I’ve been working in the advertising industry for over 25 years, during which time I’ve had a front row seat to a lot of changes on the TV side as well as the incredible explosion of digital video opportunities.
We are after all, an industry that thrives on change and new ideas, from making “Whassup” a part of the cultural zeitgeist to basically everything that’s crossing Snapchat these days.
And yet, when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the way advertising operates, things are less inspiring.
My job is to manage relationships and workflow with digital video publishers every day and I see some consistent gaps in communication. For the sake of our sanity and a more seamless process, I think it’s wise for us all to agree on the basics that drive the standardization and organization of our entire industry. So in the spirit of the back-to-school season, here are four things digital publishers should be sure their teams understand and embrace.
1. Ad-ID codes
Digital ad operations teams are tasked with keeping up not only with how quickly technology is evolving but also with the lingo that changes along with it – from acronyms like RTB, API, DSP, CTR to morphing definitions of key concepts like programmatic, attribution and viewability. But it’s not only the newest terms that need to be understood. There are some really important processes that have kept the TV world organized and well oiled and we’d do well in digital video to take a page from linear TV. Did I just say that? Yes! There are best practices we can extend from the old to the new. Let’s not mistake “legacy” for “outdated.” Ad-ID codes are an excellent example.
First established in 1970 as ISCI codes, these numbers serve as a unique identifier for a commercial.
They are a universally accepted naming convention for television ads that has been advanced and enhanced by Ad-ID with critical information about every ad and campaign, extending beyond linear TV to digital video and print ads as well.
More often than not, the same great TV ads are leveraged across at least some portion of the video plan. Why would we introduce complexity by assigning different names to the same ads just because the format changes?
What makes digital such an exciting space to be working in is the industry’s innovation, speed and pioneering spirit. But a lack of standardization is a serious hindrance to growth, scalability and the pursuit of cross screen measurement. Digital ad ops teams can be innovative while still adopting the tried and true naming convention that is a standard best practice in linear TV. Let’s all agree on Ad-ID. It just makes life a whole lot easier.
2. Invalid Traffic
Hurdles exist in every industry and each of us prioritizes them in different ways. My own personal frustration is around invalid traffic. If I had a magic wand to solve one thorny problem in video advertising, this is where I would wave it. It is estimated that in 2016, invalid traffic cost advertisers a whopping $12.5 billion in wasted ad spend. It’s a big, messy, costly problem and I see a tendency in our industry to pass along the responsibility for combating invalid traffic from vendor to vendor, with no one actually held accountable.
Invalid traffic should be tracked by each and every ad server, ad tech vendor and measurement platform to ensure that ad campaigns are being evaluated based on valid numbers. Too often in my day-to-day I run into campaign managers, sales planners and other ad ops professionals who don’t understand just how large and prevalent invalid traffic can be.
A word to the wise: If you think your campaign has only one percent invalid traffic while you’re buying bargain inventory, it’s probably too good to be true. It’s time to ask the tough questions. Competition among measurement platforms requires you to do your homework in order to understand which vendors provide the truest insights into the impact of invalid traffic on your campaigns.
3. Ad Servers
As the backbone of the advertising industry, an ad server might deal with hundreds or thousands of publishers, each of which demand different file specs, supported tag types, flexibility in ad unit changes and limitations in tracking.
That’s a lot to keep track of and it means that patience and understanding go a long way when dealing with ad serving teams. For example, be specific when requesting file formats – having a single specification that works best for your site not only helps ad servers better fill your request, but also makes your site run seamlessly while looking its best.
It’s also important to note that based on the IAB [Interactive Advertising Bureau] standard, ad servers are directed to report against curated lists of known browser types and user agents. These are used for everyone’s mutual understanding and protection, as well as to weed out fraud. Still, legitimate publishers frequently make the mistake of building a new app or microsite which generates a ton of traffic that is in turn filtered as invalid, all because the new user agent was never vetted by the IAB and added to their list.
Speaking of the IAB, it goes without saying that digital advertisers and publishers should be intimately familiar with the VAST specification. After all, it is a standard that details how video ads are served and how (and when) the player dispatches the appropriate tracking elements during a session. That means firing impressions, quartiles and other events at the appropriate time.
Unfortunately, in my experience, the words ‘VAST Compliant’ are sometimes used as a safeguard, without carrying real weight or paying proper attention to detail. This oversight may lead to unnecessary discrepancies and differences in reporting if you don’t ‘follow the spec’.
Let’s barrel forward in the name of innovation, making sure we’re speaking to each other in the same language and adhering to some collective basic principles and standards. In closing, here’s a quick check list of reminders to help us all do great things together while ensuring an innovative, successful future for video and TV advertising:
• Refer to ALL ads by their proper AD-ID
• Invalid traffic is real. No one is immune. Be diligent
• Be specific about format requirements when communicating with your ad server
• Follow the VAST specification
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