Lost Trust is Hard to Rebuild

It was the mother of all ad frauds. A group of Russians working with the Kremlin and desperate to have anyone elected but Hillary Clinton set up a pseudo- ad agency with a budget of $1.25 million a month and bought ads on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, measuring viewability, comments, and engagement. The ads were paid for with fake Paypal accounts. In addition to their advertising campaigns, the group ran a cross-channel marketing campaign for Trump, staging rallies and counter-rallies and paying people to participate.

And although Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made a point of saying the results of the election weren’t swayed by all the bots and ads and phony grass roots efforts, how can we be sure?

Indeed, there are more ways to sway an election than just stuffing a ballot box. Thinking the election wasn’t influenced ignores the power of advertising to create brands. These Russians could sway the election by organizing massive rallies and making Trump appear more popular than he really was. That would create a bandwagon effect — something ad campaigns try to achieve all time.

As a result of this highly successful campaign, over a hundred “unwitting” Americans  participated in the Russian government’s effort to interfere in our elections, and our major social platforms were besmirched as they were ringing up the ad revenues. Until recently, Mark Zuckerberg did not grok the extend of Facebook’s complicity.

There are lessons for the online advertising industry in all this. We have all been busy reaching for scale. But we haven’t put sufficient controls on the messages we are sending, and we haven’t devoted enough time or effort to combatting ad fraud. News outlets desperate for ad revenues in a changing market were willing to run ads that annoyed consumers. Brands bought ads in places they should never have appeared.

What will be the result of all this, beyond indicting 13 Russians who will probably never be extradited? We suspect it will be a massive loss of trust in digital platforms on the part of consumers. And with it, an equally massive pullback from social media advertising on the part of brands.

We were long overdue for this correction. It’s another consequence of mishandling customer trust, as the use of ad blockers is. Our industry could use a giant dose of quality.

In the consumer advertising business, just as in the public opinion business, lost trust is difficult to regain. We’d have been better off sacrificing scale to quality and using better targeting techniques, just as the social platforms would have been better off scrutinizing their advertisers more carefully..

P&G Acts on its Promise to Clean Up Supply Chain

Well, P&G has done it — exactly as Chief Brand Officer Mark Pritchard promised a year ago it would.  The consumer giant cut the number of agencies it works with from 6000 to 2500 and next year will cut that number in half again. According to Chairman and Chief Executive David Taylor, the company has found and eliminated as much as 20% media waste and still increased its reach 10%. Somebody woke up the hibernating bear and it was hungry for change.

For years some of us in the industry have been simultaneously laughing and crying about waste and fraud in digital advertising. No one seemed to care. But all of a sudden the KPIs for everyone from media buyers to middlemen seem to have changed, and everyone’s serious about cleaning up the waste.

P&G is just one example of changes in the media industry that will come about in the coming years. The hammer has now come down on fraud, wielded by the only people who ever could swing it with enough power, the brands that pay the bills.

Now what’s going to happen next? Taylor already told a Consumer Industry Analyst Group that P&G is taking more of its media buying inside, and it will do that “through private marketplace deals with media companies, and precision media buying fueled by data and digital technology.” So much for waste.

What does this mean for the online publishing ecosystem?

For the ad agencies and trading desks it probably means a round of layoffs and belt tightening as many of them lose a big piece of business. For brands, it means some broad shoulders to stand on as they demand greater transparency and more attention to brand safety.  In other related news, Unilever’s CMO, Keith Weed, threatened at the IAB Annual Leadership Summit that it would pull its advertising from Facebook and Google if the platforms don’t curb hate speech and controversy.

For ZEDO it means increased focus on our core mission, which has always been to help our publisher partners to monetize their inventory more completely and at hight rates. For the past three or four years, we have been operating as a private platform that joins publishers who have premium content with big brands in a secure buying environment. We have made certain that any transaction within our control is transparent, viewable, and brand safe.

