As the online ad industry races toward a full-throated embrace of programmatic ad buying, it's been rocked by a set of serious challenges: bot-driven traffic, ghost publishers and charges of out-and-out fraud.
One ad exchange says it's taking unprecedented steps to fight back while hopefully establishing itself as the safest place to do business in the ever-more-automated ad world. OpenX, an independent exchange positioned as an alternative to the market leader Google's AdEx, has built a proprietary set of tools and a system designed to automatically suss out and block suspect traffic.
The company, which has quietly rolled out the technology in recent weeks, expects to now reject 30 percent of publishers looking to sell inventory in the OpenX exchange, reducing the amount of available ad inventory by as much as 10 percent.
That move will actually result in a short term financial hit, say company officials. But the long term payoff will be felt in establishing industry trust, and ultimately in attracting more legitimate customers, they believe.
"Is [the fraud issue] a crisis for the industry as a whole? Perhaps not. But in the area we are in it is," said Qasim Saifee, svp, monetization platform, OpenX. "For this kind of marketplace, it makes it very attractive for bad guys. We’ve taken out a lot of the bad inventory. It's a touch experience to walk away from that revenue. But it’s not altruistic. It's the right thing for creating long term value for this company."
How does it work? As Saifee and OpenX's vp marketplace quality John Murphy explain, the company's new system mixes sophisticated technology and human oversight. According to the two executives, every site wishing to sell inventory with the OpenX Ad Exchange will endure a rigorous human review. And in real time, the company's technology will scan sites for signs of life, such as social media sharing and even editorial quality, while flagging sites that deliver an inordinate number of ads per page, for example.
"We evaluate traffic on impression by impression basis," said Murphy.
Sounds great, but is that the sort of thing verification firms like DoubleVerify have been promising for years? "We can see patterns that others can’t pick up on," Murphy claimed. "We think DoubleVerify has great technology for things like viewability and brand safety. What is unique about us [is] scale, and more data. And we have direct relationship with publishers."
That's a point that Murphy and Saifee made repeatedly. Without naming names, their claim is that other exchanges and supply-side platforms don't have direct relationship with ad sellers, and can be far removed from the actual source of impressions they sell—leaving them vulnerable to gamesmanship.
"Other supply pools out there are more than happy to take masked inventory from pools of sites," said Murphy. "We are very shocked that buyers are OK with buying that. As much as the buy side will profess they want this…and then, they ignore that sort of thing. Man, it shocks us."
It might shock others in the industry that an ad seller is deliberately turning away inventory that it can potentially sell. But Saifee sees a much bigger payoff from going clean (or as clean as possible),"if we can attract buyers, spend more money on us," he said.