First, ad verification company Mpire released a study that exposed rampant impression- and click-fraud on ad exchanges and networks that use them to source inventory.
Next, Adweek reporter Mike Shields took the issue of auto-play video a step further and showed how it was being abused by ad networks to inflate avails and delivery of what advertisers thought was legitimate pre-roll.
A few weeks later, a massive click-fraud ring originating in China was found and shut down.
It's enough to make your head spin -- or want to take a shower -- or both.
The unfortunate fact is that with networks continuing to gain traction as a share of marketing budget, and the low barriers to entry, the ad network business is still attractive for those looking to make a buck and not concerned with building a long-term business designed to service the Fortune 500. Even for some established networks, there are clearly issues surrounding lack of control on a placement level (intentional or not).
The result is that networks have become somewhat of a mine field for buyers at agencies who want the benefit of networks' reach, scale and performance, but still want to be able to sleep at night knowing that their clients' dollars are being spent responsibly -- particularly for video, where content quality is at least of equal importance as page position.
And that, my friends, is an utter shame. Actually, that's not a strong enough term, but this is a family publication. While my opinion is that there will be a major vetting of network practices soon (partially via technological advancement in ad verification, and partially evolution/education), the fact of the matter is that agencies must take some responsibility when evaluating ad networks in 2009. Outside of the usual questions of media procurement methodology, inventory nature and such, there are a few items to hone in on when it comes to video. These should take care of 99% of the pitfalls experienced by the advertisers in the article referenced above.
1. Pre-roll: Should be served within a new player that launches, or only when the user initiates video play in an in-page format. Companion ads should be an available option. Consider implementing third-party ad tags to monitor ad completion. Off-the-charts results -- good or bad -- against index should raise an alarm that this pre-roll is actually auto-play. I also recommend some kind of verification technology on the companion to verify environment.
2. In-banner: Whether user-initiated or auto-play, in-banner video should be served above the fold (the latter can be effective if done correctly). There should not be "stacked" creative on a page. Watch for low interaction rates, such as extremely low percentages of users initiating audio.
As I mentioned, the tide is shifting in the network space. Technology is improving and demand for greater transparency is becoming the norm. One day, the network space will have far less clutter in terms of players and placements, with much to offer the marketplace. Until that time, implementing the tips above will go a long way in ensuring a productive campaign.