So here's my thought. And it's a thought that other vendors have had in the area that ironically is adding to the complexity in dealing with the twin issues. In fact, that's actually my thought. Aren't these two twin issues actually the same thing? Aren't viewability and fraud so intertwined that they effectively become impossible to separate?
It's an interesting point because the IAB UK has certified four vendors as providing viewability services that meet its standards and one more is on the way -- in America sixteen vendors have received similar Media Rating Council (MRC) certification. The companies in the UK, however, will be expected to re-certify by the end of the year under new, yet-to-be-announced guidelines. These are designed to ensure everyone is measuring and reporting on viewability in exactly the same way. Now, you would think this would be a given, considering that we have the half the pixels viewable for a second rule. The issue is that some companies are only measuring viewability once fraud has been taken out of the equation. This can mean they have a lower percentage figure for how much of a brand's media can be viewed because they have discounted display being viewed on a fraudster's site by a robot.
The IAB is working hard on doing for fraud what it has been -- and still is -- doing for viewability. Guidelines are being worked on this year, and it is expected that by the end of the year, or early next year, there will be certification criteria vendors can apply to earn so they can prove they are able to measure the amount of media a brand pays for which only gets seen by bot networks, most probably 'shrunk' in to a single pixel or 'stuffed' behind dozens of other images on a fraudster's site.
This begs the question of whether treating the two as different entities is the best way forward, doesn't it? Why not simply extend the definition of viewability with the words 'by a real human' and, while we're at it, "on a site frequented by humans." We could even shrink it down to "human viewable" or "truly viewable."
Now, I'm not suggesting anyone has got this wrong because specialist vendors have been tackling viewability and fraud with their own approach. Some are specialists in one area, while others span the two issues. So the IAB can only provide guidance on the industry that is there. It can't act like a dictator and tell the vendors to change strategy and force everyone to guard against both issues. It's doing what it can to outline commonly agreed guidelines that can be tested and then applied to a certification programme.
Where this is going, however I can assure you is an advertising world where viewability and fraud are one and the same because an advertiser doesn't really care about the reason that their ad wasn't seen -- they just want to know how much of the budget has been wasted and hopefully, can be reclaimed. More to the point, they want to know a single vendor will assure that media is in a position where it can be seen, and seen by a real human being. It's a simple principle for which one vendor should be able to provide a service and, of course, some already do.
So, hopefully the next year or eighteen months will be the last time where we look at viewability and fraud as separate entities. That should be just long enough for principles to be agreed upon and certification guidelines drawn up so vendors can demonstrate twin competencies that will doubtless be provided through a single service or a twin service through which, depending on their needs, clients can pick either of the two protection levels offered.
It's my bet that this is where we're headed, and it's also my best that we get there via the ad exchanges. It's in their interest to take the risk out of using them and to show that to the best of their ability, they only show creative to humans and so are a safe bet to work with direct or through a programmatic campaign that may span across several exchanges.
At the moment, the onus is jointly spread across media buyers and the exchanges, but as we move to a single "viewable by humans" standard, that will shift more toward exchanges.
It would mean that we not only have a single joined-up standard that encompasses viewability and fraud, but also in terms of crime, you wouldn't actually need to report back on fraud. Instead, the ads just would not be served to fraudsters, and hopefully, the crook won't get paid because they haven't conned anyone in to sending adverts to their bot-created pages which are only visited by fellow bots.