It seems like the industry is coming our way.

 

 

It Will Soon Be Illegal to Sell Smart Home Info to Advertisers

Gizmodo has a marvelous article on the smart home and its continuous information stream entitled “The House that Spied on Me, ” written by a woman who connected all the smart devices (including her bed) in her home to the internet and then had a colleague “spy” on her by reading the data.

There were a number of pretty astonishing revelations, including the fact that the house gave up data even when no one was home. And that the data, which was almost completely what we refer to comfortably as “metadata,” (meaning it isn’t really describable in total detail), could piece together a pretty accurate portrait of the home’s occupants. The writer, who after all writes for a gadget magazine and can’t be that much of a privacy freak still lands here :

Overall, my takeaway is that the smart home is going to create a new stream of information about our daily lives that will be used to further profile and target us. The number of devices alone that are detected chattering away will be used to determine our socioeconomic status. Our homes could become like internet browsers, with unique digital fingerprints, that will be mined for profit just like our daily Web surfing is. If you have a smart home, it’s open house on your data.

I wouldn’t call that a positive result for her experiment.

Because I own more than one connected device myself (in my home the robots talk to each other), I’m more interested in how this new datastream will be affected by the new General Data Protection Regulation soon to go into effect in Europe (and by extension in the US) in May. It seems there are two especially relevant portions of the regulation:

Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.​

And this paragraph, called The Right to be Forgotten

Also known as Data Erasure, the right to be forgotten entitles the data subject to have the data controller erase his/her personal data, cease further dissemination of the data, and potentially have third parties halt processing of the data. The conditions for erasure, as outlined in article 17, include the data no longer being relevant to original purposes for processing, or a data subjects withdrawing consent. It should also be noted that this right requires controllers to compare the subjects’ rights to “the public interest in the availability of the data” when considering such requests.

So this could potentially stop the data in your smart home from being used by publishers or advertisers for targeting and profiling. It also may mean that the value of many connected devices goes away.  Although most of them don’t keep data more than two days, they sometimes have built into their business models the right to process and sell the data. If that goes away, along with it may go many smart devices.

We’re in the advertising/publisher support business, so we don’t handle or keep data. We don’t have a dog in this hunt. And we have long been active in data privacy and anti-fraud initiatives. But many people around us in the industry depend on data for either their success or their business models, and we see some changes ahead.

Our Formats Meet Better Ads Standards

There’s a reason we’ve been around since 1999 and are still here for our publisher partners, our brands, and their agencies. It’s because we actually care about what we do and take pride in our work. We try to adhere to all the better ads standards coming into the industry before everyone else. As a technology leader, we always try to innovate around all the rapid changes in the industry without violating either the letter or the spirit of those changes. After all, our employees and executives are also consumers, and we have to experience what we produce!

This involves having an engaged product team that keeps abreast of the changes, tests all our major product offerings against them, and makes sure that we continue to take the high road in professionalizing online advertising, rather than just profiting from it. Although this has involved a great deal of work and some sacrifice on our parts, we are proud of ourselves for threading our way through the morass of conflicting standards and arriving at products the marketplace likes and consumers do not block.

The head of our product department has just completed an extensive review of the “Better Ads Standard” and informed the company that our key innovations will pass that standard. This is good news both to us and our customers, because it means we can maintain customer trust. Buying our formats will not violate any industry standard, not even the one advocated by AdBlock Plus.

One of our innovations, now called Smartphone Brand Recall SBR continues to receive great response in the market. It is an in app video format for mobile that’s interactive, and allows consumers to progress to the next level in a game they are playing by engaging in an ad rather than by paying money. Tests have demonstrated that the brand recall from this ad format is very high.

We have released a new publisher dashboard, which works much better than our old one and is liked by everyone who uses it.

In upcoming developments, the Chrome mobile browser has been blocking autoplay of video even in a muted state. But the upcoming release of Chrome for Mobile will allow muted autoplay irrespective of other settings — including “datasaver.”

