Ad quality and transparency business Adalytics conducted a comprehensive research this morning that shines light on the adtech industry’s failings to protect large brands’ adverts from invading clickbait and spam-infested’made for advertising’ (MFA) websites.

The data show a substantial discrepancy in the protective measures applied by adtech providers, calling into doubt the efficacy of DSPs’ present policies.

According to the report, ads for the majority of Fortune 500 brands, including Google, Disney, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Nike, General Motors, and others, frequently appear on MFA sites, despite the fact that many of the industry’s top demand-side platforms (DSPs) and supply-side platforms (SSPs) have publicly committed to reducing or blocking ad placements on MFA sites. A number of federal entities, including the Army, Navy, Social Security Administration, and Federal Trade Commission, were also found to be vulnerable to MFA sites.

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The study looked at 22 MFA sites that met the requirements established by one or more of the following organizations: the ANA, the World Federation of Advertisers, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, Jounce Media, and Nonetheless, Adalytics recognizes that definitions of the term’made for advertising’ differ.

The data comes only months after the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) published a study on programmatic supply chain transparency, revealing that MFA sites account for 21% of total ad impressions. Though a few trade organizations define MFA sites with slightly different parameters, the ANA stated at the time that MFA sites are “largely useless for growth-oriented strategies” and that they “generally provide a poor user experience and potentially damage the reputation of digital advertising overall.”

Following the report’s release, a number of big adtech suppliers made public commitments to either lessen or completely eliminate MFAs. But, according to Krzysztof Franaszek, Adalytics’ founder and CEO, “We observed many instances where those exact vendors were transacting brands’ ads on MFA through deals.” He claims that firms like Microsoft, as well as government institutions like the US Army, purchased advertising through a private marketplace from suppliers who promise to screen out MFAs, only to see their ads broadcast on such sites.

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The research blames adtech’s major companies for failing to effectively protect brands’ ad purchases. In fact, Adalytics discovered practically all of the top SSPs and DSPs transacting on MFA sites in their analysis.

Despite a shift in expectations following the ANA’s 2023 transparency report, more than 80% of SSPs scheduled to present at a March 2024 ANA event are still actively serving advertisements on MFA sites for ANA member firms. The Adalytics study names several SSPs, including Google, Magnite, 33Across, GumGum, LoopMe, OpenX, TripleLift, Sharethrough, Criteo, PubMatic, Ogury, and others.

Adobe, Roku, Yahoo, Samsung Ads, Xandr, Beeswax, StackAdapt, and other DSPs have been identified to transact on MFA sites. It is worth mentioning that two major DSPs, The Trade Desk’s DSP and Walmart’s DSP, were not found to be transacting on MFA websites.

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Furthermore, the world’s leading advertising agency holding organizations and networks, including IPG, Omnicom, WPP, Publicis, Havas, and Dentsu, were discovered purchasing media on MFA sites.

According to the survey, ads enter MFA sites via a variety of routes, including Microsoft Audience Network and Google Video Partners. According to the report, vendors advertising superior capabilities such as AI-driven targeting or access to specialized datasets contribute to the persistent placement of adverts on MFA sites.

And, while earlier studies, including the ANA’s, have generally focused on programmatic transactions, Adalytics discovered that a surprising amount of ad distribution on MFA sites occurs through retail media networks rather than programmatic buys. Amazon is one of the worst culprits, according to the survey. Brands such as Hershey’s, Bayer, Procter & Gamble, S. C. Johnson & Son, Unilever, Reckitt, Nestle, Clorox, Colgate, Google, Georgia-Pacific, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Mars, Smuckers, and General Mills were seen advertising on MFA sites through retail media networks like Amazon’s.

In response to the report, Amazon has not denied that it occasionally transacts with MFA sites, but says that it maintains “a high bar” for ad placements.

According to a company spokesman, Amazon DSP is a program that allows advertisers to reach customers across Amazon’s retail and streaming properties, as well as through Amazon Publisher Direct, which provides direct access to premium apps, websites, and services. It also makes it simple for marketers to use third-party exchanges to distribute adverts across the open web. We maintain a high standard for the supply available to our advertisers and aggressively block made-for-advertising inventory using a combination of manual and automated processes. We also give advertisers the ability to choose where their ads appear through a combination of proprietary and third-party controls.”

The majority of the organizations involved, including SSPs, DSPs, retail media networks, advertising agencies, and holding companies, had committed to reducing or eliminating MFA transactions.

The audit also highlighted examples of severe ad waste caused by improper frequency capping, which Franaszek claims “just doesn’t seem to work on MFA sites.”. Adalytics identified situations in which brands served hundreds or thousands of impressions to a single consumer. In one such occasion, H&R Block made 2,117 impressions on a single person in half an hour.

“These MFA sites refresh ad spots and send hundreds of bid requests to DSPs. And it appears that the DSPs are either not setting frequency caps or are unable to do so particularly on MFA sites,” Franaszek explains.

He explains that the system’s flaws have disastrous effects for advertisers. “Brands spend a lot of money to reach a single person. They believe they are receiving 1,000 people, but in actuality they are getting one person 1,000 times. It turns out that MFA inventory isn’t cheap. It is merely cheaper per impression. It’s extremely pricey per incremental user reach. If you want to reach as many American houses as possible, MFA is probably more expensive than airing ads during the Super Bowl halftime show.”

Franaszek shares a few methods for brands wishing to reduce their exposure to MFA websites.

First and foremost, he emphasizes the importance of analyzing current exposure and risk. “Gain access to your data. Get access to your [ad placement data], as well as your log file data, and review it internally.

Franaszek also emulates the ANA’s tactics. “The ANA itself stated in their survey that brands should ‘lean in.’ They advised, ‘Don’t rely just on your suppliers or agencies; you must take ownership and steward your media investment.’ And, based on the facts presented in this study, that recommendation is even more appropriate than it was a year ago.”

This is especially relevant given that, despite vows to prohibit MFA sites, some businesses appear to continue transacting in these environments. “Brands have to be discerning,” Franaszek points out, “because not everyone who makes those statements may necessarily be fully executing on them.”