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Digital ad spending has increased dramatically over recent years. But it has also shifted into fast-growing media channels — such as CTV and emerging social platforms — as a result of the pandemic. EMarketer (subscription required) projects that $239.9 billion will be spent on digital advertising in 2022, a 13.6% increase from 2021. With this level of expenditure, however, marketers now face a multi-billion dollar issue when it comes to determining media quality –  how can they avoid low-quality placements where impressions may never even be seen by a human?  

Meanwhile, evolving privacy legislation along with the deprecation of third-party cookies in popular browsers is reducing the efficacy of cookie-based audience targeting techniques. It’s also leading marketers to search for new strategies that can support their objectives and connect with their respective audiences. Marketers need to double down on protecting their digital dollars from fraud and other media waste while prioritizing effective high-quality impressions. 

Here are three ways marketers can optimize campaign ad spend: 

A fraud reality check for ad spending

Digital ads served to invalid traffic, such as bots, have zero impact. They never reach their intended audience. If you wonder why ad fraud issues set marketers on edge, let’s put a price tag on this issue. Juniper Research estimates that by 2023, advertisers will lose approximately $100 billion in annual ad spend to ad fraud such as bot traffic — an increase from about $42 billion in 2019. 

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If left unchecked, marketers who do not have an ad fraud mitigation strategy can lose significant budgets and wasted impressions just on invalid traffic. If these invalid clicks aren’t spotted early and often, marketers will continue to make bad decisions based on bad data. Invalid traffic siphons money away from campaigns and creates actionable insights that aren’t based on true metrics.

Using data analytics platforms to detect patterns that resemble fraud while making sure ads are seen by real humans is step one.

The context effect

While ad fraud is an obvious source of media and budgetary waste, it’s not the only one. When ads appear in contexts that don’t drive intended campaign outcomes, an opportunity cost is incurred. These ads could have been more effectively placed in the right higher-performing context. But not all contexts are equal for resonating with your audiences. 

Just focusing on reaching the right audience alone may not be enough to make your campaign successful. Targeting profitable segments and personalizing their messaging is key to unlocking a more nuanced understanding of consumers and knowing the appropriate moment to engage them. Contextual advertising offers a powerful way to connect with consumers and a clearer window into their mindset at a certain time. 

Here’s an example of how this works. Let’s say you enjoy a beer from time to time. You might be receptive to an ad from an alcoholic beverage brand while browsing restaurant or lifestyle content. But you’re less receptive if you’re in a professional mindset, such as while reading content on LinkedIn or a business journal. You are still the same person, but the context changes your receptiveness to the ad. 

Harnessing the right data to successfully identify contextual consumer habits and propensities, and then optimizing for the context of your ads, can have a dramatic impact on campaign outcomes.

One way that advertisers can get started on this step is to understand what kind of targeting options are already available within their current DSP. With this knowledge in mind, consider running a head-to-head test between contextual targeting segments compared to traditional audience targeting. This can offer an invaluable window into the opportunities of contextual targeting, and optimization, and convey the big benefits this can have on KPIs.

Protect emerging media

TV isn’t just something that lives in the box in your living room anymore. Consumers have shifted their viewing habits toward streaming video on connected TV (CTV) devices during the pandemic. This accelerated consumption has continued even as the world shifts beyond the initial stages of the pandemic. 

In 2022, CTV will account for more than one-fifth of total programmatic video ad spending for the first time, as well as one-tenth of total programmatic digital display, according to eMarketer. However, as marketers shift their spending to emerging media based on consumer trends, fraudsters do so as well. Where CPMs are high, there’s a greater upside for fraudsters. Many think they can get ahead of the technology that is preventing it.

Shifting media consumption habits coupled with marketers preparing for a post-cookie world is the perfect storm, and now is the right time for a reset. Marketers have an opportunity to prepare for the future and identify different ways of reaching their intended audiences. The key is to build your strategy for a privacy-first environment while minimizing media wastage and reaching real people in the contextual environments where they are most receptive. Data is the crystal ball to deliver relevant messages at the right time through the right channels. 

With the right preparations and focus on media quality, marketers have a very real opportunity to reclaim billions of lost ad impressions and dollars in their quest to connect with their audiences and make every impression count.

Tony Marlow is CMO of Integral Ad Science.

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