Programmatic Trends 2018: What Advertisers will be Buying This Year

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2017 saw transparency and brand-safety become more than buzzwords—they became KPIs and pivots for media partnerships. The buck didn’t stop there.

In 2018, the industry is going to see more of the same push towards draining the ad tech swamp.

To that effect, top advertisers are busy re-evaluating their tech stacks and supply partners, and renewing agency contracts to include terms that give them (more) transparency and control over media buying. Those with the resources to do are building their own in-house programmatic teams.

The buyers have their plates pretty full, but that doesn’t mean digital advertising is put on hold while the cleanup happens.

We compiled some of the buy-side trends of 2018 to see where the bulk of programmatic ad spend will go this year, and how those on the other end of the supply chain (publishers) can up their game to meet the changing demand.

1. Device: Mobile

This one’s the most obvious on the list, so we’ll get this out of the way first.

One area where we will continue to see huge rises in ad inventory prices (CPMs) is in mobile. The increasing popularity of planning for cross-device and people-based executions means that marketers will continue to fuel demand for quality mobile inventory.

— Jay Friedman, COO, Goodway Group (via AdExchanger)

Numbers back that up. Here are some, fresh off Dentsu Aegis Network’s (DAN) January 2018 forecasts:

  • $121 billion will be spent on mobile ads in 2018.
  • 57% of total digital ad spending was on mobile by the end of last year.
  • 62% of total digital ad spend will be mobile by the end of 2018, as predicted by Dentsu Aegis.

Mobile web may shrink as users continue to spend more time on apps, but the opportunity is still there. Mobile in-app, and video in particular, has a lot of room to grow.

It goes without saying that if you haven’t yet, you’ll need to optimize your site and ads for mobile. We covered how to get started and improve yield in The Beginner’s Guide to Mobile Monetization.

Richard Lam, head of programmatic at Network-N, shares his plans to revamp their mobile offering:

“We’ll be putting a strong focus on mobile this year since it has kinda been left in the corner while everything else steamrollered ahead. We will be focusing on two things—ensuring the mobile units we introduce have good viewability, for one—using parallax and seeing if we can make MPUs (300×250) sticky within a container that can take a half page unit as well. The second is UX. We like to run a clean network so we’re not just going to sling 5 MPUs onto a mobile webpage to try and increase revenue. For yield, we’ll be pushing Header Bidding into our AMP pages. We’re planning to roll with Prebid Server + Prebid for AMP to allow us to do this. Once our programmatic mobile programmatic is sorted, our Commercial team will be actively selling mobile takeovers (high-impact units).”

2. Format: Video, High Impact

Dentsu Aegis report also forecasts that video ad spend will grow by 24.5% in 2018, driven chiefly by mobile video. Compare that to predicted growth in traditional display banner ad spend (8.7%) and it’s clear why so many text/image content publishers have been doing their best to pivot-to-video, albeit with varying degrees of success.

Video ad market is changing… long-form video (30 seconds or more) is ready to die a drawn-out death, much like the ad itself.

“We’ll see ad length decrease to meet the demands of short-form video viewers. Six- to 15-second ads will dominate by the end of 2018.”

— Video platform vendor (via Digiday):

High-Impact Ad Units may also become more frequent this year, thanks in part to banner blindness. These are ad units jazzed up with rich-media features – think takeovers, interstitials, skins, etc. with interactive features to capture consumer attention.

These formats do well in terms of engagement, but it’s best to use them sparingly for the sake of UX – these units look great but do what all ads do, i.e., get in the way of content and annoy visitors. Look no further than Google’s repository to see what units are “acceptable” and the kind of high-end creatives that go with them.

While we don’t have the numbers, we covered the growing popularity of these formats in a previous post about Chrome ad filter. Here’s an excerpt which explains the dos and don’ts of these formats:

“High impact solutions which refrain from being irritable (with auto-expansion / unmuted audio) will be okay,” says Sanjot Singh, associate director of programmatic partnerships at Affle. “Stitch up your ad formats to ensure they aren’t too flashy, be within Google’s line, and you should be good to go—at least until Google has another change of heart.”

3. Deal Type: Non-Anonymous

There will be a concerted effort to avoid the headlines ad tech made last year, when blind media buying blew up in advertisers’ faces and led to the great YouTube advertiser boycott of 2017.

Concerns over brand safety, fake news and lack of transparency reached a boiling point in 2017. In 2018, buyers will continue to move dollars to more controlled, direct agreements. This means a move out of the open markets and, in some cases, a move toward more contextual vs. audience-targeted ad buys.

— US Digital Display Advertising 2018 Report (eMarketer)

This year, brand advertisers will be a lot more focused on keeping track of where their ads end up. This means increased spending on all types of non-anonymous programmatic deal types—think PMPs, preferred deals, programmatic guaranteed—all of which let advertisers see domain URLs (and more) for a slightly higher price.

This doesn’t mean that open marketplace is drying up. However, more marketers on open auctions will now come armed with domain blacklists to constrain their media buying.

Publishers say the definition of brand-safe environments is becoming confused and blurred. The result: Keyword lists and blacklists are getting longer and longer, reducing the number of impressions against which some publishers can run ads.

– Jessica Davies (Digiday)

Which brings us to the biggest buyer concern(s) this year.

4. Brand-safety. Ad Fraud. Viewability.

“Digital turned 21 in 2017. It’s an adult now. The responsibilities are increasing. We pushed transparency; that’s step one. It’s very clear that expectations are rising for digital companies.” — Marc Pritchard, CMO, Proctor & Gamble.

Like it or not, ad fraud will remain in the spotlight.

So far, we have seen what Buzzfeed’s report did to Newsweek and its subsidiaries. More recently, Adobe revealed the following findings on fraudulent traffic:

In a recent study, Adobe found that about 28% of website traffic showed strong “non-human signals,” leading the company to believe that the traffic came from bots or click farms. The company studied traffic across websites belonging to thousands of clients.


Brand advertisers will move ad spend towards exchanges, SSPs, and direct-publishers which allow verification of traffic and impressions by reputable (read: MRC-accredited) third-party verification vendors, like WhiteOps, DoubleVerify, Integral Ad Science, etc. In a previous post, we covered some ramifications this may have for publishers.

Here’s a refresher on what demand partners want from publishers’ inventory. Expect thorough evaluations of site quality (content and ad layouts) and traffic. Implement ads.txt if you haven’t already—DSPs will look for authorized sellers to make sure they’re buying what they intended.

Once advertisers have confirmed the validity of site and traffic, they’ll be looking for impressions that have a higher chance of being seen—which is where viewability comes in. In a previous post, we covered how to correctly optimize ads for higher viewability.

Remember that despite the increased scrutiny and trust issues, digital is the only growth certainty. The market, dynamic as it’s always been, is finally maturing. Publishers need to adapt to survive.