MFAs will ‘quickly disappear’ if brands take an active interest in adspend

MFAs will ‘quickly disappear’ if brands take an active interest in adspend

This week, trade bodies Isba, the US Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As), and the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) released a detailed definition of ‘Made for Advertising’ (MFA) websites.

The move follows a report by the ANA this summer that found MFA sites comprise 21% of all digital ad impressions and 15% of spend.

The trade bodies said MFA sites usually exhibit some combination of the following characteristics: high ad-to-content ratio; rapidly auto-refreshing ad placements; high percentage of paid traffic sourcing; generic content (e.g., non-editorial or templated, low quality content); and usually poorly designed, templated web designs.

In a recent episode of The Media Leader Podcast, Ozone CEO Damon Reeve spoke to host and reporter Jack Benjamin about how moving adspend from MFA sites toward premium publishing environments would be a win for advertisers and publishers alike.

Listen to the clip, or read a transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity, below.

Jack Benjamin: It’s not just social or search that’s taking [digital ad] budgets. Part of it is also Made for Advertising sites. There was a big article on this earlier this summer. Basically, the ANA found that MFA sites, which are, I think you’d agree, widely considered low-quality digital inventory, currently account for 21% of all online ad impressions and 15% of adspend. It also found the average campaign runs on 44,000 different websites in total. That’s a figure they called “deeply concerning.”

In response, GroupM, WPP’s investment arm, announced new protections against MFA sites. I would expect to see other media agencies following suit there. I’m curious, what needs to be done to make sure that that spend gets transferred over into more premium digital inventory, perhaps on news websites?

Damon Reeve: In today’s world that’s complex, but the simple answer is if brands took an active interest in knowing where their advertising spend goes, very quickly you would see that spend gravitate to places that are trusted and safe, and not MFA websites.

I thought that study was interesting — I didn’t know it was going to come out so I found it interesting reading — and it coincides with the ISBA/PwC report that they updated earlier this year, where in the first report in 2020, the average programmatic campaign ran across over 16,000 domains. That had come down to 9,000, which is considered an improvement. But that’s still 9,000 websites, I mean that’s just phenomenal, and most people including me — I don’t think I would actually, from a personal point of view, visit more than, I don’t know, 20-50? I don’t even know what the number is. But 9,000 is a crazy number, let alone 16,000.

So, for a lot of media agencies, GroupM included, I think it’s great they’re starting to clamp down and consider where spend and where ads are actually appearing. Which will move spend away from some of these MFA sites. But there’s still a long way to go, and the gatekeeper is the brand. If the brand takes an active interest in knowing where their ads are appearing, we’ll see that whole part of the market disappear pretty fast.

There were a couple of other things out of that ANA report that I thought were interesting. One of them was that these MFA sites don’t perform very well, which I thought was curious because the reason why they exist is to perform well from an advertising perspective.

JB: They’re “made for advertising!”

DR: They game the system, right? They have ads that appear on-screen, so their viewability is high, they’ll have completed views on video; they’ll effectively be gaming the metrics to make sure they get spend captured.

So, sort of an extension of a brand taking an interest in where their ads actually appear, is making sure that the buyers that they’re entrusting to spend their media are not targeting on metrics that are effectively adtech metrics, or metrics that don’t really move their business forward, they’re just media metrics for the sake of it. And I feel like that is starting to change, and I think as third-party cookies go away in Chrome at some point next year, and a lot of that data doesn’t exist, then there will be a natural trend towards business metrics and measures that actually have a business impact.

JB: And first-party data as opposed to third-party data.

DR: Sure, correct.

JB: Another thing that stuck out to me from that study was the environmental impact of essentially wasted advertising. If so much is being spent that isn’t effective, on sites that people might not be going to as frequently as others, then it’s essentially a huge carbon sink as well.

I’ve spoken to Scope3 about how reducing ads on MFA sites could contribute to sustainable advertising goals, but I know that this fall Ozone is also launching its own new initiative regarding sustainability called ECOzone. I’m curious, in your own words, how would you describe the initiative, and was it advertisers or publishers or both that sort of drove you to start looking into this space a little more than you had been, perhaps, previously?

DR: I’d say both. I think both brands and publishers have an active interest in not only reducing carbon output, because everyone needs to be measuring and reducing, but also the correlation between carbon output and doing good business is fairly tight.

With Ozone, and within publishing, there’s a fairly generally held view that buying direct is generally better. So buy direct from the publisher—you have a one-to-one connection between the brand and the publisher, that’s a good thing. After that, buy through Ozone, because Ozone as it’s representing a collection of publishers, is a next step to doing that.

As soon as you move further away into more open programmatic activity, where there’s lots of ad requests and bids and a lot of data moving backwards and forwards, where win rates are low and yields are low, you’re just doing a lot of work—there’s a lot of computing power—for not a lot of return value. And I think that is unproductive commercially as much as it is from a carbon point of view.

Over time, hopefully, we’ll move in a direction that’s much more beneficial to both the brand and the publisher and, in turn, also beneficial from a sustainability point of view.

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