Trustworthy Accountability Group

The Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) has accomplished an incredible amount during its first year, including rolling out a TAG Registry, an Anti-Piracy Initiative, Certified Against Fraud, Certified Against Malware,  and updated Inventory Quality Guidelines. Now the work begins: to round up more participants. The early adopters are already on board: 127 companies are already TAG-Registered. To be registered, companies must complete a self-assessment and attest to having certain processes and procedures in place and a plan to keep them in place for the coming year. TAG Registered companies have been verified as legitimate participants in the digital advertising industry through a proprietary background check and review process powered by Dun & Bradstreet and approved by TAG. Once registered, companies are awarded a TAG-ID, a unique global identifier that they can share with partners and add  to their ads or the ad inventory they sell.

130 people, myself included, have completed Compliance Officer Training, and have been designated Compliance Officers for their companies.

I first became involved with the Trustworthy Accountability Group last January, when it held a meeting at the IAB Annual Leadership Conference. Because I’ve represented ZEDO for five years on several industry initiatives that fit our “high-road” approach to partnership with both advertisers and sellers, I attended the meeting and listened to the plans. I had no idea how fast they would move.

By the end of the year, TAG had released a suite of anti-Malware tools, including “Best Practices for Scanning Creative for Malware,” a glossary of terms that establishes a reference of malvertising types, and a Malware Threat Sharing Hub, where certified companies can join a trustworthy collaborative network that qualifies and tracks malicious ads.

The Certified Against Fraud program, which was the last to roll out,  is open to participation by buyers, direct sellers and intermediaries across the digital advertising ecosystem.  Requirements to achieve the TAG “Certified Against Fraud” Seal differ according to a company’s role in the supply chain.  These requirements are outlined in details in the Certified Against Fraud Guidelines.

Companies that are shown to abide by the Certified Against Fraud Guidelines receive the “Certified Against Fraud” Seal and can use the seal to publicly communicate their commitment to combatting fraudulent non-human traffic in the digital advertising supply chain.

When the group sent out its press release earlier this year on the first hundred companies to get registered, it reiterated its pledge to create industry transformation at scale. It was formed in response to multiple accusations by news sources and participants of lack of transparency. With TAG, the industry hopes to prove that it can regulate itself.

DigiTrust Universal Identity for Consumers is Here

All morning we’ve been listening to a webinar on  TAG, Ad-IDD, Time-based Metrics, and DigiTrust presented by IAB. By far the most interesting new development in the industry to us, is DigiTrust  a new 501c6 that is trying to fix identity and tracking problems for digital ads.

Many publishers have been concerned about the number of third party requests to their sites. They know those requests make the consumer experience poor.

So DigiTrust has come along to standardize the identifiers for consumers. Digitrust is a cloud service that  will offer a DigiTrust ID, and a DigiTrust consent stored in a 1st party cookie accessible by third parties. As a standardized ID for all, with DigiTrust, everybody uses the same ID for the consumer.  It’s just a common language they use with their partners, giving every party proof of consent, which is already necessary in Canada and Europe and may become essential in the US soon.

It eliminates the need for pixel syncs, makes pages load faster, levels the playing field between open web and walled gardens. Publishers need to start with putting a script that sets the identifier, establishes ID and consent, and can be passed through to all their suppliers. This standardized ID makes it possible to eliminate all the other Javascript calls and provides a level of control for the publisher. If you close down Javascript access, you benefit the entire ecosystem.

How it works: the consumer views a site with DigiTrust Javascript on any browser, JS then checks if a token and consent exist, and if not a consent notice is shown to the consumer via a window shade. Any subsequent page navigation is then directed through Digitrust ID. Digitrust stores no data, and empowers NO party with incremental data. It’s just a way to identify consumers once.

DigiTrust is aiming for for 100% consumer notice and consent and all Digitrust platforms and publishers must be part of a self-regulatory program (like TAG).

Publishers pay nothing. Platforms pay. Membership fees are one-time non recurring, with monthly API subscription fees for a decryption key. The more people involved, the more cost is spread among members.

