Conventional wisdom says that an engaged audience of 215 million is an advertiser's dream come true. Yet, many advertisers are hesitant to shift more meaningful amounts of ad dollars to the web because interactive advertising is still lacking in accountability, transparency, and compliance.
In the past, verifying that TV ad deals were executed correctly meant simply turning on the TV, watching the program, and waiting for your ad to appear. Similarly, for print, all an advertiser has to do is make a trip to the newsstand. In online advertising, though, the introduction of ad networks, exchanges, DSPs, yield optimizers, and other vendors has muddled the space between the advertiser and the instance when an ad gets served. Online advertising is no doubt progressing because of targeting capabilities and extended reach, but it's not there yet.
For example, how do advertisers know their ads appeared next to brand-safe content? Will they appear above the fold? Will they be targeted to the right DMAs and geographic locations? Did the ads appear at all?
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Advertisers would never balk at the chance of reaching millions of people online. But they do largely believe in quality versus quantity. For example, a recent survey of more than 140 agency executives representing some of the largest brands in the country found that 72.4 percent of respondents chose brand safety over scale. Brand safety is increasingly more important online and was beaten only by performance and targeting capabilities in the survey.
For marketers, it's all about reaching the right audience on the web in an accountable, transparent way. One way they've been able to ensure brand safety online is through media verification -- a process that analyzes and verifies where and in what context ads appear online and ensures ad campaigns run as intended.
Advertisers, agencies, ad networks, and even publishers (for their own safety) are investing in media verification. However, with such an enormous landscape to consider, marketers need to know what they're getting into. Here are the aspects of verification that advertisers should be familiar with before they start the process.
Understand what can be verified
An average of three out of every 10 online ads are non-compliant, meaning they do not appear where, when, or how they are supposed to. That means almost one-third of your ad budget is either going to waste or, even worse, working against your brand if those ads happen to appear next to pornographic or controversial content.
Basic media verification will be able to track exactly what sites your campaign is running on and where on the page it appears -- such as above or below the fold. Other types of non-compliance that can be tracked are ads that run on international sites, ads that run next to competitors' ads, or ads that are fraudulent.
Additionally, it's important to know to what extent ads can be verified; not all technologies are equal when it comes to what can be seen on a web page. For instance, one of the barriers for verification is how many iFrames can be seen through. To explain, iFrames are how websites display ads served from third-party ad servers. An example would be an ad on a site that was served by an ad network that purchased that inventory from another third-party ad server (which could be another ad network, an ad exchange, etc.). This would equal up to three iFrames deep (the publisher, the ad network, and the third-party ad server).
If verification technology cannot "see" through several layers of iFrames, it can't adequately understand where ads are running and how they're getting there. This is difficult, but not impossible. Bottom line: Make sure you demand hard statistics from your media verification vendor on what they can actually verify online.
Make sure the big guys are included
It's also important to know which major publishers accept or certify verification vendors to classify and track ads on their sites. If providers aren't certified on AOL, Google, Yahoo, and MSN, there's a high possibility that a large percentage of your media buy is unverified because the majority of inventory is purchased through those four publishers.
Working with major publishers ensures verification providers can deliver high-quality compliance services on sites that you trust.
Know how content is classified
One of the most common complaints digital advertisers have is that their ad campaigns did not run next to appropriate or "safe" content. That problem starts and ends with how content is classified in conjunction with target media destinations.
The first thing you'll want to know is how content on a page is analyzed and deemed safe. What variables are taken into account? What are the red flags? What parameters are used to determine if a site is brand-safe? Does the verification technology adhere to the IAB's standard classification system or does it rate publishers itself?
The last question is most vital: Vague specifications might align your product with too much unwanted content, while stronger limitations might suffocate your campaign at its nascence. Finding the correct balance is key in making sure you're not tripping over your own feet trying to fill an insertion order.
Decide whether to block or monitor ads
Establishing reasonable guidelines for admissible content sites is one thing, but actually carrying out those orders is another.
Media verification is only as good as its classification component. If vendors can't provide accurate insight into the nature of the content around which your ads are being placed, then you're not going to get the best results. Your campaign will suffocate as it is subjected to inaccurate blocking and incorrect content categorization.
Understand how to remediate issues
With hundreds of publishers coming online daily, achieving 100 percent compliance on every single ad is unrealistic. Renegade ad placements are to be expected, especially for larger orders. It's up to all parties involved to remediate issues as efficiently as possible to continue with a successful partnership.
This means having access to real-time reports that monitor how your ad buys are performing, whether by analyzing page placement, collisions with competitors, or over-saturation of specific sections. Having these tools at your immediate disposal will help you to stay ahead of potential non-compliance bottlenecks and give your team a head start in correcting current and future insertion orders.
As the web audience continues to burgeon, the need for verification services will grow as marketers will want to guarantee their dollars are indeed working for, and not against, them. It all begins with knowing how it all works. Armed with this basic knowledge of media verification, your team can get serious about staying brand-safe while deploying that ad campaign you've worked so hard to put together.
Oren Netzer is CEO of DoubleVerify.
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