Just before year-end, the IAB opened up a new and very interesting initiative for public comment called SafeFrames. The reactions were just what you would expect. Some publishers love it because of the control it gives them over what data and how an advertiser can interact with their visitor, while some publishers hate it and the increased cost and complexity that it introduces. Advertisers also have two perspectives. On one hand, the SafeFrames initiative could potentially increase the availability of high quality inventory and dynamic inventory -- particularly across the exchanges -- but it might also limit the information that advertisers can obtain from the end user.
Overall, the SafeFrames initiative comes from advertisers’ and publishers’ growing demand for better control over data shared and inventory. SafeFrames will create a standard way for more dynamic ads to be served within a publisher's site, while allowing the publisher a greater degree of control over what an advertiser can do and what information they can get. As a result, publishers could theoretically put more quality inventory into the exchanges knowing that the safety of the SafeFrames environment would help limit the potential risk of showing ads from advertisers that they have not directly vetted.
As with any new initiative, there are benefits and challenges. For publishers, SafeFrames gives more control over what data third parties can access such as referrer or contextual information, and what type of interaction they can engage in. With SafeFrames, richer ads formats would be more widely used and easier to implement. To date, iFrames have limited the growth in these areas.
On the flip side, savvy publishers looking to improve their revenue and willing to play fast and loose with the APIs can easily subvert SafeFrames. There is very little in the way of guarantees so advertisers can understand that a publisher is playing fair. For example, it would be easy for publishers to modify their tags to incorrectly report that an ad was seen when it was not. It’s important for marketers to realize that the information being passed via SafeFrames is really only as safe as the publisher itself. Premium publishers are expected to be “trustworthy,” but we know there are occasional bad players in the long tail of exchange inventory.
SafeFrames also provides a standard framework to measure viewability, an important part of the 3MS initiative. This has become a hot topic in 2012 as more and more advertisers demand transparency on where their ads are showing up and if they are seen, etc. A widely adopted viewability standard could bring more advertising dollars to programmatic buying along with more trust among exchange media partners.
The changes in digital advertising over the last few years have brought new ways of reaching audiences and buying media. SafeFrames is a step in the direction to tame the Wild West of digital advertising -- and more specifically, the exchange ecosystem. For publishers and advertisers to feel more secure in programmatic media buying, we need to create a safe yet functional ad environment. It will be interesting to see how the final version of the SafeFrame initiative pans out in 2013.