Ad Verification: So Misunderstood

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster is influenced by the reality it lives in. Created with a tabula rasa, a blank slate, the monster’s actions are only determined by its good or bad experiences. Sadly, as the monster is only greeted with emotions of disgust, fear, and abandonment, the monster turns into the stereotype. It didn’t have to be that way.

When I look at the advertising ecosystem, I see a landscape like no other, with many overlapping, complementary – and conflicting— services. There are an inordinate number of possibilities for an ad to be served on a publisher’s site. Yet, besides for the demand side and supply side needing to be present, no other element is mandatory – except for ad verification that is. I believe, especially for programmatic as there are limitless amounts of third-parties involved, that the ad-hoc consideration for ad verification is what has contributed to the (sometimes) toxic aura that has permeated the advertising ecosystem.

In my eyes, ad verification is a misunderstood service. Have you ever noticed that on most advertising ecosystem landscapes, ad verification typically sits off to the demand (advertiser’s) side?

Ad verification is not a singular, uniform service. Just like there are demand side and supply side performance platforms, there are ad verification solutions which cater to either section of the advertising ecosystem grid.

The typical explanation for ad verification is that it ensures that every ad impression is a compliant, quality impression and is served and displayed as intended. This explanation falls in line with what a demand-side ad verification solution offers – which is among others, viewability, click fraud, and attribution transparency. Yet, this explanation leaves out the other part of the picture, the ad verification solution oriented towards the supply side, the publisher.

These supply-side ad verification solutions are built to safeguard the publisher-visitor (user) relationship and make sure that the user is protected from jarring, unnerving, and potentially harmful experiences. They provide security protection and automated ad quality enforcement for the publisher. Issues like, malware and poor ad quality, “bad ads”— what contribute to the breakdown of the publisher-visitor (user) relationship – are prevented and guarded against. Considering that the publisher-user relationship is the backbone for the entire online advertising industry, one would think that everything would be done to ensure its potency and permanency. But, sadly, this is not the case.

Let me bring the point home by asking you to recall a report from 2013 by Symantec and Admonsters. They peered down the rabbit hole at the growing threat of malvertising, including on mobile platforms, and found that although 90% of ad ops professionals knew and understood the threat of malvertising to their business, they did not use any third-party protection. They knew that there was a growing threat and chose not to act.

Since this report, there are a few industry problems that have grown exponentially and are hurting the ecosystem; Problems like NHT (non-human traffic), in which malware turns a user into a bot/zombie and the rising installations of ad blockers, where users are reacting to ‘bad ads’. These are plagues to this industry and cause extreme amount of revenue loss for both sides. They have been given the space to grow as no industry standard has been instituted to slow them down. If publishers utilize supply-side ad verification solutions, maybe the plagues won’t run rampant anymore. (Obviously these phenomena are impossible to eliminate, but perhaps at least downgrade – which would be an improvement.)

So let’s design a new advertising ecosystem landscape, one that clearly shows the double, and vital, role of ad verification, and stop creating and sustaining our own monster problems.