The hidden carbon cost of header bidding and how to tackle it

Photo edited by Jerome Paronneau.

Publishers are looking for more efficient technical solutions to help them meet carbon emissions targets, especially where advertising is concerned.

One tool increasingly being sought out by publishers is header bidding. But even this new tool could come with hidden carbon costs, says Dustin Puschmann, VP Global Business Development – Supply & Partnerships ShowHeroes Group.

Here, he explains why there could be a simple solution to the issue…

Dustin Puschmann, Showheroes

In today’s world, awareness of sustainability is pervasive – whether around transport, nutrition, living habits, or tourism.

It’s time to extend this awareness to the digital advertising arena.

Thanks to platforms like Scope3, the carbon footprint of digital campaigns is becoming more transparent, and the technical infrastructure can be more effectively designed.

As a result, the demand for green marketplaces is rapidly increasing, and publishers who support a low-emission supply chain and prioritise direct integrations are benefiting from higher CPMs (cost per mille) and a steadily rising fill rate.

The go-to tool for many global publishers today is header bidding. With the introduction of header bidding, seemingly fantastic new opportunities opened up for publishers.

By simultaneously offering their inventory to multiple ad networks and demand platforms, publishers can ensure they achieve the highest possible price for their ad spaces, thus avoiding vacancies.

However, what is often overlooked is the ecological and financial cost that this mechanism entails.

“Streaming and display advertising generate 7.2 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year”, according to Scope3’s 2023 report, The State of Sustainable Advertising.

Every request to a demand partner incurs server costs and emissions. In many cases, these partners, in turn, request additional sources, leading to a single request for an impression being exponentially multiplied.

What may seem to provide abundant returns for the publisher at first glance leads to significant costs and emissions for potentially thousands of ads in the background.

If we’re to tackle the growing carbon footprint of digital advertising, we have to start exploring more transparent and sustainable approaches. Thankfully, a simple solution is available to our industry.

Sustainability search: Puschmann says adland needs to be exploring more transparent and sustainable approaches.

As an efficient alternative to header bidding, there is the option to embed the script code directly into the HTML code of the website. Instead of complex auction processes as seen in header bidding, the ad format is simply placed on the page when it loads.

This means less technical complexity and potentially faster load times for the website with minimal emissions, as well as cost savings from a reduced supply chain.

“Code on page” is easier for publishers to implement and helps make the ad delivery process more efficient and sustainable.

Such setups on the publisher end not only reduce emissions but also lower the costs of server-intensive processes.

An increase in cost per mille revenues, driven by clients, is already observable. Direct integrations, as emphasised in the Better Media Framework by ShowHeroes, assist in this.

Fewer server requests not only mean a more efficient ad process but also cost savings and, consequently, increased profits.

ShowHeroes’ Better Media framework creates a win-win situation by supporting publishers in implementing sustainable strategies and simultaneously providing advertisers with secure and transparent advertising environments.

Furthermore, publishers that adopt this more sustainable strategy position themselves as pioneers in a changing industry and gain the trust of an environmentally conscious audience.

Frameworks like the one from ShowHeroes underline the joint efforts of the supply and demand sides of the industry to create environmentally conscious and effective advertising measures.

The partnerships that arise within such initiatives contribute to transforming the advertising landscape and have a positive impact on the industry’s environmental footprint.

It’s time to open our eyes to the ecological impact of digital advertising. Reforming header bidding will be an important step towards more sustainable and transparent advertising processes.

Companies that follow this path are not only rewarded environmentally but also economically.

It’s time to act sustainably not only in our daily lives but also digitally, thus making a positive contribution to reducing our carbon footprint.