The boom years of internet user growth are over. The number of internet-connected devices shipped has plateaued, and growth continues to decline.

Since brands can no longer rely on new users, they need to increase the efficiency of their spend. One aspect of that is the quality of their ads.

Brands can break ad quality down into two essential parts: brand-safe environments and relevant audiences. What appears to be a simple task on the surface quickly becomes an iceberg-like mass once brands start peeling back the layers. One widely-cited study estimated that fraudulent advertising accounted for the theft of $6.5 billion from the global digital advertising industry in 2017. Despite the risks, brands are continuing to invest, taking advantage of the scale and reach that previous media planners could only dream of hitting.

There are tools to help brands limit the impact of fraud and low ad quality on their digital marketing. The American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) founded the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) to work collaboratively with companies throughout the digital ad supply chain in order to combat fraud and certify reputable partners.

To build a best-in-class mobile ad strategy, brands must work with these and other robust ad tech platforms that can automate ad placement on reputable publisher sites with relevant audiences and optimized mobile ad viewability.

In order to identify optimal strategies, Gartner L2 bucketed brands into three brackets based on their relative ad quality scores and analyzed publisher behavior within each segment. The resulting report makes clear that across publisher categories, high-quality brands tend to be more selective. In December 2017, the average high-quality brand posted on 77% fewer unique domains than its low ad quality peer. This suggests that brands seeking improvements to ad quality should not just spray and prey. Rather, they should partner with fewer ad vendors and carefully choose their preferred publishers.

E-tailer sites and fashion editorial magazines received the highest marks for quality. E-tailers enable dynamic audience targeting and remarketing as a result of large transaction volumes, which could support high ad quality. Some high-quality sites cited in the study are Amazon, Walmart, GQ, and Glamour.

E-tailers now serve as a critical ad partner for DTC and non-DTC brands alike. Auto brand Subaru recently served targeted ads on Amazon for a major campaign pushing its 2018 Crosstrek. Fashion magazines, on the other hand, have more narrow audiences, and therefore most closely align with brands selling apparel and accessories.

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While carefully selecting direct publishers provides guaranteed quality, programmatic buying can help brands quickly scale reach, optimize to strategic objectives, and allow careful control of spend. Despite the benefits, about half of analyzed brands retreated from programmatic ad buying in 2017, likely due to brand safety concerns. However, sectors including CPG, fashion, and activewear managed to achieve higher quality through increased programmatic buying, in part by advertising on e-tailer and fashion sites.

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