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.

 

 

Market Maturity Means New Media Buying Standards

Contrary to popular opinion, digital display advertising does work, only not the way we think it does. In fact, consistent display ads create brand lift in the same way TV advertising does. And display used for brand lift is a “good buy,” allowing for many impressions at relatively low cost and contributing to availability bias– formerly known as top of mind awareness.

When we use digital display for performance advertising today, we’re using it incorrectly. We should be using it for branding instead. However, we have become used to digital display as only good for performance. By making poor media buying choices like the misuse of display ads, we continuously overlook efficient ways to spend our digital budgets.

Marketing has changed more in the past five years than in the past fifty, and some of the things we thought we knew, even earlier in the digital advertising era, simply are no longer true.

That is why all marketers are making the wrong decisions, despite data to the contrary. Or so says Adam Heimlich of Horizon after running a three year study on digital media budgets. 

Not only is almost no one executing effective digital media buys, the vast majority of big digital advertisers are on the opposite track, chugging like locomotives in the wrong direction. Many have arrived at zero lift.

Digital display is one of many areas of human endeavor where data is exposing conventions that yield suboptimal results. As in finance and baseball, data alone isn’t enough to convince most decision-makers to move away from orthodoxy in marketing.

Digital video, too, is often interpreted incorrectly. In video, it is not always smart to keep spending to create cross channel campaigns aimed at producing specified numbers of sales.

Here’s why: there’s a number in marketing called cost of customer acquisition. If you are looking at a sales number, and you keep spending until you get there, your cost of customer acquisition may very well drive you into bankruptcy. Especially if you are a retailer, bucking a global market trend toward online buying. Sure, you may eventually reach your sales targets if you advertise to enough people, but your ad spend will be unbelievably inefficient.

So we have to make better use of the data we already have, and develop algorithms that truly learn. Then we leverage those algorithms to make better media buys with less waste.

Heimlich advocates buying against the standards of the MRC and the ANA, and avoiding vendors who are not transparent:

By forgoing transparency, viewability and/or fraud protection, bad actors get away with appearing to deliver more value per dollar. How much this practice is fueling the growth of Google and Facebook isn’t exactly a mystery.

Advertisers’ finance and procurement departments should implement a compliance regime based on industry standards, with regular audits to keep marketers honest. This was very difficult before the ANA and MRC caught up to the marketplace. Now, it’s mature, and there should be no excuses.

Think about that the next time you are tempted to spend all your budget on Facebook.

Agencies Merging in the Face of GDPR

One of the ways agencies grow is by buying smaller agencies. In theory, that gives them access to more clients, a fresh creative staff, and a way to create scale to ward off competitors. However, mergers and acquisitions are only as good as their integrations into the mother ship.  According to an article in AdExchanger,

There were 398 acquisitions in 2016 with a total investment of $14 billion.  The Big Six – WPP, Dentsu, Havas, Publicis, IPG and Omnicom – were responsible for 89 acquisitions, at a value of more than $3.3 billion.

Figures through September showed 291 acquisitions this year. And in this game of agency supermarket sweep, many of the targets come from the data, digital and programmatic aisle.

This could prove tragic in the long run. The good news is that at long last agencies seem to understand that digital, data and programmatic are capabilities they need to have. But they are one step behind in the race to the future. As a result of coming new data privacy regulations, such as the European GDPR (Global Data Privacy Regulations), many marketers have data at the forefront of their minds, but for the wrong reasons. They know they are going have difficulty using it the way they did in the past, because now the consumer will be in control of her data.

What the big agencies really should be doing is studying up on those regulations and coming to grips with the limits that will be placed on the use of data in the future. Agencies are usually headed by people who may know the creative side of the house but don’t keep very good tabs on data. There will be an amazing culture clash when the data-driven geeks arrive in the house. There will be equally big problems because programmatic itself is coming under scrutiny for brand safety issues and ad fraud. So far, the geeks and the creatives have been kept separate, in separate companies. If they come together under one roof, that holding company will have to tighten its controls to make sure that the data flowing through its acquisitions is in compliance with the new regulations, or the fines will be significant.

So what the agencies will need now is a new cadre of management familiar with aspects of the business that have been lumped into a separate bucket called “martech.” And they will probably have to beef up their compliance departments as well.

In the rush to integrate acquisitions and learn more about how to manage data, guess what will get short shrift again? True creative, the kind that makes advertising users want to see.