Trust, transparency, and the battleground for ad quality

06/07 By Nick Morley

Thalamus interviewed  Nick Morley, our Managing Director, EMEA for a Q&A on trust, transparency, and the battleground for ad quality & verification.

With over $75M in funding, Integral Ad Science is a leader in ad verification, optimization, and analytics technology, used by top brands, agencies, and ad tech companies around the world. Can you share more on what your role as Managing Director, EMEA at Integral Ad Science entails?
My role as Managing Director, EMEA at Integral Ad Science (IAS) allows me to combine my interest in data science and my expertise in building businesses across the EMEA marketplace. I’m six months into the role and responsible for growing the company’s European footprint, looking at areas we can evolve and ways in which we can expand our business to ensure continued, sustainable growth.

Having worked in digital marketing for almost two decades, I’ve spent time at Adobe, Efficient Frontier, and Intent Media, where I worked on attracting investment and scaling companies for acquisition. I’ve seen the industry go through several periods of change and it’s safe to say we’re experiencing one now. Upholding transparency and quality within the industry will be key as we look to improve digital advertising’s reputation.

To the extent that you can share, how does Integral Ad Science technology work? Does a brand or agency deploy this technology through another ad technology partner such as a DSP, on their own digital property, or both?
IAS works with all sides of the digital advertising ecosystem; we’ve partnered with over 2,500 publishers, integrated with over 150 technology companies, and work with the leading social media platforms so we can truly understand the full potential of every ad impression served. Our technology can be deployed through a DSP or integrated into a bespoke stack – as we are an independent company we can provide verification for both media buyers and sellers to transact confidently.

We’re proud to employ a fantastic team of data scientists, engineers, and linguistic experts who work incredibly hard to develop and continuously evolve our proprietary technology. For example, we recently launched an extension to our brand safety product; it now offers support with 40 languages across seven content categories, providing the most comprehensive coverage to protect brands online.

What is the state of adoption by brands and agencies of Ad Verification, Brand Safety, and Viewability technologies such as IAS in EMEA?
We’re seeing that brands in particular are becoming increasingly interested in verification. Following well-publicized brand safety and metric reporting issues, brands and agencies are more aware than ever of the need for transparent and accountable ad verification, with clear brand risk management, and verified viewability metrics. These considerations are now becoming top of mind for all ad campaigns, partly due to the media spotlight, but also due to an increased focus on wider education needed on transparency issues. As an industry we’re making good progress to ensure everyone is aware of the need for accountability, explaining what this involves, why as an industry we need it to promote trust, and ultimately what impact verification measures will have on ROI in the long-term.
The IAB standard for viewability is 50% of the ad being in-view to the user, for at least 1 second. What type of viewability metrics do your recommend to your clients? Does this differ by client vertical?
IAS viewability metrics include the IAB/MRC viewability standards – determined for display as 50% of the ad unit in view for one continuous second, for large ad formats as 30% of the ad unit in view for one continuous second, and for video formats as 50% of the ad unit in view for two continuous seconds.

We are however seeing differing demands coming from brands and agency groups, which can make for a confusing landscape – for example, GroupM and Unilever only count display impressions where 100% of an ad is in view for any length of time.

We encourage all clients to consider viewability as part of a wider, holistic verification solution to ensure advertising effectiveness. Rather than an isolated metric, viewability should be viewed as a starting point to guarantee a brand’s opportunity to reach consumers. The ultimate goal is to understand how consumers engage with an ad, taking into consideration factors such as context, exposure duration, frequency, and the impact on the consumer’s action.

What is your take on the duopoly of Google and Facebook in the digital advertising ecosystem? Is there room for independent ad technology companies to thrive in this fiercely competitive environment? 
Facebook and Google own a significant portion of market share – one recent figure from the IAB highlighted that the two digital giants accounted for roughly 99% of the $2.9 billion in ad growth in Q3 2016. While these companies own rich data stacks, independent technologies will also have a role to play. Large players such as Google and Facebook must also open up to external, independent verification in order to create further transparency in the digital advertising ecosystem.

Are there different standards of viewability for separate ad formats, such as in-stream video, desktop ads, mobile web ads, and mobile in-app ads?
As the MRC have defined, the standards for viewability vary across formats. The existing viewability guidelines cover a range of formats — standard display, large format display, video, and mobile web and in-app – which are treated the same as display. And with users spending more time than ever in mobile apps where viewability can be challenging to measure consistently, and social network advertising reaching almost $33 billion worldwide, accurate viewability measurement across all channels is vital.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the digital & mobile advertising ecosystem today?
2017 has so far been a challenging year for the digital advertising industry, with ad fraud and brand safety issues dominating the headlines. Transparency within advertising has also been a recurring theme and while we have seen growing progress in this area with the rising importance of independent verification, there is still more to be done.

Take mobile as an example, consistent viewability measurement is a current challenge being tackled. We created an open source SDK framework to simplify measurement of in-app campaigns and have been working with the IAB Tech Lab and others to ultimately ensure consistency across the industry. This SDK creates a single measurement point that can be widely adopted and built on, and will tackle fragmentation from cross device usage.

How does the IAS ad verification and viewability technology work, within a programmatic context?
Within the programmatic environment, IAS’ technology is integrated into major DSPs to optimize programmatic inventory. Using our data science expertise we have developed predictive targeting segments that means a media buyer can identify quality inventory, and direct budget towards ad placements that will ultimately improve performance. With our targeting segments advertisers can pinpoint highly viewable, fraud-free, and brand safe impressions before a bid is placed to ensure effective buying and brand protection is in place within programmatic channels.

There has been a cambrian explosion in the number of ad tech companies a marketer can now work with, fragmenting further an already confusing market. Do you think that this is sustainable, and how do you see the market evolving over time?
The eco system is overly complex with too many players. The convergence of martech and ad tech companies will continue, so in my opinion we will see an acceleration of M&A in the sector. Many companies suffer from a lack of differentiation, so as the digital advertising industry matures, the cycle of start-ups and acquisitions will continue.

Lastly, what is your take on the future of brand safety, viewability, and ad verification?
Quite simply, ensuring transparency and accountability through verification measurement is key to safeguarding the future of digital advertising. Advertisers need to be confident in the distribution of their ad spend and understand whether their ad had the opportunity to be seen and that it appeared in an appropriate context for their brand. By addressing ad fraud, viewability, and brand safety, brands can look to effectively influence consumers everywhere, on every device.

Read the interview on Thalamus’s website.