AdSafe Media On Transparency Into Display Ad Inventory And iFrame Challenge

AdSafe MediaAdSafe Media recently released its first Safety Report that showed – when looking at display ad media across its platform – “58% of network traffic was ‘invisible'” and “29% of traffic was served to sites featuring UGC” among many data points. Read the release (PDF). And, you can download the report here (PDF – signup required.). discussed the report and AdSafe Media with the company’s VP Of Product, David Hahn. Given your observation of a decrease in non-transparent inventory in Q4, what is your sense of momentum for transparency into inventory?  Is UGC becoming more or less transparent? Any other momentum stories you can discuss?

DH: We see inventory non-transparency (meaning the lack of real time, source level disclosure of the URL on which an ad is to be served) as a large and growing concern in the display markets, especially with the recent increase in “audience buying” via networks and exchanges. Lack of source level transparency is primarily an unfortunate side effect of inventory “daisy-chaining” (or inter-network reselling) that currently helps facilitate high inventory liquidity in the display marketplaces. As more advertisers begin using these platforms as a primary buying channel, it’s essential that we as an industry balance the positives of liquidity with the risks of not knowing where an ad is being placed. In short, liquidity is good because it equates to more efficient markets and greater inventory utilization; non-transparency is bad because it results in more brand safety risks to advertisers in the form of bad ad placements, and thus less dollars online.

The decrease in non-transparent inventory that we saw in Q4 was primarily due to our efforts to mitigate transparency issues by partnering with our clients. Without our efforts to improve transparency, we would have certainly seen a much higher percentage of non-transparent inventory. UGC is one of the key categories in which we have seen increasing non-transparency, most likely due to the large amount of inventory and the re-brokering required to monetize it.

How does AdSafe technically gather the data that helps you determine whether content is brand-safe or not?  Are iFrames a challenge for this process? If so, how?

DH: We use over 50 data points or attributes of a web page (such as text, images, meta-data, source code etc) to evaluate each page and produce a brand safety rating. Our data points are collected through a variety of methods such as active page crawling, integrated third party data sources and other proprietary techniques. These data points provide information to our rating platform, which is comprised of an active learning cycle of machine learning algorithms and human analysis, to calculate a page’s AdSafe Content Rating on a 0 – 1000 scale (1000 represents a high level of brand safety).

In order to gain greater source level transparency through iFrames, we employ a javascript iFrame busting technology. However, we also recognize that iFrames are a primary ad-serving vehicle for many participants in the industry. The presence of iFrames doesn’t indicate an issue of brand safety to us, it just forces us to work a little harder to understand the nature of the content. Using our javascript technology , macro’s and other proprietary tools we are able to proactively work with partners who have iFrame issues to increase transparency considerably. What would you like to see in regards to AdSafe?s Content Rating System as a standardized industry rating system?  For example, the IAB establishes it as a standard? What’s the plan here?

DH: Our goal as a company is to help standardize and simplify the online channel for all participants. Every other media channel has uniform metrics and standards to help consumers, publishers and advertisers understand the content and apply it to their respective preferences. The online channel should be no different. Over the last 10 years we have seen a dramatic dispersion between the correlation of audience attention and advertising spend. The online channel is getting around 35% of the audience but only 5% of the brand dollars. A robust rating standard like AdSafe can help inspire confidence in the value, legitimacy and safety of the online advertising ecosystem, meaning all participants can benefit. We will become that standard for online content.

We are working closely with the IAB to ensure that our products align with their initiatives to establish content rating guidelines and standards related to online content across the ecosystem. AdSafe is a simple and effective way for the IAB members to comply with the IAB certification guidelines. The Index is currently for display advertising-only it would appear. Any plans for video, or even mobile display?

DH: Currently, our rating index rates content on all commercial internet pages (pages on which ads are served). We will begin introducing ratings for video during the second half of 2010 in order to support in-video advertising online and we are closely monitoring mobile and as the distribution of advertising shifts to mobile we will look at ways to support this platform because clearly it is a logical extension of our platform.

By John Ebbert

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  1. Earl Weaver

    Agreed that there’s some need for some more “transparency.” But I’m with you, Rob. AdSafe’s “iFrame busting technology” in the absence of javascript on the publisher page is generally referred to by a different name: a potential security risk. I haven’t seen any real data from AdSafe other than marketing driven studies full of phrases they hope they’ll be able to brand as “standards.” Would love to see it work and I could turn on some ad spend and push the cost of their service to the publisher which is their only real business.

    That said, assuming that they’re able to actually do it, I have seen these sorts of things before from my previous days in digital ad technology. If adsafe starts to get adoption, their iframe busting gizmo will be figured out and the arms race begins.


  2. Every major ad targeting company is already jumping out of the iframe. You can “bust” out of one iframe, but try getting around two! Most major sites now wrap their tags in two iframes.