Advertisers don’t always know where their content is going, as the recent Google controversy made clear. Yet the major brands that pulled millions of dollars from YouTube amid concerns that their ads were appearing next to inappropriate content were just the tip of the iceberg: seduced by the promise of low-cost impressions and efficient targeting, brands increasingly rely on programmatic ad buying. In the first half of 2017, 61% of impressions analyzed by L2 were purchased through indirect channels, up from 53% in 2016. However, L2’s Display Advertising report finds that impressions bought via indirect channels appear on more low-quality publisher sites than their directly purchased counterparts.

AdvertisingMany major brands are clustered in the low-quality quadrants, where sites are cluttered with ads or feature controversial content such as violence, pornography, or fake news. Even the largest advertisers struggle to maintain quality: 38% of Hill’s Pet Nutrition’s indirect desktop impressions are served on low-quality sites, according to L2’s study. Just a handful of brands manage to serve indirect desktop impressions on above-average quality sites at below-average CPMs.

Advertisers have several ways to deal with this problem, like creating whitelists and blacklists of preferred and blocked publisher sites, setting quality standards with their media buying partners, and using vendors to monitor the quality of their ad buys. For some, it might not even be a problem. If a brand is just looking to build awareness, showing up on these sites might be a small price to pay.

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