Explainer: Verification and Attribution

What it is: Ad verification is the process of examining the quality of ad operations, including ad placement, to assure advertisers that their ads are shown to the right audience in the right environment. That might include not having advertising directed at kids next to an article with a suggestive photo, for example. Ad verification services audit millions of ad impressions that occur daily. Attribution is the catchall phrase used for determining ad effectiveness and giving credit to each placement that made an impact. It allocates the credit for an action to the points in the funnel deemed to have contributed to that conversion. The dominate paradigm dictates that it is the last ad viewed or last-click methodology. This model has obvious flaws, as a consumer may have been exposed to multiple ads before their final conversion.

How it Works: Javascript is embedded in the marketer’s ad and this enables the ad verification company to pull information about the webpage where the ad in question is placed, including the content of the articles and who is clicking on them. Attribution on the other hand is far more complicated. The more data an advertiser has about a consumer, the more accurate their estimation of their ROI will be as conversion credit attribution will be closer to the truth. In addition, better data means better ad placements and better targeting. Ad verification can only work when the data sets used to determine what’s being done with the ads are fairly extensive, covering most of the ad placements, not just a small sample.
Who is Using it:  Ad verification is still a relatively new space within ad tech. Companies in this space include DoubleVerify, AdSafe and Adometry. Still, only a fraction of ads are verified, according to DoubleVerify, less than ten percent. Every advertiser uses some form of attribution analysis. There is a growing movement towards audience-buying that incorporates online and offline data to create a better data portrait.
Why it Matters: Many companies that are offering ad verification services are now partnering with DSPs that give advertisers information on attribution of click-throughs, offering attribution and verification as a part of their services stack. Verification has come not only to mean an examination of how an ad is placed, but who is viewing it, and why. Ads can be verified as meeting advertiser standards, but their resulting click-throughs might not be properly attributed. For example, an ad run by a fashion retailer targeting young women might get high click rates from men. Some have suggested that stronger ad verification practices should simply be part of every DSP’s platform anyway, and that there is little need for third-party ad verification companies to double-check the claims of the companies managing their ad operations.
Assessment: Some have suggested that ad verification companies are playing on the fears skittish advertiser have over bad ad placements. Although ad verification is important, DSPs and DMPs employ standards regarding ad buys and are anxious not to facilitate bad ad placements that create PR disasters and lose clients. A good percentage of ad spend can affirmed, be wasted when audiences, as well as ad placements aren’t verified. The intermingling of two critical elements of ad operations reflects the general confusion of an industry in the midst of rapid change. Knowing who is viewing an ad is useless unless you know why they are viewing it. Verifying ad placement is important, but not as critical as fixing the attribution dilemma by creating more complete portraits of the consumer base.
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