iMedia Connection

Building trust with ad verification systems

Josh Dreller

When marketers buy television spots, they can turn on the tube and watch them run. Magazines and newspapers? Marketers can flip to their ads. But when it comes to online inventory, the questions still linger: Are my ads truly running where and when I want them to? Am I wasting impressions and ad dollars serving ads in front of the wrong audience, or are they subject to impression fraud? Are they running next to content that might be offensive to my audience or on the same page as one of my major competitors? Most of us may have chuckled over humorous examples of the wrong ad in the wrong place, but it isn't that funny if it's happened to you.

Most advertisers are already sold on the value of good online marketing and understand how leveraging the digital world for their end goals is an important part of their marketing mix. So why are we seeing consumer media time online rise to almost 40 percent but online budgets still only represent a portion of that ratio?  

When asked why the big dollars aren't yet flowing like they could into the channel, most decision makers seem to have an issue with trust -- whether it be in brand safety concerns, unproven measurement, etc. Ultimately, the currency of choice is trust, and for some marketers, especially ones rooted in deep, traditional advertising familiarity, the online world is still a bit of a mystery. In the same vein, can you imagine if you went to buy a thousand shares of Apple and instead were given a thousand shares of a worthless penny stock? Would you continue to patronize a restaurant where you weren't guaranteed to get the meal you ordered? Even hardcore digital advocates admit that there are still questions -- and a few bugs left to exterminate --within virtual inventory.

Thus, we are experiencing a rise in ad verification systems. In a relatively short time, these technology vendors have sprung up to help marketers both audit and validate their good online impressions and help root out and limit wasteful, incorrectly served online impressions. Do you want to know if your ads are running in the right spots? What about to the right audience and locations that you listed on your insertion orders? Ad verification can help. Not only can they identify incorrectly served impressions, but they can block them from being served. These companies usually even offer to have those hard conversations with your publishers, to not only ensure that their findings are accurate, but also help the publisher become compliant. This helps the marketer avoid the politics and feather ruffling that may occur when inventory is questioned.

Mark Ailsworth, founder and CEO of ElevationPlus says that "Advertisers and their agencies are increasingly wary of brand safety online, and they look to verification technology to assuage their concerns."

One of the more interesting pieces to the verification technology stack is the semantic filters that are used to determine the content on a page. In milliseconds, some of these platforms can decide whether or not the page meets the guidelines set by the brand running them. Miles Dennison, VP of sales for verification company DoubleVerify, says, "Our virtual visitors are advanced visual crawlers that analyze the domain and HTML structure of a web page and visually capture the advertising placement and creatives on that page. This, in combination with crawlers and pixels, allows our systems to classify the content of the site, the intended placement on the page, and other criteria to determine, in real-time, whether or not the page is compliant with an advertiser's campaign."

The main reaction to the recent rise of ad verification technology by marketers is simply, "Why haven't we had this before?" That's a good question. The answer seems to be that online marketing is still early in its evolution, and this was just an inevitability that finally came to fruition. But, it's not easy. Ask anyone involved in ad verification technology and they'll tell you horror stories, like nested i-frames -- hard to discover ad boxes where most of your tools are telling you that your ads are running on Site A, but they're actually running on Site B. The web is a complex, highly-tech environment, and it will take time to crack every problem.

As easy as these vendors have tried to make the verification process, marketers should be aware that there is work involved in order to get the results you want to achieve. First, you have to have a solid understanding on where, when, and to whom your ads should be running, as the tools can only reject ads that don't meet your specifications. You also will have to technically implement the vendor's solution, which might be as easy as sending them your creative tags, but that adds another layer into the already pressed ad ops schedule. Another issue can be setting your contextual parameters too narrow, which can drastically reduce your available ad impressions as the system begins to block any slightly fishy exposures -- even if some of those aren't fishy at all when actually viewed manually.

Regardless of the challenges, it's hard to argue that ad verification will go away anytime soon if indeed, trust is a major barrier for larger ad dollars to enter the market. It's safe to assume that anyone involved in the online advertising industry, including agencies, vendors, interactive brand teams, and publishers, will seek to build trust in the channel whenever possible to get those budgets flowing. Ad verification systems may just help in those efforts.

Some of the companies involved with ad verification solutions are:

AdSafe Media 
Tag line: "The Rating Standard of Online Media."
Top dog: Helene Monat, CEO and co-founder
Founded in: 2008
HQ: New York, N.Y.
Product: BrandSafe Firewall, Network Monitor
Homepage quote: "AdSafe rates the brand safety of all commercial web pages and prevents online brand damage while increasing media efficiency."
Notes: Patented content rating methodology developed by former DARPA advisor and NYU professor of data science; OnMedia Top 100 Winner; named among the "Top 20 Hottest NYC Startups" by Business Insider; partnerships with GroupM, iCrossing, AudienceScience, the Rubicon Project, and others.
Quote: "Growth in the display advertising business is currently being limited by a lack of standardized industry metrics, sufficient transparency and brand safety controls. AdSafe is committed to providing the levels of security that advertisers demand so that digital can grow to become the primary marketing channel." -- Kent Wakeford, CRO and co-founder

DoubleVerify
Tag line: Trust in Advertising.
Top dog: Oren Netzer, CEO and co-founder
Founded in: May 2008
HQ: New York, N.Y.
Product: Brandshield(pre-emptive ad blocking solution), BrandAssure, AdAssure, Network Inventory Verification
Homepage Quote: DoubleVerify's mission is to bring accountability, transparency, compliance, and brand safety to online advertising. DoubleVerify, the leader and first real-time verification solution, works across the online advertising community -- with advertisers, agencies, networks, publishers, exchanges, and more -- to detect, report and block ads from running on non-compliant inventory. 
Notes: DoubleVerify currently verifies over 35 billion impressions each month. DoubleVerify works with over 100 of Fortune 500 clients across industries to ensure compliance of their ad campaigns and is the preferred verification partner of four U.S. agency holding companies and has partnerships across over 25 leading online ad networks. The company has offices in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Tel Aviv.
Quote: "DoubleVerify works as a third party to ensure every impression is compliant, which in turn makes each impression more valuable and marketers more comfortable investing online. Our advanced technology allows us to remove non-compliant impressions in real-time -- benefiting all constituents of the online advertising ecosystem: marketers, agencies, networks, and exchanges." -- Oren Netzer, CEO and co-founder

Mpire
Tag line: Safety Plus
Top Dog: Kirby Winfield, CRO and president
Founded in: 2005
HQ: Seattle, Wash
Product: AdXpose Analytics
Homepage Quote: AdXpose Analytics help advertisers and platforms verify and optimize billions of campaign data points captured in real time.
Notes: Originally created in 2007 in order to provide visibility into the company's own media practice, AdXpose was made commercially available to advertisers in early 2009. AdXpose's mission is to mine the web's advertising data in real time to drive targeting, bidding, pricing, and planning decisions for the world's largest advertisers and platforms. AdXpose Analytics powers decision engines in the online advertising ecosystem to optimize media and make the market both more transparent and more efficient.
Quote: "We don't believe that verification has to be a zero sum game. With AdXpose, networks and publishers, as well as advertisers, can access data to make smarter decisions about inventory management, ad placement, and content adjacency. This ensures that the most engaging impressions are valued appropriately and made accessible to advertisers, and that advertisers can buy with confidence across digital media."

Josh Dreller is VP of media technology and analytics at Fuor Digital.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.