A Compelling Case Against Video Ad Networks

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By Matt Rosenberg, VP Solutions

"Lying and cheating in advertising, in the long run, are commercial suicide. Dishonesty in advertising destroys not only confidence in advertising, but also in the medium which carries the dishonest advertisement. . . . No one can be ill in a community without endangering others; no advertiser can be dishonest without casting suspicion upon others."

- Daniel Starch

As a media company, we are troubled when other media companies misbehave. So our stomachs knotted when we read the deeply researched The Wild West of Online Video Ads in DigiDay. But it wasn’t because of the news that some companies’ business practices are misleading or dishonest or that our reputation might be affected by broad negative characterizations of the media network business. It was that there weren’t any surprising revelations in the article ­ agencies and advertisers know these games are played but the system is set up not to care.

At SAY, we take honesty seriously. We invented Cost Per Engagement because it protects advertisers against waste/fraud and makes it clear that we don¹t benefit from placing ads in places where no one will see or care about them. On the occasions we’ve seen a site in our network try to play inventory games, our system spots them immediately because it hurts our business to let it go on. So we don’t. We once found a site that was cleverly calling itself into ad spaces, thereby fooling ad servers and comScore into thinking way more pages and ads were shown than any human eyes could witness. We don’t work with them anymore.

But the larger system, from the publisher through the network through the agency is set up to deliver impressions and very few companies have the business incentive to subordinate delivery to quality. Even clients have grown used to waste in their television buys and that tolerance ­ and the relatively smaller budgets for digital video ads ­ have not led to the outrage that one might expect. The most common campaign metrics reward high volume and low cost, not the value created in an interaction between a consumer and an advertiser.

You can punish the individual companies named in DigiDay’s piece, but that won’t solve the problem. Only when the Industry, led by the Client, aligns its mission around value instead of volume, will the games come to an end.