‘It’s not the silver bullet’: Media buyers see limits on the impact of ads.txt
The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s ads.txt initiative, which is a text file on publishers’ web server listing their authorized inventory sellers, is thought by ad buyers to be a solid step forward in fighting against ad fraud, only there are still kinks to work out.
A basic flaw: Publishers may misspell authorized sellers in their ads.txt files, and how many demand-side platforms actually started implementing ads.txt to stop buying inventory from unauthorized resells is unclear. And while ads.txt minimizes the possibility of counterfeit inventory, it can’t catch fraudulent impressions, and it doesn’t specify inventory format that an authorized seller can carry, media buyers said.
“Overall ads.txt is a great industry initiative, but I don’t think it is the silver bullet to solve all of our problems that we are hoping it might have been,” said Mike Moore, associate director of programmatic partnerships for GroupM. “There are inherent limitations in how ads.txt has initially been deployed and also ways we have seen exchanges and networks look to get around what ads.txt is intentioned to do.”
One limitation, Moore explained, is that since adding authorized sellers to the ads.txt file is still manual work for publishers, there are many human spelling errors that may lead to potential drop-offs of legit inventory sellers. For instance, Moore’s team recently found that there are at least 45 variations of how publishers label AppNexus and Google AdX in their ads.txt files. “DSPs may not be able to read those spelling mistakes, so they may miss legitimate sellers,” said Moore.
Another shortcoming, Moore added, is that ads.txt doesn’t specify the inventory format that an authorized seller can carry, so a supply-side platform can claim that it is a legit seller of a publisher’s video inventory, while in reality, the SSP is only authorized to sell the publisher’s display inventory, for instance. “This opens an opportunity for exchanges and SSPs to arbitrage inventory, disguising display as video,” said Moore.
Meanwhile, as adoption of ads.txt is taking off on the publisher side partly thanks to Google, it’s unclear if most DSPs will refer to ads.txt and stop buying inventory from unauthorized sellers accordingly. Google’s DoubleClick Bid Manager, The Trade Desk, AppNexus and MediaMath have announced they will use ads.txt to filter unauthorized sellers, but it’s unclear how many other DSPs will fully integrate ads.txt into their platforms and be truthful in their reporting. After all, implementing ads.txt could mean a dent in their profits.
Jay Friedman, chief operating office for Goodway Group, said many DSPs have “integrated” ads.txt, and most of the time, media buyers will just take DSPs’ word for it. But if “integration” simply means downloading all the ads.txt files, reading the content and storing them somewhere to be referenced in auctions, that development process takes less than a week, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that DSPs are taking ads.txt seriously, according to Mani Gandham, co-founder and CEO for content marketing platform Instinctive.
“The question is whether DSPs are actually using the reference in auctions and rejecting unlisted sellers,” said Gandham. “It would immediately cut down on volume and profits, so I’m not sure they are, but it would take some testing to find out. I’m just generally wary when DSPs say they’ve implemented something that would make them less money.”
To be fair to ads.txt, it will likely cut down on the specific problem of domain spoofing, which remains a plague in programmatic. Ad networks are already trying to subvert ads.txt, and they wouldn’t have incentive to do this if ads.txt was totally ineffective.
For instance, an anonymous publisher executive wrote on Reddit this week that an inventory aggregator asked to be declared on the publisher’s ads.txt list in an email request. Marc Ropelato, director of programmatic revenue for Purch, said his team has received such emails from third-party companies that Purch doesn’t work with directly, but the publisher takes a very hard line.
“The entire purpose of this ads.txt file is to ensure that our inventory can be purchased by demand sources that we are actually authorizing to resell,” said Ropelato. “Interestingly enough, we have had some significant push from some of these third parties trying to get us to add their files.”
Brad Bernard, vp of digital strategy and innovation for agency Harmelin Media, thinks that where ads.txt falls short is it can’t detect fraudulent traffic, and publishers still need to be vigilant about whom they allow as their authorized sellers.
“If publishers don’t properly vet their own sellers, they may unwittingly be inviting a fox into the henhouse while giving the false sense of security to buyers,” said Bernard. “Meanwhile, [advertisers] still need to implement strong ad validation process and technology to ensure the impressions are human and viewable.”
‘Influencer deals are being paused’: As Facebook boycott begins in earnest, influencer marketing feels a sting
The latest move to pause influencer marketing comes as marketers are not only reconsidering where their ads appear and the kind of content they appear next to, but as they work to figure out how they can better support Black creators and Black-owned businesses following the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests.
As Facebook boycott continues, here’s a look at what major marketers were spending on Facebook and Instagram
To get a sense of how much advertisers are pulling back from Facebook, Digiday reached out to ad-tracking firm Pathmatics. The company provided estimates for how much advertisers spent on the platform during July 2019 as well as from July 2019 to 2020.
Member Exclusive‘Performative posting’: As agencies share their equality values online, staffers say they have to do much more for Black employees than post
Agency employees and execs say agencies need to do more than make statements to be better for Black employees.
SponsoredFour ways to adapt to the changing publisher ecosystem in 2020
By Neal Sinno, general manager Americas at GeoEdge For marketers, 2020 started out with so much promise — but this changed rapidly as the industry faced a global epidemic head-on. Not only did our own daily routines come to a screeching halt, for many of us our professional lives did as well. Almost as quickly […]
‘Don’t want to piss off customers’: With manufacturing and exporting snarled, some DTC brands are adapting their advertising
Media buyers say that supply chain hiccups have caused them to pause or significantly reduce media spending anywhere from two weeks to five weeks for some DTC brands low on product inventory.
Beyond remote work: Bringing serendipity back to the office
This article is part of the Future of Work briefing, a weekly email with stories, interviews, trends and links about how work, workplaces and workforces are changing. Sign up here. Kai Micah Mills had been working in a different state from his work partner for years. More recently, though, his partner, Ben Adamsky, made the move […]