In short, yes! The question is how? How does a brand advertiser recognize the inherent value of network buys that often don't specify the exact location of an ad or guarantee a certain amount of impressions on a specific site? Most importantly, how do advertisers make sense of display inventory performance (be it network or site based) into brand metrics that make sense?
The answers come from the effective use of targeting and the resulting transformation from a network or high reach site buy into an efficient audience segment reach vehicle. While it's well proven that targeting on ad networks works well for Direct Response (DR) campaigns, Brand objectives can also be achieved by partnering targeting with the network inventory pool, the buying method and isolating the right mix of all three to satisfy the advertiser's objective.
It's been proven by multiple parties, most succinctly you would argue by the Microsoft Advertising Institute, that up-funnel media consumption by a consumer has a direct impact on lower-funnel conversions. It is with this rationale that using a well-targeted media buy, on pre-emptible high quality inventory (with guaranteed delivery), can deliver the desired metrics needed to satisfy the most ardent of online brand buyers. Targeting on the right network inventory is a perfect upper to mid funnel buy that will compliment that of any Brand or DR by. By translating predictable audience impression volumes into reach (impressions) and frequency variables (via frequency capping), a correlation can be made to traditional brand buying patterns.
If buying on a network, however, what about transparency? If the advertiser doesn't know where their ad is showing, how can they feel comfortable that they are reaching their desired audience on sites that will protect their brand's integrity? There is no doubt, a premium spot on a high end automotive site is worth the investment for contextual relevance alone but consider this simple application of one form of targeting. If a buyer is in the market for a new car, how many times are they going to read the same review... once, maybe twice? The branded site buy has done its job and created awareness but now consider how many times that consumer is going to check their mail, ping someone on messenger, research more information on Bing or surf through other properties on the network. If the latter makes sense then coupling a brand buy with a behavioural targeting (BT) segment for "auto researchers" might indeed increase the targeting reach of that audience and transform a pool of network inventory into a targeted audience just for that advertiser.
Just read this Vauxhall case study for more evidence of the power of targeting.
The industry will continue to find ways to further understand the impact of online media on both DR and brand related metrics, as evident by the recent initiative between Facebook and Nielsen. At Microsoft our approach over the coming period will be to understand and potentially shape this thinking (via industry leading teams such as the Atlas Institute) to ensure our solutions continue to deliver for all advertiser objectives.