Zuckerberg Sucks Air Out of CES for Brands

Any real news out of CES this week was drowned out by either the two-hour power outage that plunged the main hall into darkness or Facebook’s announcement that it was once again tuning its newsfeed to promote meaningful interactions among individuals at the expense of all the publishers who used it as a lifeline after all the brands left their sites to advertise on  FB. The brands, by the way, will also get the shaft.

Part of this seems to be a response to the fake news controversy from the last election. But here’s how Zuckerberg puts it on the site:

“One of our big focus areas for 2018 is to make sure that the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent.

We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That’s why we’ve always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness.

But recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.

It’s easy to understand how we got here. Video and other public content have exploded on Facebook in the past couple of years. Since there’s more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what’s in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do — help us connect with each other….

The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos — even if they’re entertaining or informative — may not be as good.

Based on this, we’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.

We started making jchanges in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products. The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.

As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.

For example, there are many tight-knit communities around TV shows and sports teams. We’ve seen people interact way more around live videos than regular ones. Some news helps start conversations on important issues. But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience.

Now, I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.

Welp. This was more relevant than whether AR or VR will go mainstream first (best guesses are for AR because no glasses) or who will advertise what in our connected homes. We’ve never thought the digital media industry belonged at a gadget show anyway.

Facebook Shifts Again

Facebook has decided, at least in 2018, to deprioritize publishers, leaving those who invested heavily in support for Instant Articles and videos with money that might have been better spent with the feeling that they have once again been betrayed by the social media behemoth.

Wasn’t it just two years ago that Facebook attracted publishers with the promise of faster loading Instant Articles, which were supposed to speed page loads for mobile devices? However, last year it told publishers it was going to prioritize video, and that great sucking sound you heard in the industry was from writers and print content creators going down the drain as every site pivoted to video. Well, as we’ve already written, the pivot to video was of little interest to site visitors, because they care a lot more about content than about format.

Facebook has now suggested that publishers NOT pivot to video, because they’ve found the monetization opportunities are not there. Again, we’ve already written about sites like Buzzfeed or Mic, who actually did pivot to video and are now facing the consequences of lost visitors and low ad revenues.

For the past couple of years, mass market sites have been at the mercy of Facebook’s experimentation. And of course Facebook is constantly experimenting, and is far more resource-rich than any of the publishers. Now that Mark Zuckerberg is in trouble over fake news, he’s much less willing to experiment with Facebook as a source of news. Our guess is that the last election gave him a crash course in the down side of being a media company, and now he’s going to crawl back into his corner and focus on connection individuals.

That doesn’t mean Facebook has become useless for advertisers, of course. It’s the publishers who will bear the brunt of this whiplash. Once again they will have to redesign their sites and give some thought to what might draw and audience to their own sites. That’s called audience development, and it was a mistake to put it in the hands of Facebook in the first place.

Oh, and if you were one of the few Facebook members who used M, its concierge messaging service, that experiment is also over.

The company is shutting down M’s services without even letting it leave the testing phase, where it had operated since 2015. The service once seemed to hold the promise of acting as a digital concierge, helping people book hotels, order food, keep their schedules and perform other tasks.

M’s technology, which was something Facebook used to learn about AI, will still be in the background in Messenger, which Facebook believes will continue to be a platform to develop chatbots for sales and customer service.

Are SSL Certificates Still Safe?

Now that everyone on the internet knows that SSL certificates are supposed to guarantee a certain level of security, it’s disturbing to learn that even information entered through an encrypted connection can be subject to phishing attacks. Phishing attacks on a a site with a SLL certificate are particularly dangerous because they are unexpected. However, as all of us who have been involved in the campaign against fraud and malware know, the bad guys are often ahead of the good guys in employing new techniques.

