Thought Leadership

Brand Safety & the "F" Word: What the Ad Tech Industry Can Learn from Cycling


November 19, 2014

By Gareth Shaw 

You don’t have to be a cycling fanatic to immediately conjure up an image in your head when you hear the name: Lance Armstrong. The Lance Armstrong anti-doping case and his infamous confession became one of the most publicized and talked about scandals in sports history as the USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) worked hard to investigate and prove Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs.

The traffic quality and brand safety issues that our industry faces today aren’t too dissimilar to the doping problems of professional cycling. This type of 'superhuman' athletic performance is a lot like some of the eCPA and CTR results we see in our industry today: too good to be true! When the cycling authorities tried to stamp out illegal drug use, the dopers became more creative and covert. Similarly, as our industry looks at how to eradicate the ‘f’ word from online ad traffic, the more inventive and clever the bad actors become.

Of course, cycling finally turned a corner and did begin winning the battle against the cheaters in a war that was, for years, never thought to be winnable. Today, the Tour de France is a far more believable and trustworthy race, which is what we need in our industry. We need results based on legitimate hard work and dedication.

It’s no secret that low quality traffic is becoming an endemic problem in the industry. In the US, for example, security firm WhiteOps estimates online fraud to be worth $6bn and according to comScore, 54% of display ads shown in 2013 never appeared in front of a human being.

As a result, brands are now increasingly challenging agencies and partners to know more about where their advertising is appearing and the type of content it is aligned to. This isn’t surprising given a recent survey from Project Sunblock found that 38% of client side marketers have no idea where their ads are being served.

This lack of control and transparency that brands are experiencing with their online ad campaigns threatens to stall RTB investment and stifle programmatic campaigns that are forced to use overly protective walled garden white lists.

So how do we turn a corner to win the war on the ‘f’ word? The onus is on us all to pull our own weight, which can start with:

  • Agencies working with certified ad tech partners to ensure confidence throughout the buying process
  • The buy side proactively communicating what brand safe content is in order to ensure their ads are placed within a safe, clean context while also giving up on solely chasing conversion KPIs to the detriment of traffic quality
  • The sell side taking steps to get accredited to ensure all traffic meets a certain quality standard

Let’s work together to clean up the industry and celebrate the true ‘greats’ just like Team Sky is doing now as it helps bring in a new era of honest cycling. By sharing responsibility and adhering to best practices such as these, we can help stamp out ad tech fraud before it threatens to de-value the entire digital ecosystem.

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