Mpire CEO Matt Hulett Says Verification Space Could Change The Ad Industry

Matt Hulett of MpireMatt Hulett is CEO of Mpire, an online advertising solutions company. Mpire’s AdXpose appears to give advertisers insight on placement and context. Yet, the trend these days seems to put more importance on targeting audience and addressable media. In your opinion, why does AdXpose belong in today’s marketplace?

MH: AdXpose belongs in today’s marketplace because the industry is rife with huge inefficiencies in media spend. When ads are sold and never seen, or are placed on nefarious, fraudulent or just plain inappropriate sites or channels, no one wins – except the arbitrageurs and C-list networks that profit from 30% of all ad impressions online. Marketers are footing the bill, and until they put their collective feet down by implementing AdXpose and acting on the learnings provided, the wrong behaviors and content will be rewarded and incentivized, and the online advertising ecosystem will continue to suffer.

As for audience targeting, we also recognize that marketers and agencies today care as much about who saw an ad as where or if it was seen. While the beta version of AdXpose does not include audience verification, this insight will be delivered in an upcoming version.

How are brand awareness marketers aided by mPire’s AdXpose product?

For brand marketers, AdXpose is an ad diagnostic and verification tool, a click fraud defense tool, a brand engagement tool and a buy optimization tool.

AdXpose verifies where an ad was placed, anywhere on the Internet, regardless of whether it was placed via a network, exchange or through direct sales. It can tell whether the ad appeared on a legitimate or blacklisted site; whether an ad was ever seen; which networks and publishers rated highest and lowest in terms of engagement, page position, and viewership; whether the click-through was generated by legitimate or fraudulent means; how the viewer engaged with the ad content; and more. Other features, coming soon, will verify and confirm audience viewership at the DMA and demographic levels.

This deep insight allows brand advertisers to shift budget from networks and publishers – or even site sections or pages – where content is inappropriate, where engagement or viewership is low or nonexistent, or where the wrong audience is reached, and reallocate it to more appropriate channels.

How will ad exchanges play into the development and growth of AdXpose?

AdXpose is useful for verification and optimization on all levels of a media buy, either direct to publisher, via a network, or via an exchange.

In the exchange environment, AdXpose’s site-level performance and engagement data is very compelling, since it enables and encourages marketers to buy via multiple networks with confidence. Many networks daisy-chain to other networks downstream to the point where the marketer or agency has no idea where their ad ended up or how it got there. This is a complete non-issue with AdXpose because the technology tracks exactly where ads appear.

Given the relative difficulty faced even by sophisticated digital agencies when it comes to tracking and confirming whether a given network displayed a given campaign on a given site (we have heard from a particular media director at a major agency holding company that they actually have to email their network account execs to determine if an ad was served on a given site), we feel the proliferation of exchanges suits our product well and creates a lot of opportunity for AdXpose.

What are your thoughts about demand-side optimization and real-time bidding? How will mPire participate?

Given that we come from an ad network background, we are obviously speaking with the folks in that space about how AdXpose could become an input in the optimization algorithm set. That said, AdXpose floats above that particular fray for now: agencies and marketers desire an agnostic, third party verification, and once we enter the network or exchange equation in any non-transparent way, that status is at risk.

How did the development of Widgetbucks inform the eventual creation of AdXpose?

While tweaking our WidgetBucks offering, we experienced a brief “eureka” moment that eventually led to the creation of AdXpose.

When we were optimizing our shopping widgets for performance on our own network, our CTO quipped, “We can’t optimize ads that are never seen.” When we looked in the mirror and realized we saved 20% in CDN delivery costs just by using the AdXpose In-view feature on our network, we decided to see what other data was available, on our own and other networks. The resulting insights and transparency made us quickly realize that we were onto something huge, and that a commercialized version of our in-house tools and reporting made sense.

We like to say that, since we just spent two years building an ad network, we know a lot about what’s wrong with the model. We certainly learned the hard way about things like domain masking, site list manipulation, impression fraud and arbitrage. We baked these lessons learned and best practices into AdXpose.

Does a company like DoubleVerify and others with their ad tracking capabilities compete with mPire’s AdXpose? How do you differentiate?

I think our biggest differentiation from DoubleVerify, MediaTrust and others is that we come from the network space, so we’re really developing the solution from the inside out – where the issues really lie – as opposed to from the outside in, where there’s probably a higher level of trial and error, and quite a few blind spots.

Also, we’re a very hands-on company – for instance, our CTO is very involved in addressing a client’s technical and data analytics challenges, and I’m also very involved on the account management side. We provide this level of service because we’ve seen and understand the patterns and engagement behaviors driving the data, and can point this out to help our clients act on the data quickly and profitably.

If you’re a publisher, what are you doing today to insure a profitable future?

For publishers, AdXpose provides a check and balance system, guaranteeing and reporting transparently on, at the very least, above and below the fold, geo and audience targeting, and viewership/engagement. Marketers will eventually demand a third party audit for this data, similar to tear sheets for the offline world.

If advertisers are running CPC campaigns, what does it matter if their media is running at the bottom of a page?

If they are buying a CPM but monetizing on a CPC or CPL/CPA/CPE model, then it’s obvious why this matters. If it’s a straight CPC, AdXpose is valuable because it screens for fraud. Specifically, we have seen many instances on network buys where a certain site or channel performs at an admirable but unsuspicious click-through rate (say, 0.5%) but has a non-existent “engagement” rate (0.00001%). This means no human has entered the ad unit via mouse movement, yet the ad is still clicked. This is surefire fraud and it’s not traditionally detectable. AdXpose protects performance marketers against this.

Is Widgetbucks still growing? Can you share recent trends? And what are future plans for Widgetbucks?

WidgetBucks is growing. Active publishers continue to grow at a rapid rate. We work with more than 100 CPM advertisers and we are tracking for our first two billion-impression month. And we are adding new shopping feed partners regularly.

I read your Xconomy story in May and hope you don’t mind me turning your insights on you. What problems are your customers telling you to solve today?

Agencies want to know how to monitor and optimize networks. They also want help teaching marketers why they should pay for services that do this.

Exchanges, networks and publishers want to better understand their own distribution and performance, in order to optimize placements and raise CPM’s.

Marketers want safety and assurance, but expect agencies to provide it.

It’s a very exciting time to be in the verification space. It is very early and we have a chance to help define the model and the future of what could be an industry changing business.

Follow Matt Hulett (@matt_hulett), AdXpose (@adxpose) and (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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