This is driving a boom in the ad verification sub-sector, and some turf wars as well. Witness last week's counter-suit by analytics provider Moat against comScore over patent violations, which was a reaction to July's comScore attack against Moat and Double Verify and AdSafe. On top of that, Google is now getting deeper into verification services. So the competition is clearly hot. But are all these services valuable? And is there enough differentiation?
We asked a handful of media agency executives their thoughts on the verification frenzy going on right now and what it means for their businesses. We spoke with:
- Amanda Richman, president, digital, MediaVest
- Tony Effik, Managing Director, Media & Connections at R/GA
- Raj Chauhan, President, North America, Adslot
- Steve Katelman, EVP, Global Strategic Partnerships, digital, OmnicomMediaGroup
- Ori Carmel, VP of Performance Strategy at MediaWhiz, part of Hyper Marketing
Ad Verification solutions have become embedded in today's media process. While content concerns drove initial usage, over the last two years, these systems have evolved to ensure advertisers are getting what they paid for, from validating geo-targeting to black/white lists and viewability. In a complex business, they have shed light on bad practices and put a spotlight on good partners. However the current solutions need to evolve further for video and mobile – and bring more transparency to two of the fastest-growing areas of our business.
We use ad verification services when we invest in blind networks. Ones we’ve used in the past include Double Verify, AdSafe, and comScore. Blind networks can be full of land-mines, as we need to ensure our ads do not land in dubious destinations.
However, there are times when blind networks are your only option. So these verification services are good for 3 reasons: 1) they tell us where our ads have run; 2) they tell us how many visible vs. non-visible impressions we are getting; and 3) they provide transparency that allows us to optimize and negotiate with publishers. This transparency is, in our view, the main benefit of ad verification.
While there is no doubt in my mind that ad verification services are a necessity in today's advertising ecosystem, the unfortunate fact is that the only reason the verification companies exist is because there are untrusted and/or non transparent parties trading the media. If more direct deals between buyers and sellers existed the verification sector has less relevance. To that point, ad verification is simply one important checkbox across the myriad of decisions that must be made during the lifecycle of a media campaign. This renders verification-only companies low margin, feature businesses. Over time, their only chance for survival is to get swallowed up or expand outside of verification into arenas like data services.
The promise of ad verification and viewability is an attractive one to marketers and agencies – greater transparency yields improved performance. However, as is often the case with ad tech--the devil is in the details.
Generally speaking, ad verification and viewability can be very useful for advertisers. Both brand and direct response media plans focused on reach stand to benefit with an extra level of assurance surrounding the delivery of their advertisements.
Most solutions today offer robust detection out-of-the-box, including basic reporting and flexibility in determining sensitivity thresholds. While we continue to see interest and adoption of verification and viewability rise, there are a good amount of challenges that need to still be addressed:
- Both verification and viewability will see a surge in adoption when they are offered at scale as part of large enterprise ad delivery and reporting solutions, rather than by niche feature-based companies. The use of feature-based companies adds yet another cut into advertisers’ budgets, and yet another separate vendor tag that must be stuffed into a progressively crowded ad tag. The issue of adding another CPM charge to the budget is exacerbated by the fact that verification is fundamentally insurance or tax--something that you pay for with the hope of never having to use.
- In the absence of industry standards, defining a content violation is entirely subjective based on abstract settings within the tool. As such, teams are often left to identify sensitivity thresholds relative to impact on delivery and performance, rather than on objective definitions of inappropriate content.
- We haven’t seen anyone effectively balance the demands of page-level reporting with the titanic volume of infrastructure to process and manage that level of granular data. As a result, planners are often left with little actual evidence of a violation by an otherwise reputable media partner.
- Whereas ad verification tools are useful for general market campaigns, they are challenged when applied to niche or vertical specific use cases. For example, detecting UGC is incredibly difficult and is not done effectively to this day. However, this is incredibly important for some of our clients.
In a previous lifetime, I worked for a large affiliate network and managed a highly sensitive campaign for a company that sounds a lot like Broods Broggers. The client, bless their heart, was making its first step in the affiliate world – a virtual Bambi walking through the dark affiliate forest, filled with tigers and lions and bears. Oh my.
Spending 94 years building a brand synonymous with luxury and exclusivity, the marketing managers...were rightfully concerned with brand protection. So much so that three months into a multimillion dollar campaign, incorporating hundreds of affiliates, we were left with only 35 affiliates who have not committed some brand violation, pushed below the fold, or placed their ad next to the latest Jeremy Kyle banner.
Back then, ad verification services were hardly as effective, and certainly not as prevalent as they are today. At the time, there was little proactive measure we could take to assure correct ad placement, measure effective exposure, optimize placements and help keep our distribution channels honest about our performance. Had we had those services at the time, we certainly would have saved the resources invested into daily monitoring of affiliate display, the long and frustrated discussions about branding vs. performance, and we may have even saved the account. We didn’t.
Marketers can look at companies and tools that protect advertisers and consumers as barriers to performance. They limit our free range. They certainly firewall a lot of information and access that we can make a lot of short term money on.
But they can also embrace them, and realize the strategic value and opportunity they present. They keep us honest. They define right from wrong. They keep us focused on what really matters- the success of our partners and the fair delivery of consumer value. When good, intelligent companies find clever ways to incorporate ad verification or any other compliance and protection tools into their day to day operations and offerings, everyone gains. This type of thinking is what helps good companies turn vendors into partners.
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