There are actually a few cases in which SSL certificates have been issued specifically for phishing purposes, but in most cases unwary innocent certificate holders find that they are unwilling co-conspirators by providing a phishing facility because their sites have been compromised by attackers. We subscribe to a list of known phishing sites, and we never serve ads to them.  We also do not hold or trade in information. It’s just not our business model and it never has been.

But it’s also worthwhile to alert visitors to other methods of preventing their personal information from getting into the wrong hands. Netcraft provides a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that allows ordinary people to look up information about the sites they’re visiting and achieve some protection from phishing through prevention.

Interestingly enough, GoDaddy has a lower percentage of its SSL certificates used in phishing attacks than most of the other large Certificate Authorities like Global Sign, DigiCert and Symantec, because it hosts a large percentage of the certificates it issues.

According to Netcraft itself, it

first launched its anti-phishing system in 2005. All phishing sites are carefully validated before an alert is raised. Well over 39.6 million unique phishing sites have been detected and blocked by Netcraft’s system to date [December 2017].

Netcraft’s phishing feed is used in all major web browsers and it is also licensed by many of the leading anti-virus, content filtering, web-hosting and domain registration companies. At least three separate third-party studies have found Netcraft’s anti-phishing blocklist to be the most comprehensive feed available.

Netcraft’s phishing site alerts present an excellent opportunity for service providers to win new customers and reassure existing ones by taking a proactive stance against fraud.

This year, as we head into an environment in which information has been weaponized by governments, it is more important than ever that those of us in the online advertising industry we aware of the resources we have at our disposal to restore and repair online trust.

Better Ads in 2018 from ZEDO

For the past six months, we’ve been writing about efforts to make the advertising industry better, which are tantamount to saving free content on the web. After all, if the industry continues to ignore consumers, they will simply turn off ads. Many efforts are focused on this direction, including several promising blockchain startups aiming and the media buying process.

But our current favorite initiative is one we’ve discussed back in September 2016, when the Coalition for Better Ads first launched. In the past year or so, the Coalition has developed a framework to “save” the industry on the format side.

In January 2018, the Coalition will begin rollout of the Better Ads Experience Program, a voluntary initiative for industry participants to improve the online ad experience for consumers and promote marketplace adoption of the Better Ad Standards. Based on a framework developed by the Coalition, the Better Ads Experience Program will certify web publishers that agree not to use the most disruptive ads identified in the Standards and will accredit browsers and advertising technology companies that will assess publishers’ compliance with the Standards and filter digital ads based on the Standards.

The Program will maintain a register of certified companies that will not have ads on their sites filtered based on the Standards by browsers and advertising technology companies that participate in the Program. If compliance issues arise, certified companies will be notified and have an opportunity to address violations or to pursue review by an independent dispute resolution mechanism available through the Program. Additional details about the program, including the registration process, fees, and other details, will be released in January for review by companies that are interested in participating.

The Better Ads Standards currently have been developed for the desktop and mobile web environments in Europe and North America. The Coalition’s extensive consumer research identified the following types of desktop ad experiences beneath the Better Ads Standard: pop-up ads, auto-play video ads with sound, prestitial ads with countdown and large sticky ads. For the mobile web environment, the following types of ad experiences fell beneath the Better Ads Standard: pop-up ads, prestitial ads, ads with density greater than 30%, flashing animated ads, auto-play video ads with sound, poststitial ads with countdown, full-screen scrollover ads, and large sticky ads.

We support every industry initiative we can that is focused on improving and professionalizing our industry. Ask us anything you need to know about our formats and their compliance, and we’ll be able to help you.

IAB’s TAG Program Works, but Too Expensive

Just in time for all the changes in the global market that GDPR will bring next year comes the welcome news that Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) certified companies experienced 83% less fraud this year than the market as a whole. TAG, as you may remember, was an initiative we worked with two years ago when it was getting under way. This year, the group introduced Certified Against Fraud, a self-attested certification for companies that were willing to have  compliance officer who will inspect the company’s policies and priorities and tell internal people how to comply.

