The Insights Blog

What advertisers must know about MFA sites

What advertisers must know about MFA sites


So much has been written about both the effectiveness of programmatic advertising as well as the chaotic, costly and broken digital supply chain that is difficult to know how to think or feel about programmatic. The ANA jumped into the fray a few months ago with some very helpful counsel in their “Programmatic Media Supply Chain Transparency Study”. This study identified opportunities for clients and agencies to reduce digital waste, with an estimated waste today of as much as 30% of their investment.

While this report is already several months old, it received far less fanfare with marketers and agency execs than it should have. All advertisers, marketers, and agency execs – especially those whose work touches or depends on paid media (i.e., pretty much everyone) – should read this outstanding work.

The report covers numerous aspects of programmatic advertising and its inefficient supply chain. One of the prominent topics was “MFA” – Made for Advertising sites. We need to talk about MFA because it is a virus that impacts all programmatic advertisers. The ANA Study authors noted, “Advertisers should recognize that Made for Advertising websites can account for a significant portion of their open web programmatic budget”. The ANA report estimates as much as 15% of open web digital impressions that brands are paying for today are going to these MFA sites – a near total waste of money.

MFA is a headache that marketers and their media partners need to line up against.

Thoughts and suggestions follow!

Made for Advertising sites (digital junk) continue to run rampant despite the ANA warnings.

These clickbait sites, with leads like “20 greatest guitar solos” definitely get clicks and eyeballs, but the eyeballs pay very little attention to the ads. Advertisers and agencies MUST be on guard.

A few points:
If you are a client, especially a client with smaller budgets and limited ability to onboard their own tech, Mercer Island Group’s recommendations include:
  1. Contracts: require media agency attention to MFA in your SOW and MSA

  2. Requirements: while you’re at it set specific requirements for digital viewability, fraud and brand safety and build performance guarantees into your media agency contract

  3. Baselines: require your agency to review MFA buys and determine a baseline,

  4. Reporting: require your agency to report on MFA buys monthly,

  5. Targets: set MFA reduction targets,

  6. Accountability: contractually limit the percentage of impressions you will pay for in MFA sites,

  7. Wash, rinse, repeat!
Every marketer should read the recent ANA report for a deep dive into the issue of MFA as well as many other programmatic recommendations. You can download it here. Know what you are up against and build a plan that works for your team and situation.

And agencies need to get ahead of this issue. Be the agency that has a plan for clients on how to deal with MFA and avoid junk CPMs.

By the way, there is so much more in the ANA report – it is a gold mine of information for modern marketers. We encourage all marketers and agency executives to study it in depth. Here is a glimpse of the incredible value, using the ANA’s own words regarding their “Playbook Summary”:

ANA Programmatic Study – Playbook Summary
  1. Know, and then optimize, the number of websites being used for your programmatic campaigns.
  2. Advertisers should recognize that Made for Advertising websites can account for a significant portion of their open web programmatic budget
  3. Prioritize the creation and use of website “inclusion” lists versus focusing on “exclusion” lists.
  4. Buy through direct inventory supply paths.
  5. Consider having direct contracts with all primary supply chain partners: DSPs, SSPs, and ad verification vendors.
  6. Have an SSP optimization strategy.
  7. Buyers need to understand the dynamic of information asymmetry in programmatic advertising and take steps to close the information gap.
  8. Advertisers are responsible for more active stewardship of their media investments.
  9. It is important for advertisers to know when their agency is purchasing media for them as an agent versus selling them inventory on a non-transparent basis or that has been acquired as a principal.
  10. Increase your understanding of what types of Private Marketplaces (PMPs) you buy from and consider experimenting with allocating more budget towards Open Marketplaces (OMPs).
  11. The key challenge in assessing value in programmatic advertising lies in the accurate measurement of ad quality and price.
  12. Advertisers must balance their pursuit of low-cost inventory in programmatic media with ad quality.
  13. Tapping log-level data from every adtech vendor across an advertiser’s supply chain is paramount. Marketers must match that data to show where value is hiding and where there is no value at all.
  14. Improve transparency by optimizing measurability and viewability.
  15. Have a proactive plan to fight invalid traffic (IVT).
  16. Demand to understand the sustainability impact of programmatic media purchases.

Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Ulta Beauty, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Kaiser Permanente, Holland America Line, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.