Five Steps for More Sustainable Ad Trading

By Philip Acton, Country Manager UK at Adform

A typical online ad campaign emits 5.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide – almost half of what an average UK consumer produces in a year. It’s a shocking amount when you consider the billions, if not trillions, of auctions that take place online each day. The uncomfortable truth is that while programmatic advertising has revolutionised our industry, it is also significantly impacting the world around us.

There’s been a spotlight on sustainability in the advertising industry in recent years and, sadly, our sector has a bad reputation. Greenwashing from brands appears in the press all too regularly and not enough businesses have been doing enough to make authentic, ethical change.

On the contrary, recent research suggests that carbon emissions driven by advertising are still increasing, rising by 11% between 2019 and 2022. One factor behind this may be the rise in popularity of Header Bidding, a multi-seller approach for one ad placement, which duplicates the initial bid by the number of SSPs and DSPs used. Around 60% of publishers have more than 10 partners in the header, and 5% have more than 30. These redundant bid requests and responses flowing through the pipes create significant carbon emissions.

Clearly, more needs to be done to change the perception of digital marketing to build better trust with consumers and help save the planet. Following Earth Day last week, here are five ways advertisers can reduce power usage and the negative environmental impacts on their digital ad campaigns:

Master cookieless frequency capping

One of the biggest issues associated with the deprecation of third-party cookies is the difficulties it creates around frequency capping, i.e. controlling the number of times an individual consumer is served your advertising. Too little can be ineffective; too often can turn customers off to your brand. Cookieless environments can undermine your frequency controls and this is only going to get worse when Google finally calls time on third-party cookies.

Fortunately, there are now tech solutions that allow you to control your frequency in first and third-party ID environments. With 50% of online users already browsing the internet in cookieless environments, this approach can deliver real value to clients by allowing them to address users on browsers such as Safari and Firefox. The goal of every advertiser right now should be to make every impression count and lower frequency to reduce media inefficiencies and energy use.

Optimise with efficient algorithms

There are several different routes to reach a KPI. While some strategies are resource heavy, others are more capable of reaching a specific KPI with fewer impressions. For example,  video optimisation algorithms now exist that allow advertisers to focus on the best inventories and to drive attention. Similarly for Display, advertisers can now select “Maximise viewability rate” vs “Minimise viewable CPM” to reduce the volumes required while still having VCPM optimisation in mind. Fewer impressions are required to drive the same amount of attention vs VCR algorithms of the past.

Prioritise higher quality apps and sites

Brands should prioritise higher quality apps and sites if they are looking at optimising VCPM or CPC. Two complementary solutions are available: default prebid filtering and inflight optimisation. Prebid works really well in brand safety and viewability, while limited to generic measures and excluding unknown environments. For example, it is possible to filter apps and sites based on your actual KPIs. This impacts the buying CPM but also allows savings in ad serving and tracking.

Choose a clean, direct supply path with PMPs

The programmatic supply path is full of intermediaries. Publishers can have thousands of authorised resellers while SSPs buy and resell inventories from other SSPs. A key task for brand advertisers in 2023 is to identify the best, cleanest, most direct path to your top publishers, by removing indirect paths to avoid useless intermediaries and the wasteful emissions they help to generate. Likewise, open a dialogue with your top publishers on the subject of Header Bidding, which often involves wasted ad calls from SSPs to DSPs and buyers often overbidding themselves. By limiting Header Bidding from 5 active SSPs to 2, the number of wasteful bids can be significantly reduced.

Reduce the carbon footprint of your supply chain

For brands who want to get serious about tackling emissions, their attention will eventually turn to the supply chain that exists beyond the parameters of what they can directly control. Unfortunately, the evaluation of supply side carbon emissions is very granular, in-depth work and, as a result, calculating the emissions associated with the supply chain is simply too difficult for most organisations to work out on their own. Organisations such as  Scope3  provide the right information to optimise  clients campaigns, providing brands with the  opportunity to benchmark, plan, optimise, and monitor their campaigns’ carbon footprint directly in the buying process.