During the past 18 months, the digital ad industry has experienced unprecedented disruption, not only in the form of rapidly changing content consumption patterns but also in headwinds that disrupt traditional ways of targeting audiences and optimizing campaigns. From more aggressive privacy regulations, to the deprecation of cookies, to shifting mobile app activity with identifier for advertisers (IDFA), traditional means of targeting audiences online are becoming increasingly challenged.
So what are brands to do? And what does this mean for a healthy, open digital ecosystem?
Without a suitable targeting substitute, brands are flying blind in assessing inventory.
Enter verification, which is quickly evolving to fill this gap. In the ad world, verification has historically focused on ad quality. Quality assessment generally ensures the ad transaction is brand-safe, fraud-free, in-view and in-geo. These are all essential characteristics, yet they speak to the potential of an ad to perform.
Actual performance hinges on other critical factors, like the right target audience, optimal ad presentation, a compelling message and break-through creative. Given recent industry disruption, verification can play an important role in the new performance paradigm — and bridge the gap left by new privacy regulations and restrictive browser policies. In short, the verification process employs the tools and technologies that can help advertisers power performance in the “cookieless” era.
For that to happen, however, the verification and measurement space needs to evolve. As a category, we must move beyond basic quality standards to enable advertisers to better understand and achieve performance given new obstacles. That manifests in two ways.
First, our industry must evolve measurement solutions to account for performance by focusing on “attention.” To apply rigor to that definition, I believe attention should be defined as “exposure” plus “engagement.” Exposure should consider a myriad of factors, including an ad’s presentation, its intensity and prominence, share of screen, video presentation, audibility and more. Engagement, on the other hand, should be a measure of interaction — addressing key user-initiated events that occur at the device or ad level. These might span touches, screen orientation, video playback and audio control interactions. Verification solutions have learned how to navigate the challenges of privacy and cookie-free environments to deliver consistent cross-platform metrics.
Leveraging these capabilities can empower advertisers to build sorely needed, powerful new performance proxies based on traditional quality measurement elements.
Secondly, ad targeting that drives performance is also undergoing an evolution that can be accelerated by the kinds of privacy-friendly metrics that verification solutions trade in. An innate understanding of the context of an ad is a core part of any verification solution. Verification companies can deliver independent, third-party contextual targeting tools to support performance as cookie-based addressability declines.
To be clear, this is not your grandfather’s contextual targeting. The top verification companies use deep semantic science and mission-critical ontological expertise to enable ad avoidance based on brand safety and suitability standards. In this application precision and efficacy is at a granular level that legacy contextual targeting solutions rarely approach. This same technology can be leveraged in reverse — for positive targeting, delivering ads to an audience based on interest or intent signals, and by understanding the content and context adjacent to the ad.
Verification companies are in an ideal position to offer innovative and privacy-friendly solutions to support performance. Verification platforms manage massive impression-level data stores based on years of accumulated learning. Applying new performance-oriented analytics or metrics to this core asset is both a natural progression of our business, and a driver of meaningful benefit to the global brands we all serve.
By evolving beyond quality toward attention and privacy-safe contextual targeting, we can help advertisers meet new challenges, prepare for further change, and drive new levels of performance for the coming years.
Mark Zagorski is CEO of DoubleVerify.