10 minutes with the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG)

10/19 By Amanda Forrester

Name: Mike Zaneis
Title: President and CEO
Joined TAG: May 2015
Degrees & certifications: JD and MPP, Georgetown University

Who should be held responsible for digital ad fraud? It’s easy to point to one area of the digital ecosystem, but in the end we are all accountable. Publishers, brands, agencies, tech platforms, data providers, and governing bodies all share in the rise and ultimate demise of ad fraud. IAS sat down with Mike Zaneis, the CEO of the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) to learn more about the industry’s attempts to eradicate fraud.

How was the Trustworthy Accountability Group (aka TAG) founded?
TAG was founded 2.5 years ago by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Our mission is to fight criminal activity in the digital supply chain. The industry was in need of an independent non-profit body that could bring marketers, agencies, publishers, and adtech together to fight fraud.

What do you feel is the most common assumption or misperception about TAG?
For quite a while people thought that it was just something for sell-side (publishers and adtech firms), but brands and agencies share a hand in the prevalence of ad fraud. They also benefit the most from it being cleaned up. In fact, 60% of TAG’s board of directors come from the buy-side.

The other misperception is that it’s a U.S.-only program. Today, more than 400 companies have registered with us in over 26 countries across six continents. We have 40 EU-based companies that have joined TAG.

Why did you decide to join TAG?
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to take on a multi-billion dollar problem for the digital media/advertising industry. To be able to say that we’ve fundamentally improved this 200 billion dollar industry and save marketers billions of dollars. It was such a wonderful opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.

How do you navigate balancing publisher and advertiser needs?
TAG was formed to bring everyone to the same table. You don’t have to hold one over the other; you can find synergy. That said, the buy side will always drive change, because they have the billions that they spend in this space. So they want effective solutions. If you come-up with too stringent solutions it slows adoption, and makes it impossible for publishers to achieve requirements.

TAG’s goal is to drive effective solutions that are implementable at scale. We work to find common ground on things like ads.txt. While this solution is implemented by publishers, it also provides buyers with valuable information that will protect them from fraud.

What certification program are you personally most proud of and why?
I love all of our programs. Today, I would point to our fraud program. It is growing by leaps and bounds. We have over 140 companies that have begun the onboarding process for that program alone. We are on the precipice of creating a major shift in the way that people think about and approach fraud. This is something that IAS has been working on for years, but perhaps the industry hasn’t been paying as much attention as they should. This program’s rapid adoption is starting to show that we, the digital industry, are starting to win this war. That’s what I am most proud of today.

From day one, having fraud vendor companies like IAS at the table has helped TAG write the correct standards. We always get smarter when we talk to independent fraud protection partners. We are not a replacement for fraud partners – we simply support their mission and work to develop industry-wide standards.

What is TAG’s stance on SIVT?
The march towards MRC compliance is a vital next step for the industry. We have a full partnership with the MRC, and support that move. Criminals will continue to advance, and we need to continue to enhance our practices and support moving from GIVT to SIVT.

We fully intend to follow that trend at TAG, and next year we are going to be moving our fraud compliance from GIVT to SIVT.

What’s your opinion on brand safety in the digital landscape today?
Buyer beware right now. There are a lot of unsafe brand environments, and it’s important for brands to work with trusted publishers and platforms and to stay in well lit areas where inappropriate content, ad fraud, malware are detected and removed from the inventory pool.  There are plenty of high-value brand safe areas — brands just need to stay educated and be vigilant about protecting their media buys.

What’s the biggest challenge for TAG today, and how are you overcoming it?
Scaling all of our solutions. We know that they are effective, and the demand for the programs and certifications are immense. We as an organization have needed to scale and grow accordingly. To meet demand we’ve put boots on the ground in Europe, and have new hires that support South East Asia. While scaling can be a challenge, it’s also an opportunity- whether you’re in Brazil, China, or Japan. Fraud is generally coming from the same sources and globally there is uniformity around combatting fraud.

Is there a brand or publisher that you feel is showing real leadership in cleaning up the digital space?
There are many companies that have made significant investments. The most well known is probably P&G. Mark Pritchard has put a stake in the ground and the industry is being challenged to rise to the occasion.

A publisher that is taking a leading role is PCH. They’ve recently announced that they have achieved three TAG certifications. Inventory quality (all about transparency), Fraud, and Malware. This is difficult for publishers, especially one of PCH’s size. I think it’s important to highlight brands and publishers that are doing way more than the bare minimum. Going above and beyond is what counts as leadership.

How is mobile changing the industry?
Mobile is a different technology platform. All programs apply to mobile browsing — some of the criminal threats present themselves differently for in-app. We needed to take a step back from each program, and better understand the app-environment. For example, in the piracy environment the app stores are very vigilant about eliminating steps to remove apps that steal content. Although the app may be taken down fairly quickly, it can still be downloaded 1,000’s of times, and the apps remain active on the devices. TAG created a mobile pirated app tool, this is a list of apps that have been downloaded, but were removed from the storefronts.

Mobile makes us think critically about the technological infrastructure. We need to work with mobile platforms like Twitter and Facebook to establish industry-wide requirements and provide marketers with the reassurance that they need.

How can publishers become certified for anti-fraud, anti-malware, and anti-piracy?
Every company that joins TAG has to have a compliance officer, training, and a TAG ID. There’s uniformity in the approach.

  • Fraud: Publishers must be transparent about sourcing traffic so that buyers know what they are getting and how these audiences are being driven to content.  
  • Malware: Publishers can work with marketers, agencies, and the intermediaries that are TAG certified. The creative units themselves can become vehicles for fraud and create risk for publishers. Malware is not unique, but everyone in the supply chain has a  responsibility here. It’s unfair to put the entire responsibility on publishers, that would require them to monitor every creative on their page. By working with a TAG certified DSP, network, or agency, the publishers know that this creative has been scanned by the initiator. When you repeat this millions of times a day, this saves publishers time and money.
  • Piracy: This is the most straightforward. You just need to own the content on your page and/or monitor your user generated content (UGC).

What would be your number one piece of advice for publishers?  Get smart about your own operations, and educate your teams on fraud. Hopefully this means working with TAG, but also working with your partners to have a fraud mitigation strategy.

Where can brands go to get a full list of certified partners?
TAG registry, every company can be looked up here.

This interview was conducted by Amanda Forrester, Sr. Product Marketing Manager Optimization.