In 2017, the ad industry was finally forced to start addressing the issue of digital ad fraud in a big way. One of the most meaningful efforts so far is an IAB standard called ads.txt.
Ads.txt stands for “Authoritzed Digital Sellers” and aims to increase transparency in the programmatic advertising ecosystem. The method allows publishers and distributors to publicly declare which companies are authorized to sell their digital inventory. Here are five reasons CMOs should get behind it:
1. Domain spoofing is a big problem and Ads.txt offers a solution
The primary problem that ads.txt solves is one of the biggest facing the digital advertising ecosystem today: domain spoofing. In domain spoofing, a media seller misrepresents inventory it’s selling in an exchange as legitimate. For instance, a fraudster might offer for-sale inventory that it falsely claims comes from a high-profile publisher.
Just how big a problem is spoofing? Nobody knows for sure, but Business Insider found tens of millions of fake impressions for its sites being offered for sale site in a single 15-minute test. And Uber has sued one its agencies alleging that it wasted millions of dollars on ads, many of which the company alleges were not from the sources they claimed to be.
The public nature of ads.txt allows media buyers to verify that the inventory they’re buying (or bidding on) is being sold by an authorized seller. This reduces or eliminates the risk of purchasing domain-spoofed inventory.
2. Ads.txt is simple and therefore, easily adoptable
To implement ads.txt, publishers simply need to publish on their websites a text file containing a list of the entities authorized to sell their ad inventory. That’s it.
Ads.txt’s simplicity doesn’t guarantee that it will be a success. But more often than not, simple solutions beat out solutions that require more time and money to implement. For that reason, CMOs should consider supporting ads.txt over more exotic potential solutions, like the blockchain.
3. Big publishers and ad vendors are embracing it
While it’s still probably too early to predict whether ads.txt will gain enough adoption to be a game-changer, there are signs that it’s heading in that direction. In September, Pixalate compiled a list of ads.txt-adopting publishers, including The New York Times, The Economist and ESPN. The fraud-protection provider also analyzed ad exchanges based on ads.txt-supported root domains.
In October, Google announced a plan to have DoubleClick Bid Manager “only buy a publisher’s inventory from sources identified as authorized sellers in its ads.txt file when a file is available.” In its announcement, Google added “we believe the ads.txt standard is a significant step forward in the fight against ad fraud.”
To make that happen, major advertisers need to vote with their wallets. There are two ways they can do this:
- Go beyond what Google is doing with DoubleClick Bid Manager by limiting their media buying to verifiable inventory. In other words, don’t buy ads from publishers not using ads.txt.
- Pay a premium for ads.txt compliant inventory, or devalue inventory that isn’t compliant.
As ads.txt adoption grows quickly and advertisers get more selective about their media buys anyway, CMOs are in a perfect position to start making one of the above happen.
4. Ads.txt will help promote transparency in the digital ad ecosystem
The public nature promotes transparency in a digital ad ecosystem that has, to date, been largely opaque. That’s a good thing on principle alone, but it could also deliver practical benefits. For one, brands can identify the media sellers they can use to advertise on particular sites more easily.
5. Greater support will encourage the industry to fix its shortcomings
Not surprisingly, like almost every standard, ads.txt is imperfect. It provides a means to eliminate the risk of domain spoofing, but doesn’t specify the kind of inventory an authorized seller is authorized to sell. This could, for instance, allow a seller authorized to sell remnant display inventory to misrepresent its inventory as premium video inventory.
The standard could (probably) easily be updated to describe the type of inventory an authorized seller is permitted to sell. And if CMOs get behind ads.txt, participate in identifying shortcomings and lobby for improvements, it will go a long way towards helping ads.txt realize its full potential.