So far, 60+ ad tech platforms have indicated interest,  with 20 already paying the fees. There are also 50+ premium publishers involved. But because of the holidays, deployments are not expected to happen until Q1. For information, contact Jordan @digitru.st Digitrust

Facebook Metrics Show Danger of Buying in Walled Gardens

Nothing says more about the danger of buying only from walled gardens than Facebook’s recent admission that people were not watching as much video on the social network as it had  reported. The average video on Facebook was counted as “viewed” after as little as three seconds, but Facebook didn’t calculate in the number of people who don’t watch video on the site at all.

Facebook apparently made a division error of the kind any normal human could make,

Instead of dividing the total time spent watching a video by the total number of people who watched that video, Facebook’s metric reflected the total time spent watching divided by the number of views the video had generated. With Facebook counting views at three seconds, that meant anyone who had seen just a glimpse of the video was not getting represented in the metric. In fact, Facebook told advertisers that its metric was off by 60 to 80 percent, according to The [Wall Street] Journal.

Advertisers seemed not to care, revealing they they don’t buy on time watched, but on either 10-second views or completed views. In this case. Facebook’s being wrong didn’t seem to cost advertisers money. But they should care, because it turns out 80% of Facebook users don’t watch video at all. Brands looking to shift large budgets from TV to digital video can’t do that safely until the know what their return on investment will be similar. It would be more advantageous if buyers spent more with independent publishers, who are closer to their audiences. Facebook’s audience is simply too large to count properly, and too uncommitted to give good results.

Most independent publishers are forced to accept some kind of third party verification of their views, but Facebook does not use third party vendors; it does its own analytics internally. After this admission, self-attestation will not work anymore for Facebook. It must allow in the same third party vendors, ComScore, Nielsen, or someone else, that the rest of the publishing world uses to tell its story.

For publishers, this inflation of the video watching time is worrisome at best, because most publishers felt they had to pay ball with Facebook and when the platform put its emphasis on video, publishers scrambled to provide video content. But all these publisher resources would be wasted if no one were watching. Because of the way advertisers pay, they can afford to wait and see if their ads work. Content publishers have no such luxury. Once they throw money at an expensive initiative like video, they would like to be sure they’re getting paid.

It will be a while until all this sorts itself out, and we figure out whether mobile video deserves the dollars being pulled out of trusty old TV.

 

TAG Releases Names of First Hundred Participants

It’s a very exciting time in the digital media business. The Trustworthy Accountability Group’s effort to clean up the supply chain has been gathering momentum all year. We’ve (ZEDO) been working on the Business Transparency Committee, and on the IQG (Internet Quality Guidelines) working group. During this first year, over 100 companies, most of them familiar names in the advertising industry, have gone through the process of registration as trustworthy partners, and have either self-attested or been audited on their business practices. All the major advertising holding companies have already been through the process, which has become more common for anyone who buys or sells advertising. In the future, the process will extent to intermediaries.

There is now an accepted transfer protocol for the transmission of registration IDs and payment IDs, and these have begun being passed back and forth during automated transactions.

“The TAG Registry is the foundation for the full range of TAG’s programs to fight fraud, reduce ad-supported piracy, block malware, and increase transparency in the digital advertising ecosystem,” said Mike Zaneis, CEO of TAG. “Through the TAG Registry and use of TAG-IDs, companies can tell which of their industry partners have taken the necessary steps to verify their business as a legitimate digital ad industry participant. When the TAG Registry is combined with the Payment ID system, a floodlight of transparency will illuminate the digital advertising ecosystem, and criminals will have no place left to hide.”

The TAG Registry is one of two parts of the interlocking “Verified by TAG” Program designed to fight digital ad-related crime and increase transparency across the digital ad ecosystem. The other core element of the program, TAG’s Payment ID Protocol, helps ensure that payments made in the digital ad ecosystem are made only to legitimate companies. The Payment ID Protocol enables intermediaries to add a unique identifier for each participant in the supply chain, allowing companies to monitor their ad campaigns and “follow the money” to see who is receiving money for each advertising impression.

Following the money will be the best way for media planners and publishers, as well as ad exchanges and ad servers, to be sure they are dealing with quality partners. The Trustworthy Accountability Group was created to spur transformational improvement at scale across the digital advertising ecosystem, focusing on four core areas: eliminating fraudulent traffic, combating malware, fighting ad-supported Internet piracy to promote brand integrity, and promoting brand safety through greater transparency.

