What's to Become Of 'Ad Verification' Companies?

My Prediction: New IAB Guidelines Will Signal Beginning of the End of This Noisy Space

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Kendall Allen
Kendall Allen
Independent "ad verification" companies position themselves as third-party auditors on your ad buy – without much more definition than that. They step in and verify how ads were truly served, or not: above or below the fold; fully rendered; targeted to your specifications; and so on. Some operate on the buy side; some do their business more on the sell side. Over the past few years there have been numerous players joining the space: AdSafe, DoubleVerify, MPire (AdExpose), MediaTrust and Click Forensics. They took up residence in the narrow, sometimes blurry space between the buy and the sell.

It is in that blur, that opportunistic venture cowboys with satchels of cash have been able to stoke paranoia in hopes of capitalizing on it. And, in turn, publishers and networks have had to spend a lot of money to step up and answer to this imperative. This has all at once contributed to the rise we have seen in the ad verification space.

But, these companies themselves are un-audited and create their own standards, so the question is whether we need multiple internet cops policing ad placements. Short answer: no, we don't. I'm not suggesting a violent death, but I predict these verification companies may as well just go away, get absorbed, and become a part of standard operating procedure. We don't need the services of these cottage-industry verifiers. It's the principles and guidelines that matter. Not the livelihood of the verifiers.

I'm not suggesting a violent death, just that they can go away and we'll all be fine. The only real value they have created is to raise our attention to the potential extent of the issue. They created enough noise in the market to publicly remind us just how far awry the worst-case ad buy can go. But don't publishers and networks worth their salt have the ability to take care of these matters themselves by implementing aggressive verification standards and techs? Shouldn't advertisers seeking brand-safe environments seek out the publishers and networks that can guarantee that without paying a third party? The answer is yes, yes, they do.

A year ago, the IAB hosted an interdisciplinary forum on ad verification and technologies, with publishers, ad networks and technology companies all in attendance. Even though there's been a lot of industry chatter and hypothesizing on where we'll come out and how things should work, there still aren't any agreed-upon verification standards. Steve Sullivan, who serves as Vice President, Supply Chain and Revenue Solutions for the IAB, wrote last month that the IAB will issue guidelines, but they won't include a mandate that third party verifiers be involved. "There is nothing to preclude publishers from using the same guidelines," he told me.

It's my guess that once we have some guidelines and parties on all sides of the equation know how to utilize them – the market itself will sort itself out. There may not be blood. But, there will be guidelines. And, in my opinion, verifiers can call it a day and go away.

Kendall Allen is a VP for Laredo Group, a leading training and consulting firm dedicated to helping clients increase sales and decrease costs through knowledge and efficiencies related to online advertising buying and selling, digital marketing and media. She is based in New York.
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