How to Weed Out Made-For-Advertising (MFA) Inventory | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

How to Weed Out Made-For-Advertising (MFA) Inventory


Yet another Adalytics report is shaking up the digital marketing community this week. The report highlights that, contrary to previous assurances by advertising giants, the scale of impressions driven by made-for-advertising (MFA) sites remains alarmingly large. This problem impacts numerous well-known global brands and U.S. government agencies. In addition, many MFA sites' use of aggressive ad refresh tactics not only worsens user experience, it also leads to excessive costs per consumer and contributes to unnecessary environmental harm.

What the Latest MFA Buzz Is About

Coined to identify websites or digital articles designed primarily or solely to generate ad revenue, MFA sites prioritize ad income over the delivery of quality content to their audience. They comprise primarily low-quality articles that are often plagiarized or generated through AI and designed to rank high in Google or Bing for specific keywords. Visitors are bombarded with ads and typically bounce quickly due to the bad experience.

Due to all of this, MFA sites tend to be associated with click fraud or other deceptive practices. According to ANA, MFA websites "generally are designed to fool digital advertising buyers." Further, in its research, ANA found that an alarming 21 percent of overall ad impressions occurred on MFA sites, with no or little control of advertisers over their media placements.

Upon the report's release, the industry swiftly reacted with numerous declarations on actions to minimize or eliminate the MFA issue. Advertisers and advertising networks stated they have taken measures to identify and mitigate the impact of MFA sites, such as penalizing them in search engine results or barring them from advertising programs, aiming for a more sustainable digital advertising ecosystem.

Yet despite these concerted efforts to tackle the MFA dilemma, the recent findings by Adalytics show how pervasive and deep the issue actually is. That's why the latest report from Adalytics has been such a bombshell. They uncovered ads on MFA sites from prominent brands such as Colgate, Coca-Cola, and Unilever. These ads, placed by leading media agencies, were distributed via top demand-side platforms like DV360, Amazon, and Criteo. Notably, Adalytics revealed that the financial impact on a Fortune 500 company could surpass $10 million annually in wasteful spending on MFA websites.

How Should Advertisers Respond?

To fully combat MFA sites, employing inclusion lists across your platforms seems the most effective strategy. (Inclusion lists, or allowlists, enable advertisers to pinpoint specific websites, apps, or digital spaces for their ads, ensuring they appear in suitable, secure, and beneficial contexts.) Brands can manually create these lists. There are also several reputable vendors out there that offer vetted inclusion lists.

Relying solely on these lists can limit your campaign's reach, as programmatic campaigns typically span thousands of sites, far exceeding the scope of curated lists.

An alternative approach involves using exclusion lists, which are maintained with weekly updates. Exclusion lists, or blocklists, allow advertisers to block their ads from appearing on unsuitable websites or content, maintaining brand safety and ad spend efficiency. These lists, vital for upholding a brand's integrity, must be frequently updated to adapt to the fast-paced online environment, ensuring MFAs are consistently excluded from your advertising space.

Whichever strategy a brand adopts, it's critical to ensure it is applied consistently across all digital platforms and advertisements. Companies often assume that their policies are uniformly implemented, given the reports they receive from their in-house teams and media vendors. However, the reality of managing the setup for thousands of ads means errors are commonplace. Rather than accepting reports of 100 percent compliance at face value, it's important for brands to scrutinize the actual setup details. Ideally, brands should be taking this level of oversight in-house as well.

Automated governance tools allow for a thorough review of all digital ad campaigns worldwide. It's the best way to gain insight into areas lacking protection from either inclusion or exclusion lists, with the ability to break down discrepancies by region, country, category, brand, and agency. This approach not only enables the dissemination of actionable feedback across your organization but also facilitates the tracking of compliance daily.

What's clear from this latest MFA fiasco is that addressing these challenges demands constant vigilance and a hands-on approach. Direct oversight and the deployment of automated tools for routine checks are essential. Advertisers need to be proactive in safeguarding their brands and investments from MFA sites, integrating this careful monitoring into their everyday digital strategies.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Jacek Chrusciany is CEO and founder of Adfidence.