Today’s online advertising ecosystem is highly complex. The Ads.txt project is trying to change that by implementing a new protocol for digital advertising. Here’s what content owners and video publishers need to know about Ads.txt and how it will play into your digital advertising strategy.
What Is Ads.txt?
According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau Tech Lab (IAB), “Ads.txt (short for Authorized Digital Sellers) is part of a broader effort to eliminate the ability to profit from counterfeit inventory in the open digital advertising ecosystem. Ads.txt provides a mechanism to enable content owners to declare who is authorized to sell their inventory.”
IAB is an independent international research and development group responsible for producing global industry technical standards and helping companies implement them.
In a nutshell, Ads.txt is a file that publishers include on their website servers that verifies to buyers who is actually authorized to sell their stuff. Domain spoofing and selling counterfeit inventory has become a big problem in the programmatic advertising world.
In fact, there is a whole black market for digital advertising inventory. The Wall Street Journal released a report on the Methbot operation, a 2016 scam that caused advertisers millions of dollars.
“The Methbot operation has used hundreds of servers in the U.S. and the Netherlands to create nonhuman or ‘bot’ traffic, and directed that traffic to load webpages featuring video ads from major advertisers, mostly ones based in the U.S. The bot operators also created fake webpages designed to trick advertisers into believing their ads were appearing on major websites including Fox News, The Economist, ESPN, CBS Sports, The Wall Street Journal, and others.”
White Ops, a cyber security company that protects digital advertisers and web app owners from ad fraud and other forms of automated threats, declared that this was the largest and most profitable ad fraud operation to strike digital advertising.
The report details how the Methbot operation produced massive volumes of fraudulent video advertising impressions, targeting the premium video advertising space. Experts estimated that as many as 300 million video ads per day were published on falsified websites designed to look like premium publisher content.
In the current online video landscape, where brands are putting more and more into boosting their video efforts with advertising, you can see why this can be alarming to your marketing investment and bottom line.
Why People Are Excited About Ads.txt
When millions of dollars are at stake, you can imagine the excitement around prevention for scams like Methbot. With Ads.txt, IAB’s mission is to create a public record of Authorized Digital Sellers. According to IAB, “this will create greater transparency in the inventory supply chain, and give publishers control over their inventory in the market, making it harder for bad actors to profit from selling counterfeit inventory across the ecosystem.”
For buyers, this means that they can identify the Authorized Digital Sellers for a participating publisher. This ensures that brands will know they are buying content from authentic publishers.
Video publishers can expect better verification that their video ads will appear on legitimate sites such as ESPN.com or The Wall Street Journal with Ads.txt.
“As of October 2017 many key buyers and buying platforms, including Google’s DBM, are making it clear that they will show a preference to publishers with the Ads.txt file installed,” according to Andy Evans from Sovrn, an advocate of and partner to almost 20,000 publishers across the web—representing more than a million websites—who use its publishing tools and services.
How Ads.txt Works
Ads.txt is a tool, a pre-formatted index of authorized sellers that publishers can post to their domains. Programmatic buyers then use these publisher Ads.txt files to screen for fake or misrepresented inventory.
This filtering system will help combat scams like Methbot and is growing across the industry, creating a more trustworthy marketplace. However, Ads.txt doesn’t solve every issue concerning inventory reselling and misrepresentation.
In an article from AdExchanger, Alanna Gombert, SVP for technology and ad operations at IAB said, “Ads.txt doesn’t specify if a vendor is authorized to sell banner ads or video ads, leaving open a loophole for in-banner video arbitrageurs that represent display inventory as video inventory. Display-to-video arbitrage is not necessarily solved by this, but it starts the conversation.”
A full how-to page is available on the IAB website.
The conversation around Ads.txt is spreading. In January of 2018, the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), an advertising industry initiative fighting criminal activity in the digital advertising supply chain, released updated certification guidelines for its Certified Against Fraud and Certified Against Piracy Seal programs.
The updated Certified Against Fraud Guidelines now require publishers to adopt and implement the ads.txt specification. “These new guidelines put teeth in the Ads.txt initiative by requiring publishers to adopt it in order to receive TAG’s Certified Against Fraud Seal, and they move the ad buying and publisher communities from support to action in the fight against ad-supported piracy by giving each a simple path to certification,” says Mike Zaneis, CEO of TAG.
We expect Ads.txt to be a long-term topic of discussion, so stay tuned to OnlineVideo.net for more updates.