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Online Video Advertising Has Growing Pains

The online ad industry is buzzing about the potential of digital video. According to a recent Forrester report, video ads will represent half of all online display ad dollars within the next five years.

But what is lost in the current conversation, and something that we hear from advertisers almost daily, is that video inventory alongside quality content is scarce. Or, put more directly, there’s an abundance of what would appear to be suspicious inventory in segments of the video market outside of the directly sold premium inventory offered by well-known publishers.

Just as traditional display advertising evolved to meet the demanding standards of buyers, brands must recognize that not every digital format is ready for large-scale, quality and transparent buying. This reality – the significant lack of quality inventory – must be at the forefront of every conversation marketers have with their ad buying partners.

For marketers looking to make smart buying decisions, it is important to be aware of the four key types of suspicious digital video inventory that are common in the market today:

1. Non-Human Traffic – Most in the industry are familiar with non-human traffic (NHT), or computer-generated ad impressions used to trick advertisers into paying for ads that real users never actually see. We see evidence that this practice exists today at scale.

2. Human-Executed False Traffic – One of the newest techniques being utilized for video is the time-tested, low-tech deployment of “human farms,” which pay real people to spend entire days clicking or watching video advertisements. This is a lucrative activity in video because of the high CPMs buyers are willing to pay to guarantee an actual human has viewed an ad, and because it’s difficult to detect.

3. Video-Concealment – As if trying to differentiate between non-human traffic and human-farming wasn’t complicated enough, we have the issue of “video concealment,” whereby an ad that a brand intended to display on one site actually shows up on another. By misrepresenting themselves, phony websites set up by bad actors can essentially take advertising impressions away from their intended digital destinations, and get paid in the process.

4. Invisible Ads – This is one of the most pervasive schemes being carried out today, and occurs when actors hide video ads behind static ads or stack multiple ads on top of each other to register impressions that brands pay for, but are never actually visible to the human eye.

While the industry continues to mature and to weed out suspicious inventory, buyers looking to thread the needle between the competing forces of pent up demand and scarcity of quality inventory should focus their efforts on the following key factors to mitigate their risk:

1. Proximity – Ensure the partners you work with have close contact with the sellers whose inventory you are purchasing. The closer the proximity, the less chance questionable activity will arise. Challenge them and ask how they screen accounts and placements. Reputable partners welcome these questions as the good actors in our industry all benefit from a cleaner more transparent marketplace.

2. Practice – Make sure you and your partners have adopted industry best practices to counter suspicious practices. Your partners should deploy transparent sources of reporting that provide URLs and domains of all the sites your ads are displayed on so you can be sure the downstream metrics aren’t outside of the norm. Be sure they proactively review all sites for activity and can give you assurance that the humans viewing your ads are legitimate consumers.

3. Price – Be realistic about what you’re paying. If the video inventory you’re buying is too cheap to be true, it almost certainly is.

Today, the conscientious partners are the ones that are wading into digital video advertising conservatively, deliberately, and poised to protect their brand partners from present and future non-certifiable inventory. The IAB’s Trustworthy Supply Chain initiative is spearheading industry education and collaboration to ensure that these, and other associated issues, are eliminated in order to create a healthier digital ecosystem.

The bottom line for marketers is clear: as the digital video market continues to grow and mature in the months and years ahead, smart buyers should beware of unrealistic promises about what video solutions can do today. Otherwise, it just might be your brand that exposes itself to risk.

Jay Sears is Senior Vice President, Marketplace Development at Rubicon Project. WSJ parent News Corp has a 13.7% stake in Rubicon Project.

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Photo courtesy of: Flickr

Originally published on: Wall Street Journal

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