Advertising's Four Plagues: Viewability, Fraud, Transparency, Ad Blocking

Some $8 billion lost in fraud. Another $20 billion lost in ad blocking. There are four key challenges -- viewability, fraud, transparency, and ad blocking -- that undermine advertisers trust in the digital industry. To make matters worse but they are often erroneously mashed up as one big Adland mess, causing confusion about the most effective tactics to tackle each individually.

A session Wednesday at the 4As Transformation Conference in Miami featured four industry mavens who offered thoughts on how the industry is addressing these critical matters. 

First up was George Ivie, head of the Media Rating Council, who discussed how the organization is battling so-called “ghost” impressions by developing processes to track ads similar to TV spots. Up to 60% of digital impressions are non-viewable. 

Two years ago, said Ivie, “the digital ecosystem served ad impressions but the webpage ads were served on page regardless of whether you would see them or [not]. Then technology brought forward ads that were monetized [only] when the user of a browser or an app could see it. 



After all, "it doesn't make sense to pay for ad that can't be seen," says Ivie. Still there is a lot of work that needs to be made. Mobile requires a unique approach. "Viewability is just the beginning of an opportunity to see an ad. We still don't know how long the ad was up, the effectiveness of an ad, how long they viewed.”

Sixteen months ago, the industry created the Trustworthy Accountability Group to fight digital fraud in the supply chain. This problem is only solved by collaboration across the entire chain, says TAG's Michael Zaneis. His group has created a program to effectively identify and filter out computer bots. It also developed a fraud threat list to collect known sources of traffic that criminals are operating. Information is tracked at both the company and campaign level and intelligence is shared across industry. "Just think of criminal activity like a balloon and when you squeeze one part, they just got to another platform. But we will squeeze them out of dark corners of the industry," says Zaneis. 

The goal is to introduce a better system to know who you are doing business with, he says. "Know your partner and track the money through the supply chain." With that approach, the money flow can be shut off if need be.  

The ultimate goal: put the bad guys behind bars. TAG recently announced a partnership with federal law enforcement to help share resources to prosecute offenders.

Those who use ad blockers cost the industry $20 billion last year, with 34% of blockers used through Web browsers. "This is a unique challenge since it impacts so many players," says Horizon Media's Donnie Williams. The problem is that the digital industry got too excited about its targeting capabilities and didn't take into account how consumers feel about it, says Williams. There are legitimate privacy concerns. The good news is that change is on-going. All players agree that the end goal is a better user experience, said Williams. The challenge now is finding cross-industry solutions that work for everyone.  

The transparency/rebate issue has been a hot one for that past year. "We have worked to put together guiding principles for the entire ad community," said OMD's Kathleen Brookbanks, who was a member of the 4As working group that did the heavy lifting in researching the issue and coming up with the guidelines that the 4As issued earlier this year.

And though they may be intended to guide the entire industry the Association of National Advertisers has declined to endorse the 4As work and is waiting for its own study to be completed before supporting principles on the subject.

Still, said Brookbanks, "We have made a lot of progress," and the guiding principles issued earlier are  just the first phase of an effort that will grow and evolve as the discussion over transparency becomes more "transparent."

6 comments about "Advertising's Four Plagues: Viewability, Fraud, Transparency, Ad Blocking".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 24, 2016 at 12:33 p.m.

    Larissa, your headline gives the false impression that alll of the problems cited apply to all advertising when, in reality, three of them---viewability, fraud and ad blocking--- apply only to digital advertising. Why do we keep blurring this important distinction?

  2. Jeff Bander from , March 24, 2016 at 11:08 p.m.

    Viewability and ad blocking apply to much more than just digital. If anyone thinks TV, print, OOH don't have viewability issues on a massive scale are kidding themselves. The only difference between digital older media is how amazinly detailed digital is able to be measured. A TV viewer may have the TV on, but while in the kitchen with the mute button pushed the paid for ad is not in view. We could write volumes on various real life scenerios on how every media (radio excluded) have viewability issues and ALL media suffer from ad blocking in various ways.  Consumers are sick of being bombarded with extra loud intrusive ads. In a digital world where consumers can change their mind in a second, advertisers and publishers need to remember it is the consumer who is paying the bill and in the long run decides who wins and loses.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 25, 2016 at 7:56 a.m.

