Worried About Viewability, Fraud And Safety? An Audit Could Help

May 24th, 2018 | ACA Team, Association of Canadian Advertisers

Questions - Answers

Despite its explosive growth over the last decade, digital advertising still lacks the shared data and standardized metrics of television.

Everyone can agree if a TV spot ran in the second break of a certain show. There is no such certainty with where, when or who sees digital advertising. And that can be a huge problem for marketers who need to know exactly what they are getting for their digital ad spend.

One solution is for advertisers to conduct audits of their campaigns. That was the focus of a recent ACA webinar presentation by Feargal Connor, founder and CEO of Montreal-based MediaOptimise.

An audit allows advertisers to know if they received what was promised, explained Connor. For instance, they show if there were changes from the plan and why, if inventory quality standards were met and if there was exposure to brand-damaging content. More simply put, the reason for conducting an audit comes down to one straightforward, overarching reason, says Connor: “Ultimately the goal of any audit is transparency.”

And most advertisers are looking for transparency in three key areas: viewability, brand safety and fraud.

“They’ve become the three key cornerstones of measurement,” he said. Buying guidelines and contracts should include all three so that advertisers can seek restitution and recovery if expectations and standards are unmet.


MediaOptimise uses the MRC standards for viewability: an ad must be at least 50% viewable (or 30% for large banners) for at least one second and not blocked, while a video impression must be 50% viewable for at least two seconds and not blocked. The mobile standard could change with the IAB just releasing a new Open Measurement SDK.

The most recent comScore data shows about 57% of display inventory was viewable (about 6% was invalid traffic). That viewability number indicates things are getting better for advertisers, Connor said. “If you go back 12 months, that was 47% or 49%, so that is a big jump forward.”

A closer look at the data reveals some concerning trends. For instance, viewability dips as demand surges and availability of quality inventory shrinks. At times of peak demand, viewability dropped to 36% and was even lower in one campaign, said Connor.

“We would urge caution … if you are going for those big one-day pushes, or having a big sale,” he said. “Be careful in terms of what you are buying and where you are buying it.”

Brand Safety

Brand safety has been a hot topic for a couple of years and the good news is the situation is improving. The early days saw “some horror shows” of double-digit brand safety issues, but the numbers are more often under 5% today.

However, a new issue has emerged. Brands and agencies may have their black and whitelists for acceptable sites, but increasingly marketers are still unsure if the content is safe; it doesn’t seem to fit on the blacklist but they’re not sure if it should be whitelisted either.

“The grey area is website content that is challenging,” said Connor. News content is increasingly a concern. For instance, does a brand want to appear next to news about politics, terrorism or shootings?

Connor provided website examples that make it through most programmatic filters, but publish content that many advertisers may feel is a bad fit for their brand – sites like TheChive, WorldStarHipHop, and even Cosmopolitan.

Some of the content may simply be R-rated humour, content that buyers may personally consider inoffensive but may be wrong for the brand. What about military sites? Sites covering religion? What about marijuana? “Again that is not a question I can answer,” Connor said. “The question is really, is your brand comfortable sitting there?”


Fraud also remains a significant challenge for the industry, in part because it is relatively simple for bad actors to perpetrate the fraud. Connor’s company ran a test to illustrate just how simple it is. They built a quick website, acquired some bot software (for $69), and let the bots loose. In one afternoon, they generated 51,000 impressions and 41,000 page views from 21,000 unique users, all authenticated by Google Analytics.

Those kind of numbers, generated with relative ease, should be a reminder to advertisers, said Connor.

“You need to have some kind of controls and agreements in place with your vendors when it comes to fraudulent traffic and how you are going to get compensation and recovery should that happen on your campaign.”