Commentary

Is The Ad-Tech Middleman Finally Developing A Conscience?

The story of programmatic ad buying has been one of steady growth clouded by stories of unscrupulous middlemen who profit off of arbitrage -- or, even worse, fraud. The latest high is a $15.4 billion forecast for 2015, courtesy of eMarketer. But that came just two weeks after a major programmatic player announced at a conference in London that its transaction volume fell by 65% after it had deployed anti-fraud filters.

It’s easy to see how growth and fraud go hand-in-hand. Programmatic is a great tool for data-oriented marketers looking to reach precise audiences across the Web. And because there’s investment flooding in, middlemen have been eager to profit from an emerging market. But as marketers and publishers continue to adopt and understand programmatic, we may finally be at the point where the middle of the market is forced to develop a conscience.

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If you’re looking for a reason why so many middlemen are about to fall on their swords after years of profiting from obfuscation, look at that same eMarketer forecast. The company predicts programmatic direct will account for more than half of the market beginning this year and continuing into 2017, signaling a shift away from the open exchanges and toward tighter relationships with publishers.

This change has been incremental over time, driven by advertisers’ desire for transparency and control. As formats like video and mobile have become more important, marketers are no longer content to dump money into digital without knowing that it goes toward driving their goals.

Look at video, where the practice of buying display inventory and reselling it as highly desirable pre-roll inventory is prevalent and difficult to detect. This is hardly a new tactic, but it’s one that advertisers no longer want to bother with. This puts increased pressure on the technologies that advertisers employ to buy and serve their campaigns.

Combating fraud is the responsibility of the advertising community. So while it’s next to impossible to prove that any demand-side tech platform has ever intentionally sold fraudulent inventory, there is still an army of fraudsters looking to  make an easy profit.

Advertising technologies can no longer turn a blind eye to fraud. They must now develop a conscience that compels them to work on behalf of advertisers and publishers to deliver brand-safe, human-trafficked environments.  

It’s nice to see players within the ecosystem assess how they do business and begin to make the changes that may impact revenues in the short run. What matters is that these moves, and similar polices that protect advertisers, pay off and be more beneficial to the industry as a whole in the long-term.

Expect to see a flood of similar new policy changes in the coming months as ad technology middlemen try to regain some of their dignity in the court of public opinion.

Programmatic may still be a buzzy new technology for many, but advertisers are clearly speaking with their dollars, forcing a network of middlemen who have profited from deceit to gain a conscience -- and to do so quickly.

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