The Triple Threat Of Ad Blocking, Viewability & Fraud

  • April 27, 2016

The everyday challenges of marketers are constantly changing – from the introduction of new technologies to the shifting habits of consumers. Yet, there are some major challenges that have been sticking around and including viewability, fraud and ad blocking. How can marketers adapt?


Viewability is mainly a question of pricing. The tools marketers can use to assure good viewability, and the inventory to deliver it, do exist, but for a price. This question of pricing will take some time for players and customers to adjust. The greater challenge we face is the old issue of trying to serve two distinct masters – optimizing for good cost per acquisition (CPA) and good viewability when the two things aren’t directly linked. There are rumblings about the need for a viewability/CPA combined metric, although it looks like we’ll have to wait a bit for that.


Although it’s not necessarily a new trend, fraud is a huge concern for marketers. Fraud is a question of constant vigilance, but for most in the value chain, it’s already addressed by viewability. If you’re buying viewable, you should have already taken out non-human traffic – this is the standard of both JICWEBS in UK and the Media Ratings Council (MRC) in the USA.

Since only humans can truly “see” ads, high fraud leads to low viewability and in siphoning off revenue, fraudsters have brought about poor user experiences that contribute to the rise of the next obstacle – ad blocking.

Ad Blocking

2016 has already become the year of ad blocking. Even though it’s a thorn in most marketers’ sides, all invested parties will come out better off. Consumers will end up getting better experiences and publishers will get fair revenue via fewer, better quality ads. This will be facilitated by the twin strategies of publishers blocking ad blockers (short term) and rationalization of the supply chain (longer term) to focus on the partners adding value, rather than just another pixel call that slows down pages, soaks up bandwidth and results in user frustration.

Marketers realize that ad blocking is a problem – it has been discussed and debated by seemingly everyone in the industry. Most recently, the IAB launched its D.E.A.L. program, which is meant to facilitate a clear message around the value exchange between users and publishers. Namely, consumers must either view the ads or pay the publisher money for the content. Content cannot be consumed for free.

But it remains to be seen if the IAB’s DEAL and LEAN programs (and also the TAG registration initiative) will have the desired effect of cleaning up the industry and user experience.

So, what’s a marketer to do?

Which one of these challenges is more of a threat? That depends on whom you ask. For a publisher, viewability is an opportunity, while ad blocking is a threat, especially given the uncertain future and continued adoption. For vendors, viewability is a short-term challenge, unless the vendor has a strong direct publisher relationship, which would allow them to adapt.

Fraud and ad blocking, if uncontrolled, represents a threat to the larger ad tech industry and so warrant more attention in the months ahead.

Brands and advertisers should expect a high level of service, especially when it comes to viewability and fraud levels; however, they and their agencies should adopt the industry standards for such criteria.

For example, the MRC has issued standard guidance on viewability, but there’s still a sense of one-upmanship of some parties wanting increasingly strict limits. This fragmentation of standards in this nascent field ultimately makes it harder to clean things up across the board. Equally, advertisers and agencies should accept that while every interested party will tell you their version of the truth, there is always discrepancy, oftentimes considerable discrepancy, between them.

Unfortunately, marketers still don’t have a tight grasp on these challenges. While it would be good to see more consistency from buyers, there has been reasonable activity and progress made industry-wide. The IAB is promoting good standards, however, that does not always result in everyone being on the same page.

It seems like just yesterday that these topics were barely a concern but, as we move further into 2016, it’s apparent that ad blocking, viewability and fraud are here to stay. Similar to most other trends and evolutions throughout the years, it’s the companies that are able to adapt who are able to come out ahead.

Most problems, especially those as pervasive as these three, cannot be solved with just the flip of a switch. Rather, it’s up to those in the industry to prepare for the obstacles they can see and brace for those not yet visible.

As VP, Product Management, Tim Sleath oversees the development of Exponential’s platform strategy and data analytics capabilities as well as the networks quality to assure brand safety and appropriate data protection for clients, publishers and Internet users.