Are you maintaining quality assurance standards in your online advertising?
Questions seem to be popping up more often as of late, qualifying the topic for meme status. Articles about click fraud, the topic of viewability in impressions, and brand safety concerns are all serving to make quality a topical discussion once again -- and I would argue it’s about time.
I tend toward optimism when these issues arise, assuming the majority of the publishers, vendors, and advertisers online are taking the high road and abiding by standards for counting impressions, delivering targeted ads and maintaining brand safety. But when I tour conferences and see booth after booth featuring companies I have never heard of touting “cost per action” targeting and “mass reach + high response rates” I start to question my optimism, and wonder what the seedy underbelly of our industry actually looks like.
In recent weeks I’ve heard disturbing figures about viewability and impression fraud. I won’t share them here, but it would appear far more ads are delivered than seen. I hear from numerous sources about publishers delivering ads off to the far right in a browser so the viewer never sees them, but they count as a page load and impression. I’ve seen sites that still stock up as many as 14 ads on a page and count these as impressions. I’ve heard and read about bots that deliver false impressions and clicks, driving up delivery numbers for advertisers without actually reaching the desired audience.
These tactics make me upset because they give a bad name to an industry that is otherwise dominated by ethical companies full of people with integrity. As far as I can tell, the majority of online ad dollars are spent with publishers and platforms who absolutely follow standards and guidelines laid out by groups like the IAB and the NAI, but a minority of companies are creating an undercurrent of questionability -- and that has got to end.
I can’t say for certain that I know how to end fraud and deliver quality assurance to all advertisers in the industry -- if I did, I’d be rich. I have to hope that some combination of exposure to the companies and tactics that are being used poorly would help to surface the problem and make it addressable. I know groups like the IAB are trying to push forward with guidelines that advertisers need to adopt. Publishers need to take responsibility for understanding the channels through which their inventory is being managed, and they have to dive deep into the delivery of targeted impressions on their pages.
Conversely, advertisers need to do their homework. They need to employ services to ensure their ads are only being delivered on brand-safe inventory. If all sides of the industry attack this issue, the challenge could be met quickly -- probably even solved in the next two years. The budgets continue to go up and the expectations rise at the same pace. I know it’s literally impossible to stop fraud, especially in a programmatic world, but the top 250 online publishers and advertisers, if rallied to support these guidelines and standards, should be capable of solving the problem.
Of course, the landscape will thin out as a result, since not every company plays by the rules. How much of the industry will go under if we adopt positive business practices? What’s your guess?