 

Reach is More than Just a Number

Once again we find ourselves ahead of the curve. Last year, we realized that the programmatic race to the bottom had indeed hit bottom, and we sensed a flight to quality. Fortunately for ZEDO, we had already developed a private buying platform for media buyers to use when they wanted to reach more than just “eyeballs.” Our private platform starts with our high performance ZINC formats — inView and inArticle –and allows brands to use those units on our premium publisher network.

Last year we also “cleaned house” with our publishers, eliminating anyone whose traffic might be non-human or fraudulent. We now have a completely clean supply chain and privacy policies strong enough to make us members of the Online Trust Association’s Honor Roll for the fourth consecutive year.

Now we are beginning to see marketers come to the realization that they want better targeting, even if it means compromising that old metric “reach.”

Advertisers are starting to understand that context and quality of ad units matter now more than ever. They are also starting to think of the audience as the currency rather than simply counting impressions. The head of digital for a major wireless carrier recently stated, “There are only 5 million people in this country who I can get to switch mobile carriers, so why am I marketing to 275 million?”

The rising popularity of private marketplaces represents a step forward for advertisers who are now able to transact directly with publishers to secure higher-quality inventory, particularly in mobile and video.

Indeed. Why pay to reach people who will never buy your product or service and perhaps run the risk that your haphazard targeting will be the last straw that forces them to block ads?

Premium publishers who use private platforms will also have the edge over social sites like Facebook and Snapchat, who are less transparent about their users than traditional publisher sites. Facebook and Snapchat (the walled gardens) have hundreds of millions of users, but are only slowly opening themselves up to scrutiny by media planners. Up until now, they’ve operated as if what they say about their audiences cannot be challenged, because they have highly desirable audiences in very large numbers. But as brands realize they have more hope of moving merchandise by going deep with the right audiences rather than broad with global audience networks, they will turn away from Facebook and seek their niche audiences.

 

DMA Calls Ad Blockers Bad Choice for Consumers

The Direct Marketing Association has called ad blockers a bad consumer choice, based on the learnings it gleaned from the beginning of email marketing. DMA has now begun to offer advice to the media industry based on those experiences. In the early days of direct marketing, mistakes were made, leading to the passage of the CAN-SPAM act of 2003, the first set of regulations for the use of commercial email. This law establishes the rules for commercial email and commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have a business stop emailing them, and outlines the penalties incurred for those who violate the law.

Consumers now feel about digital advertising the way they felt about unwanted email (CAN-SPAM stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing), and have begun letting marketers know in such large numbers that the government might feel it has to step in.

But that doesn’t make blocking ads the best answer.Comparing ad blocking in 2016 to the email industry before 2003, Neil O’Keefe, SVP of CRM and Customer Engagement for the DMA told Bloomberg TV viewers that adblocking was a significant problem, because the only entity that really benefited from it was the maker of the ad blocking software. He went on to say that it disconnects brands from consumers, and creates problems for the entire marketplace.Marketers need two-way communication with customers in order to inform product development. And customers need their end of the conversation in order to have choice about which brands they want to hear from. With ad blocking they no longer hear about the best new products and about optimum pricing.

O’Keefe believes that ad blocking is a call to arms to deliver better ads. Like the DMA, which tightened its own self-regulation and education programs and actually created an environment where consumers today often prefer email to display ads, he says we have to fight ad blocking with quality ads that are relevant to customers. That is the best consumer choice.

Two other industry leaders came out over the past two weeks with very insightful comments regarding the state of online marketing:

GroupM announced it wouldn’t pay for ads that are re-inserted, declaring “It’s addressing the symptom, not the cause. Let’s fix the user experience first.”
And Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP points out that we haven’t adapted to the smaller screen, but still cautions that there is a price for the consumer to pay for ad blocking: the higher cost of content.

As with every move forward in our industry, the technological changes continue to come with much discussion before settling out into industry best practices.

Mobile Video Ads Play Without Sound

At first, publishers were excited about auto-play video, and video ads also played with the volume turned up.  But we quickly found out the audiences did not want volume on in their offices, so we developed our inArticle (a.k.a. outstream) format to run without sound. As usual, everyone is now following our lead. A new study has revealed that 85% of video content runs without sound, especially if it is on Facebook. Even the ads. Facebook hosts up to 8 billion video views daily, and most of them are without sound. It’s as if we were returning to the era of silent, captiond movies.

