Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the source of the data Getintent's results are based on. A spokesperson clarified that the top 1,000 publishers were drawn from Getintent's own inventory.
- In May, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) introduced ads.txt, a solution designed to prevent counterfeit and unauthorized programmatic impressions. Of the top 1,000 websites in Getintent's inventory, just 13 unique web pages — or, 1.3% — have adopted the technology, according to a study by the group made available to Marketing Dive. Out of the top 10 programmatic publishers, only Business Insider and The Washington Post are early adopters of the tool, though Getintent noted The New York Times is another big name now focusing more on transparency.
- Ads.txt works by having publishers upload the text file to their root domain with a list of their account IDs on SSPs, networks and exchanges where advertisers can crawl the lists to check the validity of the inventory they are buying. The process is relatively simple — and should be beneficial to many in the digital ad ecosystem — but Getintent's research points to sluggishness among publishers to meet the specifications from the IAB that have now been out for over a month.
- The report does point out that ads.txt isn't a perfect solution, as it doesn't cover the entire inventory supply chain. It also doesn't specify by authorized ad format yet, so it's possible for display inventory to be disguised as video ad inventory. Ads.txt is not applicable to mobile apps, anonymous inventory or syndicated content, Getintent said, and industry participants that rely on undisclosed reselling aren't likely to give up arbitrage as part of their programmatic strategy.
Marketers' big project in 2017 appears to be cleaning up the digital media supply chain, an initiative spurred by major brand executives like P&G's Marc Pritchard. The value of large-scale programmatic advertising has been called into question amid these fresh waves of scrutiny toward digital marketing as a whole, and ad fraud remains a top concern in that regard, with bot farms siphoning off millions of ad dollars.
The IAB's ads.txt tool might not be a catch-all fix to such a widespread problem, but it does address programmatic issues in a simple and straightforward fashion that should be easy to implement. The Getintent findings, however, highlight how publishers, by and large, have yet to take the necessary steps to address cracks in their programmatic pipeline.
Google, the top player in digital advertising by media spend, is leveraging ads.txt specifically to stop the practice of domain spoofing, where bad actors buy cheap media space on low-quality websites then list that space on programmatic exchanges under the guise of being premium inventory. Its findings, while alarming, show that ads.txt can be successful in rooting out bad actors and putting the scale of the problem in perspective — something publishers should take note of.