How the Advertising Industry Can Get Rid of 'Bad Ads'

Three Steps to Ensure a Quality Advertising Marketplace

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In today's rapidly changing advertising landscape, no corner of the marketplace is immune from the threat posed from the "bad actors" and "bad ads" seeking to profit from harming the digital advertising ecosystem.

Those profiting from bad inventory and bad ads have developed a shell game of ever-changing parlor tricks, such as non-human or bot traffic, impression laundering, ad stacking, ads served in 1x1 pixels, background pop-ups and much more.

While everyone is talking about the realities we face today, what appears lost in much of the current conversation about "how" we address inventory quality concerns is the far more critical dialogue around "why" we must act boldly.

We simply cannot sit idly by and allow our industry to literally rot from within. We must be willing to make the requisite tough -- but right -- decisions that may risk, or even sacrifice, short-term gains in order to invest in the advertising marketplace of the future.

All participants in the advertising industry have an active role to play in the growth of a safe, high-quality marketplace. As we all embark on this next evolution of quality imperatives, three key factors should guide our approach: people, processes and technology.

People: The human factor

Ensuring a quality marketplace and combatting the efforts of bad actors cannot be the collateral duty of many and the responsibility of none. There must be accountability. Companies should have a dedicated security and quality team whose sole focus is combating bad ads and actors. My experience has taught me that these team members must be autonomous from sales, account management, marketing and any other business unit that is tasked with driving revenue.

Additionally, and more importantly, security and quality teams need to be empowered by top leadership to make the hard decisions, such as blacklisting specific domains, which may impact short-term revenue but have the long-term benefit of ensuring a quality marketplace.

These teams should vet every current and new account to determine if advertisers, creatives or domains are already recognized by whitelists; address and block entities that have previously been tagged on blacklists; and research unknown entities so they can be properly classified.

Process: The rules of the road

The right people are critical, but they need an unambiguous rulebook to follow and implement. Most companies likely already have this in place to some degree today. The frequently missing step, however, is connecting the policies to every member of the team, not just those tasked with addressing quality. Put simply, ensuring the continued growth of a quality marketplace for today -- and tomorrow -- must be an imperative communicated from the top and beholden by all.

Technology: The machine power

Fortunately, our industry is creating some of the most sophisticated technologies today to crunch big data and process millions of transactions in milliseconds. Yet, most companies in our ecosystem have yet to apply that powerful technology to the challenge of stamping out bad actors and preserving quality inventory.

One way to address this need through technology would be to create controls for whitelists and blacklists, so as to address known bad actors proactively. Creating preset controls that can enable technology to decide what to run and what not to run based on past approved or non-approved domains, IP addresses, URLs or any other criteria is a basic first line of defense technology can help provide to the marketplace.

People, process and technology in practice

Progress toward delivering the highest-quality marketplace for both buyers and sellers is being made across the industry. Earlier this year, Google announced that it had blocked 500 million bad ads. Last year, Rubicon Project prevented more than 150 billion bad impressions from ever entering the marketplace. However, more needs to be done industry-wide to address this issue.

Google's Vikram Gupta called the battle against bad ads "a constantly evolving fight," and others have aptly referred to the current state of affairs as a modern-day "arms race" against those seeking to tear down our industry. To win this race, we must all commit to using every tool at our disposal with a unified and aligned effort that leverages the right people, the right processes and the right technology.

This battle against bad inventory and bad actors is something everyone in our ecosystem needs to actively combat. And we must embrace the shared belief that what may be sacrificed in short-term gains will be made up in long-term benefits.

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