the digital advertising industry. The debate around media quality in both programmatic and publisher direct environments has gained momentum, reaching a climax with the announcement of the Coalition for Better Ads in September 2016.

The consortium – which aims to establish a set of global standards – is the first example of major players including P&G, Facebook and Google, actively joining forces in an attempt to maintain ad quality, while protecting revenues. But will this be enough? 

It may be too soon to assess the impact of this initiative on the online advertising experience, but one thing is certain: until now, the measurement of advertising activity and standards has varied from country to country, making it difficult to view digital holistically.

So how can marketers evaluate the global effectiveness of online advertising – including the increasingly important role of programmatic within the digital advertising ecosystem – and learn from the strengths of other markets to increase their own ROI? The answer lies in the comparison and analysis of impression-level campaign data from different markets across the globe.

The IAS H1 2016 Media Quality Report, which highlights ad fraud, brand safety, and viewability trends for programmatic and publisher direct advertising across display and video, based on the analysis of over 100 billion impressions, provides a truly global snapshot of advertising campaigns across UK, France, Germany, US, and Australia.

Global display at a glance

Display is a vital channel for marketers, representing the largest proportion of revenue in online advertising. France is a particularly quality-conscious market, with the highest viewability[i] rate at 61.6% (versus 49.3% for Australia) and the lowest brand risk[ii] at 6.2%, less than half that of Australia (12.7%). Positive results such as these, can only help support the increased investment into programmatic.

However, France still needs to play its part in the fight against ad fraud, having the second-highest rate of invalid traffic at 6.1%. The UK scored the lowest risk at 3.2%, perhaps testament to the efforts of industry bodies such as IAB UK, JICWEBS, and ABC in combating fraudulent activity.

In terms of ad clutter, Germany has the lowest rate of high to very high clutter across display (1.3%), followed by France (1.8%), Australia (2%), the UK (3.1%), and the US (3.4%). This could be attributed to Germany's ad block issue. According to the 2016 Reuters Digital News report, a quarter (25%) of German users have installed ad block software restricting publishers' ability to generate revenue. When asked about the motivation behind the decision to download the software, over three-fifths (64%) of German users blamed the volume of ads, highlighting the importance of an improved user experience.

Global video at a glance

The increased opportunities of video to engage audiences – through audio and motion – have resulted in marketers across the globe continually directing more of their budgets toward the channel. As a result, the H1 2016 Media Quality Report sampled over 6 billion video impressions across publisher direct and programmatic channels.

The risk of programmatic ads being ignored is a worldwide concern that needs to be addressed, as only a third (32.1%) are 'in view' compared with two-thirds (64.5%) of publisher direct ads. Ad fraud – often more prevalent in video due to higher prices and therefore margin – also presents a greater concern within a programmatic environment, with 9.9% of traffic considered invalid, compared to only 6.1% of publisher direct ads.   

Working together to improve media quality

According to predictions, digital ad spend is only likely to rise in coming years and – providing the ad environment is suitable – programmatic will inevitably come into its own as automated ad op processes become more sophisticated.

The results of the H1 2016 Media Quality Report serve to arm marketers with actionable data to enable them to play to their strengths and also to learn valuable lessons from other markets. Only by working together can marketers, media agencies, media owners, suppliers, and technology providers make improvements where they are most needed, and ultimately ensuring the provision of safer, high quality ads.

[i] Viewability is measured as a percentage of impressions 'in view' as per the MRC standard, for display and video respectively.

[ii] Brand risk is shown as a percentage of impressions found to pose a significant risk to brand image and reputation.