What the ad industry could do with the $6.3 billion it will spend on bot-generated traffic in 2015 doesn’t bear thinking about. A saving of this value could swallow Twitter’s entire ad revenue for the year or even a majority stake in AOL, with change to spare.
Without taking too much away from the technical expertise of online criminals, ad fraud has been allowed to sleepwalk its way into the industry via a series of gaps, bypassing systems laid out by technology professionals on its way to becoming the internet’s latest billion-dollar problem.
Debates over whether campaign managers are aware of the issue but do not wish to pay the money required to guarantee real views have only added further embarrassment to the mix.
Ad fraud combined with a lack of viewability, or the proportion of an ad in view, contributes to an almost unfathomable amount of wastage per year, but only now are display buyers preparing to switch their tech providers to ensure that every ad ‘view’ is clocked by a real-life person.
The tech companies appear to be following suit, and every week appears to mark the launch of yet another brand-safe ad environment with a USP based on quality. With online publishers getting increasingly pally with metrics like time on site and page views as opposed to sessions driven, it seems the ad industry too is commencing its switch from reach to reputation.
Essentially, online advertising is growing at a rapid pace but on the foundation of infrastructure which, according to IAB guidelines, cannot guarantee that everything is being seen. With this in mind, it’s no wonder some tech providers are looking to tear up a ‘working’ model in the search for change.
Rip it up and start again
Some of the world’s biggest tech companies have pitched in on the ad industry’s problems with ‘real views’, one of the most obvious cases involving Google and its declaration that only 56% of display ads are being seen.
This factored in views by bots and inventory which appears outside the viewable area of a browser. For those attempting to guarantee that every ad is seen, like with pro athletes, it really has been about getting that extra couple of percent out of the industry-standard for the best results.
“A large amount of impressions that are currently sold today start out below the fold or out-of-view,” comments Eric Wheeler, the CEO of New York’s 33Across, whose quality-first monetisation platform boasts 100% scores for viewability and protection against fraud.
“33Across starts with a baseline ad product that delivers 98 percent average viewability, as measured by several leading viewability companies. We call it quality by design. Like how the best restaurants start with great ingredients, hire great chefs and build business success on innovation and long-term customer satisfaction, we start with great publishers that meet high standards for content, viewability and low fraud.
“Our human-centered technology puts ads in places where they don't normally exist and keeps them in view for the entire session.”
Much research has gone into finding the most effective places for these ads to go. Inventory is situated in all four corners of the page, also being delivered as interstitials, in attempt to address concerns over ‘banner blindness’.
But the question begs: if something like 100% viewability can be achieved, why haven’t more tech providers done it?
“Most other companies haven't solved for fraud, viewability and banner blindness in the way we have because they’re still using the same ads, delivered in the same way as before,” Wheeler comments.
“When we thought about the problem we wanted to solve and how we wanted to achieve it, we knew that we had to start anew with quality interwoven in the foundation of our products.
“We didn't try to figure out how to make the existing ads fit a new standard. Instead, we built entirely new ads that delivered on the current and future quality expectations of both advertisers and publishers.”
Cultivating the ground
Given the tens of billions spent on display ads each year, brands should welcome a move towards quality and guarantees with open arms. For publishers, though, there’s plenty of work to be done in preparing for where the industry could be heading.
A quality environment tends to be the ticket into private marketplaces, where advertisers are promised real eyeballs once inside.
33Across was unwilling to share with PerformanceIN details of the 12-step process it will take publishers through before completing their induction. However, Wheeler said a deep content audit for fraudulent activity and viewability, performed once every seven days during an arduous testing process, meant that only 1 in 20 sites would be accepted.
He is also keen to add that having an ever-expanding publisher base, in this scenario, is not the main attraction.
“We don't always show an ad, meaning that if we don't have a quality ad to show, we don't show anything.
“Part of what sped the decline of standard ad performance was the pressure to put ads everywhere, all the time. Subsequently, users have learned to ignore them.”
Now, there is a chance that real users might take notice.