Programmatic ad spend wasted on made-for-advertising sites

made for advertising sites
Via Unsplash

Advertisers are spending millions of dollars on made-for-advertising sites (MFA) designed to trick them by delivering above-average viewability figures, but on websites with poor content and little audience engagement. A recent study says that spending misdirected to MFA sites is a waste of budget, but also represents a missed opportunity for advertisers to fund quality media over poor quality content and dangerous disinformation.


  • Media analytics company Ebiquity, working with programmatic research firms Jounce Media and DeepSee, found that $115 million of the $1.47 billion spent by 42 Ebiquity clients from January 2020 to March 2022 went to MFA sites. The figure represents 7.8% of the spend globally and 9.8% of the US.
  • According to the report, MFA sites attract attention from DSPs because, on the surface, they deliver results that are above average. The research shows MFA domains deliver average viewability rates of 77%, compared with the 63% digital media benchmark set by the World Federation of Advertisers.
  • However, the reality is that MFA sites deliver inflated viewability, packing pages with ad units and diluting any value in the content. While one KPI is met, the inventory underperforms. Joshua Lowcock, global chief media officer at UM Worldwide said:

It gives you the illusion of reach when it’s not actually true reach. Their questionable impressions are potentially non-human.

Funding disinformation
  • Advertising on pages with no appreciable value to the audience is clearly commercially inefficient. A bigger problem is the funding of sites that publish disinformation is potentially dangerous.
  • In a separate sample, looking at $750 million spent by 10 Ebiquity clients, over $1 million went to websites classified as “worst offenders” by the Global Disinformation Index. According to Ebiquity CEO Nick Waters, an international pharmaceutical company supporting the Covid-19 vaccine effort was found to be paying to place advertising on a website carrying anti-vaccine misinformation.
  • With emarketer predicting that US spending on open exchange programmatic will be $12.4 billion in 2022, the danger of marketers inadvertently funding harmful content is significant. Acknowledging the problem inherent in funding disinformation, Waters said fixing the problem would create an opportunity:

There is an opportunity to redirect spend from bad actors. There’s also an opportunity cost to not looking at this stuff closely.

Finding a solution

Advertisers running performance campaigns, optimizing for low cost, tend to ignore inclusion lists, bidding on the open web or relying on incomplete exclusion lists. To avoid made-for-advertising sites, clients are advised to go through inclusion lists that vet every domain.

Lowcock explained that inclusion list of quality sites will still deliver the reach advertisers seek. He explained that the research his company has done shows that high-quality content drives better ad performance.

He said optimizing for low cost, and advertising on potentially ‘spammy’ sites is working to the wrong incentive.

If you let go of the obsession of driving pricing efficiency and you talk about media quality, that resets the expectations.

Ebiquity recommends that advertisers create a clear overview of their supply partners and monitor where their ad spend goes and target spend with partners that deliver value through responsible advertising practices.

You may also like

Comments are closed.

More in Advertising