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(eM+C)—Here’s a scary statistic for interactive ad buyers from a recent AdSafe Media/comScore study: On 70 percent of the sites analyzed, half of the online ads weren’t visible for more than 10 seconds. AdSafe noted that advertisers and agencies have tried to maximize return on investment in the uncertain world of online advertising by just restricting campaigns to “above the fold” ad placement, thinking this will solve the problem. These efforts are often hampered by the dubious quality of the available ad inventory, however.

Many in the online advertising industry have responded to concerns about ROI by claiming that they can through some type of “black-box technology” convert ad placements on substandard inventory into brand equity inventory. This approach is about as convincing as an offer for magic beans. The reality is that where ads appear has a profound impact on how the viewer perceives them, and this is relevant both from a lead generation standpoint and a brand-building perspective.

An ad that appears next to inappropriate content is evaluated in the context of that inventory. Through no design of their own, major brands occasionally appear next to pirated material, lewd videos, hate speech and other dubious content, which means that not only can sales suffer, but consumers can pick up a negative impression of the company and its products or service.

Demand-side platforms and ad exchanges offering 40 cent CPM rates may tell advertisers and agencies that they can generate ROI from substandard inventory or they can safeguard brands via careful placement, but what they don’t tell prospects is that ad distribution is an amazingly intricate and complex process. Chances are that big-name brands that are seen juxtaposed with questionable content or poor quality media brands gave specific instructions about ad placement, yet they’re taking a hit on ROI and brand value by appearing next to offensive inventory, which also exposes them to a heightened risk of click or impression fraud.

The best way for brands and agencies to avoid this situation is to ensure that they advertise directly with reputable publishers or on a network that features only quality inventory. This isn’t just the best way to protect brand equity, it’s the optimal method for increasing ROI. We’ve found that being in a premium environment lends strong credibility to the advertising message, resulting in significantly higher conversions. Even the vast majority of users who don’t click on an ad are more likely to get a positive impression of an ad that appears on a premium, branded site because context and reputation matter.

The challenge for brands and advertisers is to find an ad network that isn’t trying to sell them magic beans, which is essentially what networks that claim to have the ability to generate ROI from junk inventory are doing. Of course, all ad networks claim to be trustworthy and assert that their network can deliver a high ROI. There are independent ad network rating agencies brand owners can consult.

Advertising exclusively on premium inventory ad networks is a strategy that positions brands and agencies for better results on two levels: one, it puts their products and services in front of an audience that’s more likely to make a purchase and, two, it protects their brand from association with questionable and offensive content. While it’s true that ad networks that feature only premium content are generally more expensive than cut-rate networks that are less choosy about where they place ads, it’s equally true that in this instance brands and agencies get what they pay for. The bottom line for ad purchasers is this: Beware of magic beans.

Ash Nashed is the founder and CEO of Adiant, the parent company of, one of the industry’s largest and safest advertising networks with over 140 million unique monthly users.