Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

MediaLad: Ad verification: a thing of beauty and necessity

Who’s MediaLad? In digital media, everyone pretends they know who he, or she, is. We do. Or do we? What we do know is that the anonymous media hero is NDA’s regular columnist.

Or so they’d have you believe… 

Who wakes up in the morning and thinks I better make sure the doors were locked last night? No? Well effectively that’s what you’re doing with post-bid ad verification technology. OK, so I’m lulling you into reading on, and throwing outlandish statements in my opening headline and contradicting it in my opening paragraph but bear with me here… you know how erratic I can be.

Our industry for some reason is always looking for the next yard stick. CPM, CTR, Viewability, Fraud, VTR, Engagement Rates, Completion Rates… list is honestly endless but what does that actually mean? All these metrics in isolation actually mean nothing. Collectively – all together – they mean nothing too. 

You have to go back a few years when we were just learning about technology that was coming out to track how many ads were seen and publishers hearts jumping into their throats at the thought of more tech being used on their site – slowing down UX and potentially being used as a stick rather than a carrot for advertising.

And boy were they right in all aspects.

Years ago it was so manual. It was something we all optimised. Planned to improve and measured and learned what worked best but as with anything it became a switch in a platform. Pre-bid came in. Data from companies that measured millions of sites, with no real permission to do so mind, that then spat out a score determined by said companies. No context whatsoever behind what the tech is seeing apart from the impressions spent. Remember I said something about metrics on their own being meaningless? Well read on.

Some may say that they made this data available to publishers but boy did they make that hard work! How on earth could publishers be so in the dark about what is being scraped and scored – oblivious to how advertisers saw their site that they spent good money and hard graft building, only to be ranked low based on one thing the pixel saw. 

I am a big believer in preparation for marketing. It’s not difficult to buy digital media. Nor should it be something taken lightly. You purely have to put some good honest planning into it and understand your customer better than your competitors. Where do they shop? What do they read? What do you want them to think about you when they’re reading it? Then you have to be prepared to pay for it, fairly. 

All that taken into account means we should not be held to ransom through fear that we haven’t locked the door last night.

Some of these companies have sent screenshots to brands showing them horror stories and fear mongering them into believing that technology is the answer. To some extent I believe it is – but this should be a collaborative effort not a catch all exercise for agencies or clients for that matter to just blanket block a lot of perfectly fine content and websites, entirely through the word of a company that is measuring and showing you a score they have interpreted as being right. Who says they are? 

Have you ever stopped to think about ad verification and what it does? How much it costs in terms of your media – not just the nominal CPM? I’ve written in the past about data – and the impact on CPM. When you add a Google segment onto a campaign, it’s free – but have you ever wondered what the true cost is in terms of inflated CPM? Remember that majority of DV360 spend filters through to Google Marketplace. Increased competition means increased CPMs. Simple economics. 

Let’s apply that to ad verification. In my time I have seen CPMs 4x with pre-bid ad verification segments applied to a campaign. This not only should alarm you into thinking why, but it should shout HOW?! The reason is exactly what I was talking about above. As soon as you restrict a campaign by putting a filter on it – even if it is quite small – the tech automatically tries to identify inventory that matches those criteria. 

If we apply the logic Facebook employs in their training and certification, they always say “leave things on automatic placement,” as this gives the machine and technology ample space to find your perfect audience to convert or engage with your brand. 

The complete opposite is drilled into traders – applying filter after filter upon controls on top of restrictions and lists of keywords upon site lists. Inclusions, exclusions, lookalikes but not too broad, please. This is the issue that has been created by allowing these PR spins to get out of hand. We’re too tight fisted with the reins of media because tech has made it easy for us to do so but it’s time to take a step back and think about the bigger picture. We need to get back to a better way of doing things. An in between of where we ended up and some fools old fashioned media planning. 

The fear of God is put into junior traders and over the last few years that fear is handed down to newbies joining the industry but it’s time to say stop. It’s time to actually look at how much money is spent in this part of the industry to warrant the IPOs, to warrant the acquisitions that have happened recently. It’s not a nominal CPM you’re paying but a tax on top of inflated media cost that could easily be prevented by careful and better planning with publishers. 

It’s not all bad, I have to say. These companies have saved some money for some brands but the fact that there are pre and post bid technologies should force you to rethink where your money goes. You’re paying technology to keep your brand safe? You wouldn’t accept that in any other medium – you do your homework and you plan. Digital should be no different. 

What to do next

Look at the last year and what has been spent in your ad verification contract. Think about the last time you spoke to someone there about getting more from this piece in the media supply chain. 

These are starting points to flag the business risk of reliance on this technology, and not better media practice in general. Next you have to start getting under the hood of the blocks that you have in place. Look at your brand suitability measures outside of your verification partners and what’s employed in buying platforms, ad servers etc. You’ll be surprised what is done without verification even involved! This alone inflated your cost of media but then coupled with the additional filters you’ll be shocked to see what you could save.

Next, look into the verification processes for your activities. When were these last reviewed and improved? Are they employing your new DEI Manifesto?! If you like me have stumbled across those pesky clouds that DV put in place when blocking your ad then it’s time to ask, why is this page being blocked. Safety first could be costing your business a high value customer.

You might be blocking words like “black” because it’s being flagged as unsafe – trust me, I am not joking when I say this. “Gay,” “trans,” and more are all words that alone do not constitute as a filter for media. Build better methodologies to block content and create a framework to review this on an ongoing basis and push your tech partners to support in better and more appropriate key phrases – not words on their own. 

This will give you an insight into how you can strip this back or remove entirely. Pre or post bid you make that choice but surely you don’t need to buy both. Get rationale from your support team – if you trust them, or find a consultant (or me) to give you the clarity needed to understand how you can revamp your verification measures. 

Measure your activity as best as you can and understand the full picture before coming to conclusions.

The next yard stick? Attention. Reminds me of the good old days and am I excited about going through all of this rigmarole again? Yes.