Building Programmatic Trust With Trustx: Q&A With David Kohl

David Kohl, president and CEO, Trustx, has been working on issues like fraud and lack of transparency in programmatic since 2013. 

As a consultant, “a major media industry trade organization engaged my firm to evaluate and quantify the impact of these issues on their members,” he explained. “I gained a firsthand perspective on these critical challenges and saw a lack of urgency among many in the ad-tech side of the business to address what was clearly a growing industry problem. It was then that I realized it was time for me to set out and take on this problem in a more active way.”

Kohl noted that “The complex programmatic supply chain -- originally created to make digital advertising more efficient -- instead has made it harder for digital advertising to be effective.”

Charlene Weisler: How did Trustx get started, and what is it?

David Kohl: We proposed the concept of Trustx to industry trade leaders, recognizing the importance of cooperation if we were going to make a positive impact. In September 2016, Trustx launched as a collaboration between the publisher trade organization Digital Content Next, 30 of its members — all premium, professional content publishers — and some of the smartest ad-tech software engineers in the industry. 



We are a public benefit corporation (B-Corp) wholly owned by the premium publisher trade association, Digital Content Next. This corporate structure enables us to go to market as a nonprofit, with a mission to restore the promise of value to advertisers and their agencies, and to our exclusive membership of professional news, sports and entertainment publishing companies. We are the only purpose-driven technology company in programmatic media. 

Weisler: What do you mean by purpose-driven?

Kohl: In digital advertising, it seems that we’ve lost our values, or our sense of purpose. Low price, rather than quality, has been driving many decisions. But there is a high cost to that low cost of media: fraud, hidden fees, murky business practices. Particularly in the last few years, we have let technology lead and we’ve lost not just control and oversight, but also a commitment to a baseline set of values in how we trade media and hold partners accountable.

Weisler: Who are your direct competitors?

Kohl: While we compete with other SSPs [supply-side platforms] when it comes to supply choice, we do not have a direct competitor in how we enable 100% viewability across our premium marketplace. 

Unlike the major SSPs, we have a real-time viewability capability that pre-certifies an impression before it’s billed. Our methodology enables us to guarantee viewability on every individual impression. No averages. No samples. No questions of which impressions were or were not seen by humans. Our approach ensures the cleanest, most effective path to quality inventory, and it has two clear benefits:

  • For brands, we not only eliminate any media costs for non-viewable inventory, our approach reduces buy-side technology and data costs, which results in higher media buying power on every dollar spent.  
  • Since we measure viewability on every impression, buyers benefit from real-time pacing to human and viewable inventory. This eliminates the time and resources normally spent reconciling impressions and managing makegoods.

Weisler: What are the areas of programmatic that are untrustworthy? How does your company improve this and increase trust?

Kohl: Opaque trading practices, high fraud rates, low viewability and a general lack of accountability are big flaws that have given programmatic advertising a bad name. With Trustx, an impression must be certified as human and viewable in accordance with MRC standards before an advertiser is charged. The approach ensures that there is no waste. Buyers also experience 100% transparency down the publisher URL, along with 100% financial transparency from bid to delivery, reporting and billing.

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