This year, 170 companies joined the program to combat ad fraud. Certain large advertisers have already said they will not do business with companies that have not been certified. IAB has also made the program mandatory for all its members in 2018.

A study conducted by The 614 Group assessed the rate of invalid traffic in 6.5 billion digital ad impressions executed by three large media companies — GroupM, IPG, and Horizon Media on behalf of their clients between July and October. Every impression was delivered through a TAG certified channel. So how did 614 Group know what the rate of invalid digital traffic is overall? They benchmarked it at 8.83% for display and 12.03% when video was included. On TAG channels the rate fell to 1.48%.

We’re thinking the one thing wrong with this TAG certification process is that it is only available to large industry players. Currently, it costs $15,000 annually to join TAG and another $10,000 to get certified. If IAB is going to require this next year,  they need to add a program for smaller players and startups, which I bet is where some of the remainder of their invalid traffic comes from.

And for smaller players and startups that are legitimate, the cost is prohibitive. Yet many startups have promising new ideas and technologies that marketers need to be able to try to get new ideas. On behalf of all those small but important and innovative players, who will help move digital advertising forward in the coming years, we intend to say something at the IAB Leadership summit in Palm Springs in February.

 

 

 

 

Publishers: Please implement Ads.txt

Ads.txt  is IAB’s newest fraud-fighting initiative. It stands for “Authorized Digital Sellers,” and the aim of the initiative is to increase transparency in the way that programmatic advertising is sold to protect buyers from spoofers.

It works by giving verified publishers and distributors an easy way to declare, publicly, the companies that they allow to sell their digital inventory. They do this by preparing and publishing the “/ads.txt” file, creating a public record of Authorized Digital Sellers and helping buyers to quickly identify which sellers are allowed to handle ad inventory for which publishers.

This makes it much harder for scammers to profit from selling fake inventory and gives buyers peace of mind that the ad space they buy is authentic.

By the time you read this post, over 100,000 ads.txt files will have been published. 750 of the comScore 2,000 will have ads.txt files and over 50% of inventory seen by DoubleClick Bid Manager will have come from domains with ads.txt files. Beginning in November, DoubleClick Bid Manager and AdWords stopped buying ads from ad networks / exchanges not declared on Ads.txt.

Google also says that “DoubleClick Ad Exchange and AdSense publishers that use ads.txt are protected against unauthorized inventory being sold in Google auctions.” To do this, Google “crawls daily over 30m domains for ads.txt files.”

The rapid adoption of Ads.txt shows how much of the market is controlled by Google. But this doesn’t make the initiative less valuable. Domain spoofing has been a huge problem on both the supply and demand sides, and we are happy to see this initiative and help our publishers adopt it.

If you’re a publisher, you need to implement the ads.txt text file on your root domain, listing the exchanges that are authorized to sell your inventory and including your seller account ID for each exchange.

Your seller account ID, sometimes called your publisher ID or seller network ID, is the ID that’s linked to your account on an exchange or supply-side platform (SSP). This is important because this part can’t be “spoofed.”

When you take part in programmatic real-time bidding, this ID should be transmitted through the OpenRTB protocol as the publisher ID, along with the Publisher.Domain in the Publisher object. If you’re using a different RTB protocol, it might be called “seller_network_id,” member or seat ID. 

Ads.txt is also important for buyers, who are the ones paying the bills and the ones demanding more transparency. They have been almost literally throwing out money on online exchanges, and finding their brands in places that are destructive or irrelevant. No wonder they’re finally done with all this, and have demanded changes. Especially this year the ANA and the MRC have become loud players in demanding reform, and Mark Prichard of Procter and Gamble, the country’s largest advertisers, has been on a one-man tirade.

As a private platform, we’re individually secure, and as an ad server we have our protections in place.

We are getting there, folks. Digital advertising is too large an industry to be so rife with corruption. We need to clean up, and we will.