How ‘hygienic’ are your digital ads? Seven steps you need to take for responsible advertising

The days of the digital Wild West are over. The GDPR promises to bring transparency to the industry at long last and, as a responsible programmatic company, we think this is a much-needed, positive move.

The truth is that display advertising is no more of a privacy risk to web users than other forms of direct advertising (in fact using cookies for targeting can make it less of a risk, not more). However, many consumers still think that ads ‘following them around the web’ and other targeting practices are ‘creepy’, and somehow achieved through ‘dark arts’ shrouded in mystery.

The GDPR is the perfect opportunity to explain, once and for all, how digital display advertising works and why, when executed properly, it poses no threat to user privacy. On the contrary, it can actually be beneficial to web users.
Why you need to practise ‘programmatic hygiene’

But while the industry is being forced into total transparency by the EU over user privacy, there are many other display advertising practices that all responsible programmatic companies should be completely clear about.

We call this ‘programmatic hygiene’ and, alongside the many steps we are taking to comply with the GDPR, it is fundamental to how we protect our advertising partners online. It also has the additional benefit of boosting performance and provides more accurate campaign and user data insights.
Seven steps you need to take for responsible advertising

Some of these hygiene elements have been around for a while and, having become fully familiar with them, we have reached a point where we can implement them easily and understand their true impact.

Individually they address essential elements that you should consider before any campaign goes live. Collectively they make up the seven steps you must take for responsible digital advertising. Let’s look at each one in turn.
1) Avoid ad fraud

Ads need to be seen by real people and not bots, so it’s vital that you avoid wasting impressions on non-human traffic. In the US the ANA expects more than $7 billion to be lost to ad fraud this year, but there are a variety of ways of avoiding this and a responsible ad partner will employ them all.

Firstly, make sure they use ADS.txt, which prevents delivery onto various types of counterfeit inventory. ADS.txt works by creating a record of authorized digital sellers for publisher inventory that programmatic buyers can reference before they buy.

Blacklists can help avoid fraud, but also make sure your ad partner uses an independent company that has been awarded the TAG “Certified Against Fraud” Seal. These companies have been audited and provide protection against illegal bot activity, fraudulent URLs and specific page-level fraud.

You should also make sure that they are MCR or JICWEBS accredited and that your ad partner is using the tools correctly by checking their listing on the JICWEBS website here
2) Improve your ads’ viewability

Once you have avoided fraudulent impressions you will want to be sure that your ads are seen and have an impact. On average, about half of all ad impressions are never seen because they are delivered onto a part of the page that is never viewed, or onto a page that the user clicks away from before the ad loads.

Measuring viewability can be tricky, so make sure you are using a company that is MRC accredited for mobile web, in-app and desktop display and video viewability measurement.

Technical limitations mean that achieving 100% viewability is next to impossible, so it’s vital to work with your ad partner to determine the ideal viewability percentage for each campaign. This will vary depending on whether it’s a branding, prospecting or retargeting campaign – and the chosen KPI.

And make sure that you are both using the same viewability tool, otherwise discrepancies can be significant due to the different viewability methodologies used.

Our own research shows that there is a ‘sweet spot’ when the viewability percentage maximises the CPA (cost per acquisition) by balancing out performance against the cost of the inventory. Also, understanding whether a post view conversion was seen or not is essential in understanding true sales attribution. We will be reporting in more detail on this in a future article.
3) Keep your brand safe

Brand protection started with the arrival of the first brand safety tools over five years ago, and there are now a number of established players offering sophisticated brand safety services.

But, once again, make sure that they are MCR or JICWEBS accredited, and that the ad partner you use has been independently audited and certified, by checking they have the DTSG seal.

Ads need to be seen in brand safe environments, so as well as third party solutions you should use a regularly updated blacklist of inappropriate sites – and for the ultimate security, use a whitelist of sites that you are happy to see your ads on.
4) Use pre-bid inventory systems

When you are looking at your ad partner’s fraud prevention, viewability and brand safety tools, make sure you choose a company who is integrated at DSP level with their protection company.

This setup will enable pre-bid assessment of inventory quality so bad sites and pages can be avoided, rather than being rejected after they have been bought.
5) Get your ad frequency ‘just right’

Ad frequency should be a bit like Goldilocks three bears – it needs to be just right. Too few and your ads will have no impact. Too many, and your marketing spend will be concentrated on users who will quickly get annoyed at seeing the same ad over and over again.

All too often, retargeting campaigns don’t use a suitable frequency cap, which means that precious budget is wasted on sending dozens of ads to users who would have bought the product anyway. Or on users who have already bought it.

This can be avoided by working with companies who have the right data and retargeting strategies. So make sure you check their retargeting policy.

6) Obtain the IAB Gold Standard

The UK IAB recently launched a new initiative to try and improve standards in digital advertising. It has three simple aims:

To reduce ad fraud
To improve the digital advertising experience
To increase brand safety

You can be recognised as operating to the Gold Standard by implementing ADS.txt, by adhering to the IAB’s LEAN principles and the standards set by the Coalition for Better Advertising and never using formats included in the list of 12 bad ads.

Companies obtaining the Gold Standard must also have a certified DTSG seal or be working with JICWEBS towards getting the Seal. (The first companies certified as meeting The IAB Gold Standard will be announced early in 2018.)
7) Choose an ad provider with the EDAA Trust Seal

At the beginning of this article we referred to the GDPR. And while this EU privacy initiative is on everyone’s mind right now, advertisers should look for existing EDAA certification. This initiative was established to provide reassurance that qualifying companies meet stringent user-privacy standards that met the strict EU privacy laws currently in force.

Companies with the EDAA Trust Seal will have completed an independent certification process with an EDAA-approved Independent Certification Provider, demonstrating full compliance with the European OBA Self-Regulatory Programme.

So, until the GDPR is introduced in May 2018 and a new certification process is in place, make sure that your ad provider has the EDAA Trust Seal.
Make sure you protect your brand online

Earlier this year, Mark Pritchard of P&G famously called on the industry to clean up its act. Reassessing transparency, brand safety, viewability and fraud were all part of drive to improve standards and ensure brands get what they pay for.

Industry bodies like the IAB and external factors like the GDPR have helped accelerate the process, but brands still need to take responsibility for themselves, and make sure they ask their ad partners the right questions.

The tools to protect brands are out there and a responsible advertising company will be happy to explain their own programmatic hygiene processes to you. In the meantime, we hope our seven steps help you.

By Tony Evans, Corporate Development Director, Crimtan