The Supply Side’s Next Market Opportunity: Accountability

by Will Doherty, Senior Director of Business Development

There is just one path forward for the sell side of digital advertising: total accountability.

As fraud persists and the call to combat it grows louder, fraud has somehow become a buy-side problem. It’s not. Buyers didn’t source and broadcast fraudulent inventory – suppliers did. Quality and transparency are supply-side problems. In order to move forward, suppliers and publishers must be accountable for the impressions they allow into the market. “Buyer beware” is not a strategy for a mature marketplace. Suppliers need to become arbiters of quality, not just scale.

Accountability has never been more important. It comes at a time when the attention on fraud has never been higher. Recently we’ve seen several major players in ad tech get hammered for being complicit about selling questionable inventory. In some very highly publicized instances, buyers who thought they were reaching target consumers on premium publisher sites found a shocking number of counterfeit sites scattered throughout their buys.

Accountability in programmatic comes in three pieces: scrutability behind the buy, the implementation of new protocols around the buy and good data insights into the buy. There are real efforts underway to bring all three of these elements into play in 2015, which will collectively help beat back the shadow of fraud.

Scrutability allows buyers to invest in programmatic without fear of an unchecked flow of inventory into the exchanges. This piece involves players in the ad verification space and a variety of industry associations. The IAB, 4As and ANAs recently launched a new cross-industry compliance organization, the Trustworthy Accountability Group, aimed at combating ad fraud, malware and other inventory challenges. Standardizing scrutability is a logical and key legal component in erasing fraud.

New protocols introduce criteria to the inventory that clarifies who the seller actually is, in spite of what is suggested by the domain name. Industry leaders are beginning to work with their buyers and competitors to develop new protocols in the bid stream, so buyers can link domain info to seller info, ensuring that fraudulent players cannot hide behind whitelisted domains. In many cases of fraud, those domains are spoofed to funnel dollars into fake websites or bot traffic. This puts a heavy onus on the exchanges to make sure their onboarding protocols are tight so bad actors cannot find easy entrance into the exchanges.

The third piece involves equipping both buyers and sellers with data to illuminate programmatic transactions. Buyers right now simply aren’t in a position to be proactive about what’s coming through the pipes, such as distinguishing between a quality impression from a real consumer-viewing premium publisher site vs. a counterfeit site posing as a premium publisher, or what is an ad farm populated by bot traffic. Buyers know the supply side is in the right place to monitor the publishers and networks they work with in order to prevent junk inventory from getting into exchanges. There’s pressure from the buy side to bring forth the data that will help separate quality from junk inventory, and sellers increasingly have the tools to do this.

We often hear that the digital advertising marketplace needs to be “self-policing,” and, in a very real way, it is. Buyers vote with their dollars. They will move spending from sellers that are known to work with shady partners and invest that money elsewhere. No legitimate seller wants to see that happen to its own business. Buyers vote with their dollars, and sellers want to demonstrate they’re worthy of that vote. As buyers ask tougher questions about where their money is going, sellers will have to answer honestly.

With the IAB’s cooperation and from sellers’ own initiatives, the industry at large is rising to the occasion as the call for transparency grows louder. And with sellers doing all they can to root out fraud before it hits the market, these changes will echo throughout the digital ecosystem in 2015, producing more accountability for sellers and value for buyers.

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