Come On In, the Water’s All Right

February 27, 2019

By Cliff Campeau

Reilly Wardrope/Getty Images

Over the last several weeks, there have been many pronouncements from ad tech providers, publishers, and agencies that ad fraud and transparency concerns, which have beset advertisers for the last several years, have largely been addressed and that it is safe for advertisers to resume their programmatic digital real-time bidding (RBT) media activities.

What? Sounds a bit like the movie Jaws where a profit minded Mayor, Larry Vaughn, attempts to convince Sheriff Brody to keep the beaches of Amity Island open for the 4th of July holiday, when tourists will flock to the Island, driving tourism revenues.

Granted, there have been positive developments including the efforts of the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), the adoption of Ads.txt, the implementation of fraud solutions by ad tech providers, and agencies and the involvement of the FBI, which has successfully busted a number of email, digital, and cyber fraud operations over the course of the last year.

However, it would be a mistake for advertisers to let their guards down and assume that ad fraud has been solved and non-transparent practices have been cleaned up. Sadly, invalid, unviewable, and non-human traffic continues to plague the industry and requires continued vigilance.

Honest, in-depth conversations between advertisers, their agencies, and ad tech vendors should be ramped up before advertisers eschew the safety of private marketplaces (i.e. programmatic direct, premium, reserved, private auctions) to reallocate funds to RTB. Discussion topics should include, but not be limited to:

  • Determine whether or not the agency and ad tech vendors are using TAG-certified channels
  • Assess if these same entities are screening programmatic domains to eliminate those that have not yet adopted Ads.txt from consideration
  • Scrutinize the efficacy of the fraud and brand safety software solutions being deployed on the advertiser's behalf
  • Confirm whether the advertiser is being provided a direct line of sight into the fees being charged for data, technology, and campaign management for both the demand and sell side of the ledger
  • Verify whether the agency and ad tech verification vendors are examining 100 percent of the advertiser's programmatic impressions for suspicious activity or whether they are instead sampling
  • Check if agency and ad tech vendors are retaining log level files and, if so, substantiate they will make them available to the advertiser or their auditor
  • Assess how the agency and or ad tech vendors identify platform auction methodologies (i.e. second-price, first-price, header bidding) and adapt their bid strategies to optimize the advertiser's investment

We would counsel that it should be the results and learnings from these conversations, rather than self-serving proclamations that the "water is all right," that influences an advertiser's decision as to whether and when to jump back into the RTB marketplace. In the words of the Roman writer Publilius Syrus: "It is a good thing to learn caution from the misfortunes of others."


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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