Revisiting Close Your Eyes, Make a Wish

Last month we reviewed the eight recommendations for ad industry partnerships coming out of the  World Federation of Advertisers (WFA).

The WFA, to its credit, covered a broad array of the issues that advertisers see as offensive, and therefore impediments to trust. But the litany did not include solid recommendations required to make progress against these issues.

So, following are a few things we could do as an industry to make advertisers’ wishes come true. These are not all exactly practical, but maybe they will get us pointed in the right direction. The WFA requirements are in bold.

Zero tolerance for ad fraud, with compensation for breaches. Like a successful virus, fraudsters exploit endemic flaws in our immune system. For example, it’s not illegal to pretend to be a human, or to infect a browser. It’s not illegal to do domain spoofing, or build fake web sites to generate fraudulent impressions.



So, start by making all that stuff detectable, and explicitly illegal.

Ultimately, we need a system of identity that controls access and mandates access rules for all devices and humans, along with universal antivirus software.  Without identify there is no accountability.

Certain people will hate this idea. I suggest to them that freedom isn’t always free.

Strict brand safety protection. Advertisers should maybe relax a little bit.  

Here is a little numerical example explaining why, based on a classic case: those dreaded Terrorist Training Videos.  Say there are 100,000 terrorists in need of training. If each budding terrorist watches one training video, there are 100,000 views over say, a year. The ad revenue to terrorists at the YouTube average CPM of $7 would be about $700 in total — or enough for 1 RPG round (according to my Googling of “hand grenade price”).

Minimum viewability thresholds. As I said last time, non-viewable impressions will happen, and many are innocent.

So, buy a good viewability tag. Only pay for in-view ads, and let a product like Moat’s tag send a signal to the Media Ocean’s server of record to help figure out the payments.

Per my bot hunter friends, however, most bots have learned to trick viewability tags. We need anti-bot bots.

Transparency throughout the supply chain. This one is simple. Buy your ads from a network that is auditable end to end, and is not making a single payment to anyone they don’t know. Then, make the industry fund a bot detection system that publishers run, make sure every publisher in your network runs it, and feed the results to a neutral third party.

For mobile, assure that the buying platform uses Mobilewalla’s anti-fraud suite. That will put a dent in the problem.

Third-party verification and measurement. Insist on metrics provided by third parties. The measures publishers offer are normally high quality, but why can’t they just run an independent measure for currency? Maybe big buyers should form a cartel, and simply not buy until the right measures are in place. The Association of National Advertisers could organize that, I suppose.  

Addressing walled-garden issues. In this request, the WFA is asking for consistent buying systems across all media. This, of course, would tend to commoditize media — but media, ultimately, is contact with people, and they are not a commodity. Further, “consistent” means all media companies should offer avails and pricing on similar time horizons, and in a granular form (like impressions). Bottom line, this is not a reasonable request unless it’s OK that all the media suppliers collaborate, which would be an invitation to price fixing. Sorry, there is no Santa Claus.

Improving standards of data transparency. What would a data transparency standard look like? Easy. If a segment is supposed to be “people who like chocolate,” do they? The intervention should simply be that a commercial segment or campaign contains the audience the buyer is paying for.

Improving the user experience. Stop incentivizing bad behavior. Don’t buy publishers that offer a poor experience.

All this might seem like a lot of trouble to get clean advertising impressions. But advertisers should remember: If you want to speak to the right people, and only the right people, digital is by far the best way to do that.

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