We’re curious about the future of mobile video ads in this environment. At present, they command high CPMs from advertisers, but the ROI hasn’t bee determined yet. According to an eMarketer study, the pace of mobile video advertising will double by 2019. However, publishers and platforms are making what eMarketer calls “egregious errors” that turn off watchers.

Advertisers are guilty of the most obvious video errors, but publishers and platform providers sometimes share the blame. Among the more egregious offenses are serving the same video pre-roll multiple times during a content series, forcing long-form ads ahead of short-form videos, reusing video spots without regard to screen aspect ratios, and autoplaying—with audio!—without the user’s permission.

Almost any advertiser worth their salt knows that these lackluster experiences won’t deliver the desired results. And yet bad user experience is, if not the rule, certainly more than mere exception.

This is exceptionally true with Facebook, which now shares with Google as much as 80% of mobile ad spend.

Tailoring content to the whims of the Facebook news feed has helped publishers scale on the platform. It’s also turned news feeds stale as publishers put up countless videos that have the same look and feel. Take, for instance, this NowThis video about a Tylenol ingredient that makes people less empathetic and this Tech Insider video about a futuristic bike. While they focus on completely different topics, the key ingredients are the same: a striking visual or message up front followed by a text-heavy explanation of the content.

One thing that does work well on Facebook is branded content, even if it is silent. So at the moment, brands are flocking to that way to get their messages out. Another word for branded content, although often abused, is “native” advertising. And our Innovative Formats work well for that. We  just hope advertisers stick to a high quality standard for their branded content, so that it, too, doesn’t alientate customers.

Time to Think Context, Not Reach

The digital advertising business is in a state of chaos and turmoil. Twenty years ago, the first display ads produced high click through rates (CTRs) and plenty of subsequent conversions–enough for them to be called performance ads. But over the decades, consumers have developed “banner blindness,” and publishers have seen a race of revenues to the bottom.

Advertisers, who pay the bills, have seen a lower ROI on campaigns, which has forced them to buy more ads, and has forced publishers to load their sites with boxes, banners and takeovers. Page load times slowed, and a dash of fraud and malware completed a disturbing picture.

And then came mobile.  With mobile, consumers had the opportunity to turn off ads in large numbers, because the ad blocking software early adopters had already downloaded was automatically included  for the average Joe in Apple’s latest mobile operating system.

Angry consumers who had been targeted and re-targeted turned off ads altogether.

The industry badly needs a savior. That savior will have to offer narrower targeting and more context for consumers, so they only see ads they want. It will change the way media planners buy media. They should no longer buy for “reach,” but for relevance.

The stakeholders in the current ecosystem are the agencies, retailers, and brands on the demand side (the advertisers), publishers, social networks, and apps where those consumers are already spending time, and the coveted object, the purchaser.  With mobile, locating consumers is easy: there are a small number of apps that consumers use for search, including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Yelp and they’ve largely aggregated the buyers.  Companies like RetailMeNot and PocketMath, which deliver mobile coupons, need to find those consumers only while they are shopping. Context is everything.

It would be helpful if every product in every store in the community were geotagged, and if you wanted to buy a Diet Coke you’d only see an ad for the places near you offering Diet Coke. You wouldn’t get ads for stores not in your geography, nor for products that were not Diet Coke. This would enable Real Time Bidding (RTB) platforms to deliver a truly contextual experience. This has been what’s been wrong with RTB platforms  up to now; they’re delivering without context.

Most research says people don’t consider ads for products they’re actually shopping for bad. Rather, they are perceived as information or content. How many times have YOU typed “gas station near me” or “Chinese food near me” into your phone? The ads and listings that come up are perceived as information. All too often, advertisers impatient for reach have made media buys too broad in their targeting. The advertisers need better data. And so do the publishers.

Mobile advertising is a rapidly growing data thirsty industry, and consumers are dissatisfied because the targeting is too broad and without context. In mobile, reaching a large number of people is less important than reaching the single right person at the right time — which is when they’re actually looking for something.

