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3 Steps You Can Take Now to Make the Digital Ecosystem Safer

May 18, 2015 | By Steve Guenther, Vice President of Digital Auditing Services—Alliance for Audited Media

We’ve all seen the headlines and statistics:

Advertisers will lose $6-10 billion to bots in 2015.

More than half of ad impressions are not seen.

A quarter of all video impressions are fraudulent.

Brands are not safe from bots and invalid traffic.

As an experienced digital auditor, the Alliance for Audited Media goes behind the scenes to examine the sources and systems of the underlying issues plaguing the digital advertising ecosystem. In a new  white paper series, we delve into the issues of viewability, fraudulent and invalid traffic, and brand safety and transparency. All from a side you might not have read yet—the auditor’s perspective.

Based on our research, there are steps that all industry players – media buyers, vendors and publishers – can immediately take to make the digital ecosystem a safer place. Here are three takeaways that you can put to work today:

1. Prepare for 100 percent viewability
eyeOn the surface, viewability is a logical goal that seems readily attainable. Publishers should serve ads that can be seen by a human. Reality is far more complicated, of course. Different publishers work with different vendors. And different vendors—even those that are accredited—can use different measurement methodologies. Add in issues with browsers, screen sizes, ad delivery mechanisms and things quickly get very complicated. The industry is working toward solutions, but in the meantime, here’s what you can do now to prepare for 100 percent viewability:

Media Buyers: Know where your ads are going and where they ran: Work with reputable publishers and networks. Talk with vendors about measurement methodologies to better understand discrepancies. Demand audited systems and data to ensure you’re able to transact with trust and transparency.

Vendors: If you’re considering an MRC accreditation against the viewability standards, schedule a pre-audit engagement – now required by the MRC – with an independent third party to cost-effectively prepare your technology and processes for compliance with industry standards.

Publishers: Evaluate the advertising real estate on your pages and optimize placement for the best opportunity to be measured and seen. Disclose to clients which viewability solutions you employ and prepare them for possible discrepancies and reconciliation methods.

2. Recognize that not all invalid traffic is fraudulent but all fraud is invalid
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There are several very good reasons a website may have for generating invalid traffic including internal traffic or test environments. But there are many more ways a site can generate fraudulent traffic, here’s what you can do to combat it:

Media Buyers: Ask your media partners how they detect invalid traffic. Only use vendors and technology partners certified to industry guidelines. Agencies should take the additional step of following the IAB’s best practices for workflow, campaign set-up, site tagging and measurement processes.

Ad Networks and Exchanges: Vet your inventory and continuously monitor it for changes. Provide advertisers with site-level information about where ads are running and who is seeing them. Become certified to IAB guidelines. Build brand safety technology into the ad server or domain engines that participate in RTB.

Publishers: Use internal controls to monitor traffic increases and implement ad tech solutions that are certified to industry standards. Perhaps most importantly, become certified against the IAB Quality Assurance Guidelines, which offer a framework for brand safety and trust throughout the industry.

3. Eliminate the bad players hiding behind good technology
lockProgrammatic media buying has allowed advertisers to more precisely target audiences while helping publishers sell more inventory. It’s also created another avenue for potential fraud in the digital ad supply chain. Here’s what you can do to stop fraud:

Media Buyers: Only use exchanges that work with legitimate, validated publishers and take steps to refuse buying low-quality inventory. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Vendors: Get audited to IAB guidelines. Those vendors that comply with IAB measurement guidelines believe in providing accurate, reliable and consistent measurements every day.

Publishers: Avoid the temptation of buying undesirable traffic to fulfill commitments to advertisers. “Cheap” and “quality” traffic rarely go together.

The fact is that there’s no single answer to the issues facing digital advertising—but accountability and transparency are the foundation of any solution. Know your vendors and media buyers beyond just a name on a screen. Have a conversation and reach an understanding before a campaign begins. Support the work of the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) to add background checks and weed out the bad actors before they gain entrance. 

Each of us can and must play a role in bringing transparency to the digital media ecosystem. If all sides of the industry come together against those that are infecting the system, we’ve got a real chance of creating a safe marketplace where everyone can transact with trust. Read AAM’s entire  digital white paper series to learn more about the industry initiatives at play and find your role.


Guenther is vice president of digital auditing services at AAM. As a founding partner and vice president of ImServices Group—an Alliance for Audited Media company—he has more than 25 years of experience in digital technology auditing. Guenther has been instrumental in helping develop many of today’s key standards and practices for the interactive advertising marketplace including the IAB’s Quality Assurance Guidelines, various IAB Measurement Guidelines (including the MRC Viewable Impression Guidelines) and the IAB’s Ad Campaign Measurement Process Guidelines to name a few.

In 2014 AAM and ImServices merged. Guenther leads the integrated digital audit team in helping clients address fraud detection and prevention, ad delivery verification, viewability and brand safety through platform certification audits, independent validation through the IAB’s Quality Assurance Program (QAG) and MRC accreditation support that includes pre-audit assessments, a step now required by the MRC.

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