More industry moves at confronting ad fraud

At a time when reports of phony Web ad impressions are spooking digital advertisers, two leading industry auditing firms are merging to bring more confidence to the digital advertising ecosystem.

The Alliance for Audited Media (formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations) is announcing today that it’s absorbing ImServices, a digital auditing firm whose clients include Yahoo, AOL and Pandora. The AAM has audited print media for the past century; ImServices is notable for its expertise and close ties to the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Media Ratings Council in implementing standards and practices for online advertising.

Along with the merger, the combined company is launching a new service, Certified View, to certify ad tech vendors that measure whether an ad has been viewed — like Moat, DoubleVerify and Google Active View. The announcement comes as the MRC has given its approval to let Web ads be bought and sold on the basis of viewability.

“Both from a buyer and seller point of view, we need assurances that we can monitor that our ads are being seen and being seen by the people who can actually buy our products,” said Christina Meringolo, executive director of global media services at Merck Consumer Care and chairwoman of the AAM. “Certified View is one of many things we will do as a combined entity to address these issues.”

The introduction of a new auditing service is another sign of viewability’s importance in the ad marketplace. Media sellers who aren’t already measuring their ads’ viewability are moving to do so, and ad agencies are starting to require that ads meet certain viewability standards, said Jonah Goodhart, co-founder and CEO of Moat.

“It’s no longer going to be, do you do viewability?” he said. “It’s going to be a cost of doing business. It may be the new baseline for how advertising is measured.”

ImServices, for its part, was an early pioneer in assuring the trustworthiness of the digital supply chain, said Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the IAB. “They’ve been very instrumental in taking practices and standards and making sure they’re implemented in the right way,” he said. “So for AAM to bring them in-house definitely amplifies AAM’s ability to serve the digital media, advertising and marketing industry.”

In an ironic twist, the man behind ImServices, Dick Bennett, was laid off as the head of AAM’s Web auditing business back in 2002 when the firm downsized that business after the dot-com bust. So today’s merger is something of a reversal of that retreat, as ImServices’ staff of 15 will be absorbed into AAM’s 200-person workforce.

Combatting fake online ads will be an ongoing challenge as fraudsters constantly come up with new tricks, and AAM’s services will need to evolve with it. That’s where the two firms’ longstanding relationship with the IAB and MRC could be an asset. Tom Drouillard, president, CEO and managing director of the AAM, said working with those groups will be critical.

“The issues of fraud: It’s like a big elephant,” Drouillard said. “Eating the elephant: It is one bite at a time.”