    I'm sorry, Jeff, but I have to disagree. The fact that  TV viewers, radio listeners or magazine/newspaper readers often ignore a given ad or take steps to avoid it is not at all the equivalent of the ad not being viewable in the first place, as is the case with so many digital ads. Also, even if a user wanted to look at a digital ad, it may  not be displayed long enough for the message to be fully absorbed--- this is especially true of video ads. The old "TV viewers are always rushing to the bathroom when commercials appear" defense made by defenders of digital media does not apply in this case. TV, radio and print media always present their ads in fully visible form to their audiences. Their ads are not truncated or jumping around as new ones are "loaded", they are shown in their entirety, in the case of TV from start to finish, with nothing else on the screen to distract the viewer. Whether the audience is receptive and pays attention is up to each individual and this is decided in large part by their interest in the product, whether they have seen the same ad before, whether the message is relevant to them, how much ad clutter there is surrounding the ad and other factors. But, unlike digital, if a traditional media viewer, listener or reader wanted to take in the advertisers full message, he/she always has that opportunity. Not so with digital.

  4. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, March 25, 2016 at 5:22 p.m.

    Love Jeff's comment "Consumers are sick of being bombarded with extra loud intrusive ads." long as we're talking about digital. THAT's where the intrusion has become most horrific.

    Been fascinated to watch digital go from all the early promises that it would be a utopia of gentle advertising to the incredibly noisy third world traffic-like irritation it has become. "Nobody pays attention to digital ads? Let's make them more obnoxious! Flash. Jump. Flicker. Play on page open."

    And it's not just the stupid "take this quiz" sites. HuffPost is constantly updating methods to become even more disruptive of our reading...

    Too many digital enthusiasts seem to lack the honesty to see the train wreck of advertising that they've created - see how their promised bastion of beauty has turned into a cesspool of slime...

    No wonder adblockers are back to being so popular.

  5. John Grono from GAP Research, April 11, 2016 at 5:02 a.m.

    Sadly Jeff your comments are very wide of the plate.

    You state "how amazinly detailed digital is able to be measured."   I agree how amazing the detail is.   It is also amazing how misunderstood and misused the data is.

    For example you can use Google Analytics, Omniture etc etc and get all these amazingly detailed reports.   The problem is that measures what is 'pushed' out from the publishers server.

    One of the biggest misreads is time-based metrics (which is often used as a measure of engagement).   For example, as I type I have six MediaPost tabs open in IE.   I also have Firefox open with my state's leading newspaper.   Chrome has our leading national newspaper open.   Each one of those browsers and tabs is racking up time in wesbite analytics, thus grossly overstating time-spent.   The only time that should be credited is this tab I am typing in (and of course I am no longer reading the content.   The only was to correctly assess time is to take a user-centric approach - something alien to website analytics.

    'Digital' (by which we mean online/internet) also relies on the incredibly outdated 1990s-style "monthly unique browsers".   Work by Josh Chasin or comScore and also by Nielsen has detailed the impact of (primarily) cookie deletion over time.   For example, over a month expect to over-state your unique audience by around 2.5x-3x.   Josh please feel free to amend/correct me with any later data.

    So while you are correct in saying it is amazingly detailed, it is also amazingly over-stated regarding audience measurement and even for human traffic measurement.

    Probably could make a movie about all digital's woes - An Inconvenient Truth.

  6. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC, April 11, 2016 at 9:08 p.m.

    Absolutely correct, John Grono.  Time based metrics are never understated!

    The most egregious analytics providers are the webinar vendors like Webex, GoToMeeting and On24. Their user engagement reporting is so far out of whack that the analytics servers must reside in alternate universe or FairyLand.   

    It's not technically difficult to get real numbers, but the vendors have no incentive to speak truths.


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