Publishers Need Controls For Cleaning Up Ad Quality

dannykhatibupdatedThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Danny Khatib, co-founder, president and chief operating officer at Livingly Media.

Here’s the problem: Most display ads are technically obscene. It’s very common for a single ad creative to include several large assets with more than 10 JavaScript files, wreaking all kinds of havoc on computer performance and user experience.

The problem isn’t even correlated to the visual size of the ad – a 300-by-250-pixel creative can load with more network requests and a total download size larger than the entire publisher web page that’s rendering it. Put an average of two or three ads on a web page, and the scope of this concern quickly becomes apparent.

There is a core bottleneck to solving this problem: Publishers are expected to address this ourselves, and we can’t. We’re stuck in a case of moral hazard. We don’t build most of the ads that render on our pages, we have no real controls for removing ads based on their technical attributes and we don’t have the industry clout to take advertisers and agencies to task for not adequately addressing this problem head-on.

This hazard is true for direct advertising and even more true for programmatic advertising – the soon-to-be dominant channel in which we are often one step removed from an advertising relationship that gets handled by mediating ad platforms, including real-time exchanges and networks.

Publishers are the Rodney Dangerfields of the advertising ecosystem, and we feel the hurt on both ends of the spectrum. Advertisers hold us to high viewability standards, but we are the ones held accountable if their ads are too slow to load in time. Users are so fed up with ads freezing computers and phones that they either bounce or block all ads altogether. Ultimately, publishers are the ones that end up losing money and respect.

This isn’t to say that publishers carry no responsibility. We certainly can’t claim to be angels. It’s our responsibility to avoid the trap of showing increasingly aggressive advertising experiences in our hunt for digital dimes and mobile pennies. But stepping past this obvious point, we’re currently left with only one tool in our tool kit to manage technical ad quality: Show fewer ads. Not exactly a robust set of options.

Enough complaining – what can we do about it? Starting specifically with the growing programmatic channel, publishers need to convince the powerful mediating platforms to build more creative-level transparency and more controls that help us detect and weed out specific ads that amount to technical garbage.

I see several ways in which platforms can provide the transparency and controls we desperately need.

First, platforms should perform technical audits of every creative, alongside their visual audits, and block the most technically egregious ads from running on the platform. For example, no ad that on average takes more than five seconds to load should ever be approved to run anywhere.

Platforms should then assign metrics to creatives based on technical attributes, and publishers should be able to block running entire categories of ads based on these attributes, such as CPU utilization, the number of network requests, the number of JavaScript files, average load time or total download size.

Platforms should enhance creative-level reporting and provide preview links for all active creatives running, so that publishers or third parties can, via API, perform their own technical analysis on each creative. Right now, within most platform reports, publishers can’t even see which specific ads are running on our sites, so how can we help diagnose problems when we are completely blind?

Finally, platforms should expose unique IDs for each creative running, through multiple reporting avenues, including UI, browser code and API, and let us block creatives by ID. With this capability, publishers and third parties can manually or programmatically disable any individual creative that appears to be causing performance problems in the browser. We have to move past sending manual screenshots to our platform account reps as our best method for hunting down a creative to pause.

These are specific recommendations, but there is a more general point here. Exchanges and networks are influential brokers in the new advertising system, and if we can work with them to provide publishers with better transparency and controls regarding the technical quality of ads, then the moral hazard can finally be broken, and we can begin to have a much more open and balanced conversation with advertisers.

Only when all sides are working together to improve ad quality will we start to move closer to a solution for the industry and for our audiences.

Follow Danny Khatib (@khatibda), Livingly (@Livingly)and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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