The Safety Issue in Online Advertising
By Andrew Frank | November 19, 2009 | 1 Comment
This has been a month full of interactive advertising conferences in NYC, from OMMA AdNets, through Ad:Tech, and The Media and Money Conference, to the IAB Ad Operations Summit, to name a few. So many themes have been covered it’s hard to know where to start, but there’s one that stands out. In the ongoing quest for answers to the question of why it’s taking so long for brand advertisers to open their media war-chests to the Internet, a leading contender has emerged: it’s just not a safe environment for brands. A recent rise in online advertising exploits provided an edgy backdrop to many event panels as they grappled with cautious optimism for a recovery.
The issue came to light in October when a plague of phony insertion orders compromised major publisher sites including The New York Times, Foxnews.com, The Huffington Post, and Gawker, culminating in Starcom MediaVest Group’s request for a Federal investigation (see MediaPost or AdAge coverage). Fraudulent practices range from malware distribution, which appears to be on the rise (see Click Forensics’ alarming report, declaring that click fraud perpetrated by botnets, a result of malware distribution, has risen sharply) to the grey-hat technique of the month, “invisible advertising.” (Is it fraud? You decide. But it certainly isn’t the kind of thing that’s going to ease any brand-conscious minds.)
On the defensive side, AdSafe Media has set itself up to provide rating and filtering services for advertisers, which could help solve the website half of the problem (MediaPost), while sell-side optimizers such as The Rubicon Project, PubMatic, and AdMeld have been promoting their abilities to help publishers filter the advertising side. (PubMatic, incidentally, held an Ad Revenue conference of its own on October 8th which I attended and found quite good; see recap here.)
The bottom line is, major brands are going to continue to be skittish until these incidents calm down, but the incumbent leaders on the publishing and media agency sides should smell an opportunity here. Their common adversary, comprised of certain ad networks that are widely seen as depressing prices and arbitraging profits out of the system, is arguably also contributing to a general climate of low security by removing personal contact and active scrutiny from the marketplace. But the fact that premium players have also recently been successfully targeted suggests that they need to do more to distinguish themselves as safe – and thus worthy of premium pricing and greater spending allocations.
Publishers and agencies have a chance to take the upper hand on this issue, but they’ll have to move quickly. They need solid solutions of their own before someone like Google takes the reigns.