 

 

Verified by TAG Gains Momentum

If you’ve been in the ad tech industry, you know that until a couple of years ago, although many people knew the industry contained fraud, nobody was really incentivized to do anything about it. And then, suddenly, the lights came on for the advertisers, who realized they were footing the bill for some of these fraudulent ads, and for the consumers, who realized that they were paying for ad fraud in malware and data costs. Now, with the new Verified by Tag initiative, ad fraud is at the top of everyone’s list of things to erase.

A survey conducted by E&Y for IAB revealed that in the $52b ad industry, $8.2 billion can be saved each year if the digital advertising industry worked together to eradicate corruption across the supply chain. Invalid and fraudulent traffic takes $4.6 billion out, internet piracy takes $2.5 billion, and malvertising takes $1.1 billion. Thus, every responsible company has a role to play in combatting fraud.

Last year, IAB created the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG). TAG is creating a meaningful seal of approval system for the digital ad ecosystem; it wants to be the leading organization promoting transparency. Because it was formed at precisely the right time, TAG has a fancy board composed of all the big players, from the Association of National Advertisers to  Mondelez to Facebook.

We’ve been working on the business transparency committee, which is developing the registration and payment ID procedures. We have also been working on incorporating the new Inventory Quality Guidelines. At present, companies can still self-attest about their inventory quality, but that’s going to change in the future, with independent audits replacing self-attestation. We want to be ready.

The TAG registry is a closed system of supply chain participants that demonstrate a commitment to higher standards of transparency. It’s called “Verified by TAG.”   “Verified by TAG” is the gateway to all of TAG’s other certifications, tools, and working groups.

We sent our Compliance Officer through a training program at which she was shown how to create a “Description of Methodology” for what processes, procedures, and controls we have in place to assure that our inventory is clean when it enters our platform, and the transaction between buyer, seller, and any intermediary who might be involved, is completely transparent.

We’re excited that the industry has finally come to recognize the importance of good business practices, even though this will entail a lot of work for our team as we increase the sophistication of our detection and reporting tools.

 

 

IAB’s Fee Transparency Calculator Will be Revealing

Last week the ad tech industry, which has been hit lately with layoffs, lack of funding, and consolidation, got another shock when the IAB released its programmatic fee transparency calculator , dealing a body blow to the obfuscation that has made it impossible for media buyers to calculate how much of their ad budgets actually made it to the publisher. Wary advertisers who guessed they were paying an “ad tech” tax will now be able to calculate how much they’re paying in fees to every intermediary in the buying process.

When programmatic buying and selling took over the advertising industry, which wasn’t so long ago, an entirely new group of startup companies emerged to help both buyers and sellers automate their processes. As you might expect, there were very few media buyers that were experienced in buying through real time bidding, especially when it came to something that wasn’t performance or wasn’t remnant. As a consequence, the first couple of years saw media buyers essentially buying blind — not knowing where their ads appeared (indeed, if they appeared), whether they were brand safe, or whether they reached the intended audience.

Programmatic buying pretty much drove prices down to the floor for digital publishers, too, because they had no way of “proving” that their inventory was premium.  So premium sites were later to adopt programmatic — until the industry invented “programmatic premium.”

The problem of efficiency took a while to solve, but the industry did get it solved. However, the cost to solve it turns out to be higher than anyone wants to pay, as multiple intermediaries each take a piece of the dollars that pass between advertiser and publisher.

Amid all the other turmoil in the advertising industry around issues like fraud, viewability and ad blockers, calls for greater transparency into the buying process grew louder, and an IAB Programmatic Working Group came up with the fee calculator, a first-of-its-kind tool that advertisers, agencies, and publishers can use to analyze the costs of ad technologies and services that are commonly applied within programmatic executions. Better understanding of the fees each party incurs should allow for greater pricing transparency across the supply chain.

The tool asks users to input planning rates and budgets by channel, and then select the ad technologies that are being applied. Once that information is entered, the calculator tabulates the overall cost of the ad technology layers and their percentage share of the effective CPM.

The following ad technology layers are default fields included in the calculator, with the option of adding additional technologies/services based on individual buyer or seller implementations: 

  • Ad serving
  • Campaign management
  • Data/targeting
  • DMP technology
  • DSP technology
  • Pre-bid evaluation
  • Post-bid evaluation
  • Verification platform

Fortunately for our customers, we recently built an end-to-end private buying platform that allows them to bypass these intermediaries,  not only saving money but also lowering the risks of malware, spyware, and fraud.