AdSafe Preps For M&A Activity, Tackling ‘Impression-Fraud’

adsafeIt’s been over a year since ad verification company AdSafe Media brought former Aperture executive Scott Knoll to run the company. In that time, Knoll has tried to emphasize the company’s focus more on anticipating problems for ad placement, rather than reporting back on whether a campaign was successful or not.

In the meantime, the company has just hired former PulsePoint CFO Kristin Leary as AdSafe’s new SVP of finance. Leary is charged with helping manage Knoll’s plans to expand the company’s services and international reach through acquisitions. “We’re still formulating the M&A strategy, but we’re interested in companies that have data that is unique in the marketplace, be it in the U.S. or elsewhere,” Knoll told AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: How has AdSafe evolved since you joined as CEO?

SK: The way we look at the industry is, you have “ad vertification,” which typically involves post-campaign reporting that allows an advertiser to know where their ads ran. The report might include whether or not the ad ran on any inappropriate pages, what audience saw the ad and other matters dealing with IO compliance. What attracted me to AdSafe is that company – way before I joined – decided to take another approach to the business. AdSafe recognized that telling someone they were on the wrong pages is important. But it doesn’t solve the problems advertisers face. It just points it out.

Coming from the sell side, I know that’s not just an issue for agencies, but it’s a problem for networks and publishers. What I liked about AdSafe was that it offered a proactive solution in that it would stop an ad from appearing on a page that was deemed inappropriate. It’s hard to buy online, there are so many choices, so many data sets.  And I always felt that what the industry needed was proactive, not passive, data and automated solution. AdSafe had a beachhead in brand protection and was proactive compared to everyone else. Over the past year, we’ve accelerated the business in that direction. The question now is how far along are we in terms of education and traction. In the last year, we’ve done a lot of education about ad verification. We’ve quadrupled our client base and grown revenue 6x year-over-year in the last 12 months. That tells me that message is resonating.

Is ad verification close to becoming a point solution?

If you just think of ad verification as reporting after the fact, you could argue that those services might as well be rolled up with other IO solutions. But because our focus is brand protection, we decided to do things that not only prevent advertisers from being on pages they shouldn’t be on, but we’re going to find the pages that they should be appearing on. We’ve plugged in with all the major sell-side players and exchanges, and now we’re working with some of the major buy-side technologies as well. We’ve created all kinds of new data for real-time bidding that determine not just appropriateness of the page, but the quality of the overall environment the ad would be placed in, as well as its chances of being seen by the right audience and for how long. And whether you’re a performance-based or brand-based marketer, if your ad isn’t seen to begin with, it’s obviously not going to work for you.

Why not turn into an attribution company?  What’s missing for AdSafe that it couldn’t get into the business?

We’ve been asked to play in that area, companies have asked us to do attribution studies. Ultimately, attribution is important, but the reason it doesn’t seem like a good fit for our business is that it’s part of that passive reporting model we’ve moved away from emphasizing. We’re trying to be disciplined around our core strategy of creating actionable data and attribution is at the opposite end. We do allow attribution companies to leverage our data and tie that to their methodologies. The problem with attribution methodologies today is that the model assumes an ad was viewed every time. And of course, that isn’t the case. According to our analysis, if an ad is in an exchange, it’s only going to be viewed maybe 30, 40 percent of the time. In other words, if you’re assuming an ad is seen 100 percent of the time, needless to say, your attribution model is off. We’re working with those companies to improve the model though.

Last year, comScore acquired ad verification service AdXpose. So… Will comScore eat everyone’s lunch? 

That’s one scenario we don’t lose a lot of sleep over. They acquired AdXpose, therefore they have some verification technology, so there is an overlap in the market. We actually think their entrance into the market has helped to raise awareness about some of the issues we care about, like brand safety and viewable impressions. If anything, it’s given us more business, because once someone is aware, they do a bake-off and test the business and look around at who the providers and innovators are. We were the first to create a ratings system that was subjected to the user on every viewable impression, we’re investing a lot in data science about page quality. Our philosophy is, if we keep innovating, we’ll be successful. Anyone can buy into the space. But you can’t buy the leadership position.

What else are you working on these days?

Everybody is always talking about click-fraud, but there’s not enough focus on impression-fraud. We’re coming out with ratings that will tell marketers what the likelihood of impression fraud is on a page. It’s a big problem in the industry. It’s a byproduct of our original page quality ratings, where we put a lot of effort to look for patterns of clicks not being in view or other tell-tale signs that something wasn’t right. We expect this new data will help buyers and sellers avoid this problem. Any company that aggregrates data has had some experience with the problem of impression fraud.

By David Kaplan

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