This post is by Alex Kuhnel, Chief operating officer at Kantar Media TGI.

There has been much hand wringing recently in the digital advertising industry over the threat posed by ad blocking, as new software is launched promising to block ads on mobiles. Advertisers and trading desks worry how much take up will this witness and how they can fight back.

At the same time, a debate has been going on about whether the content of programmatic ads is up to scratch when compared to the quality of other types of advertising.

In fact, both worries tap into a deeper truth about programmatic, which is that cookie-based advertising's promise of targeting a browser regardless of where they are online, disregards the all-important match between an ad and the environment in which it appears. The weaker the connection between advertising and context, the less receptive the consumer is likely to be.

The importance of positioning

Even an ad with very compelling creative will jar with the viewer if it appears in a context at odds with the positioning that the advertiser is striving for. What if a high-end fashion label's sophisticated, luxuriously designed ad pops up on a site oriented around bargain-basement product deals? All of that carefully crafted investment is blown out of the water by the juxtaposition.

To put it another way – we all like to eat chocolate (well, I do anyway), but would we want it on top of a burger? Exactly. Context is key and indeed advertisers are increasingly frustrated by cookie-led campaigns that on the one hand pursue an identified target who could well convert, but on the other hand potentially undo a lot of their hard work on branding and positioning.

When this is combined with other issues that programmatic campaigns often face, particularly online ad fraud, the pressure on trading desks and ad networks from advertisers to deliver solutions to these concerns has reached a critical level. Little wonder that recent research from ExchangeWire revealed that 94% of marketers believe that marketplace quality is a serious issue in programmatic advertising.

In fact the solution, as so often, has always existed, it has merely required harnessing.

Overcoming cookie limitations with publisher inventory metrics

Providing trading desks and ad tech platforms with publisher inventory metrics to understand in real depth who is visiting specific sites reveals the strength of the match between what both the brand and the specific media vehicle stands for. Unlike targeting based just on pursuing a particular audience throughout its online journey, making publisher audience insights more central to campaigns will enable more effective placement.

More granular targeting by understating the whole consumer

Fuller understanding of a target audience beyond browsing history and basic demographic data – which is often all that is available when planning cookie-based campaigns – also makes it easier to evaluate the most effective mix of sites that balance reach and efficiency to target a particular group. In addition, it stands to reason that the fuller the picture of the target and what makes them tick, the easier it is to tailor an ad that they will find compelling and make them less likely to reach for the ad blocking software.

To identify the relevant target group and run an effective campaign, it is important to have broad and detailed insight into their lives as offline consumers as well as their online existence. This gives advertisers the reassurance they crave that their campaign will reach the right consumers in an appropriate environment.

It's not revolution that is needed for programmatic, but evolution

Advertisers don't want to see the wholesale replacement of cookie-based advertising. What they want is to exploit its benefits whilst mitigating its drawbacks by leveraging a complementary means of advertising that takes account of their branding and positioning requirements. This way they can be confident that their campaigns will avoid any potential nasty positioning surprises, as well as minimising the prospect of falling victim to fraudulent activity.

The tools hitherto available to trading desks and ad tech platforms do not answer these advertiser needs, so new tools need to be developed that will support the ongoing evolution of programmatic advertising and give confidence to all players in the digital advertising ecosystem. Without these, the threat of ad blocking and perception of programmatic ad content will only worsen.

About the author and Kantar Media

As chief operating officer at Kantar Media TGI, Alex Kuhnel has overall responsibility for Kantar Media TGI's global strategic development and the evolution of its digital capabilities. Previously he was the EMEA managing director at programmatic ad exchange PulsePoint. Other roles include overseeing Experian's digital transformation strategy and business planning positions at T-Mobile and Orange.