PODCAST: Malvertising and Fake News


The front page of a newspaper with the headline “Fake News” which illustrates the current phenomena. Front section of newspaper is on top of loosely stacked remainder of newspaper. All visible text is authored by the photographer. Photographed in a studio setting on a white background with a slight wide angle lens.

Charles Tendell from The Charles Tendell show interviews Chris Olson, CEO of The Media Trust, about fake news and its presence in the digital ecosystem.

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Fake news and the spread of disinformation has been tied to influencing the 2016 U.S. national election via the use of fake accounts (organic) & digital advertising (synthetic/paid) promotion channels. The primary drivers are:

  • Programmatic ad buying, enables serving of millions of ads every minute
  • Targeting tools accurately & dynamically serve ads to client-defined target markets
  • 3rd party service providers, which websites rely on for a myriad of different service providers and technologies to serve ads to their site visitors

The key to addressing fake news is driving transparency into the inner workings of the digital ecosystem. This requires media and other website operators to:

  • Know your customer, aka advertising buyer or content contributor
  • Communicate your digital asset policy to these customers; political ads, data privacy, security
  • Analyze their activity and evaluate compliance with your digital asset policy
  • Block and resolve non-compliant activity by going to the source of the violation

The Honest Truth about The Honest Ads Act

Building transparency with a little upfront disclosure

Authored by Chris Olson, CEO & Co-Founder, The Media Trust

Red, white, and blue vote buttons background

The fake news furor and potential Russian involvement in the U.S. 2016 general election is reaching a fever point with multiple congressional hearings, and, digital advertising is in the crosshairs. Like many challenging discussions about digital advertising, transparency is at the heart of the issue.

Digital compliance for political ads

The proposed Honest Ads Act, a bipartisan effort to govern digital advertising according to the same rules followed by traditional broadcast media regarding political advertising, and is the one tangible fallout from the investigations.

The act calls for all politically-oriented digital ads to be declared at purchase, clearly labeled in the creative, and available for consumer access via a searchable interface. Among other things, the buyer must disclose their contact information, candidate and/or campaign, ad flight duration, number of impressions/views, and targeting criteria. The platform must collect this information and retain it for at least four years. It applies to digital platforms with at least 50 million unique visitors a month for the preceding 12-month period that have political ad buyers who spend at least $500 within a calendar year.

In a nutshell, it requires publishers know their ad buyers, ensure ads comply with (regulatory) policies and provide consumer access to these ads and any associated targeting criteria. Sounds familiar?

Transparency starts with the buyer

As The Media Trust announced a few short months ago, our Digital Vendor Risk Management (DVRM) platform provides real-time visibility and insight into non-compliant activity and threats operating in an enterprise website and mobile app environments. More than a risk management framework, DVRM operationalizes client-specific digital asset policies, continuously evaluates digital partner compliance, and actively facilitates the resolution of violating behavior.

The crux of this solution is the ability to identify and manage an enterprise’s digital ecosystem participants, from ad tech up to the source buyer, and authorize their presence. In addition to privacy regulation and escalating security concerns, the Honest Ads Act is just another reason why enterprises need to know their partners.

DVRM – A simple solution to a complex problem

Applying a political lens to DVRM it’s evident that the platform is already satisfying most of the requirements to enable transparency and accountability. Advertising supply chain partners register via an online portal; ads are uploaded and continuously scanned according to targeting criteria; client-specific policy violations are flagged; and, ads are stored for historical reference.

Self-regulation forces a new digital approach

Major platforms have announced their approaches to address congressional concerns and hopefully stave off the vote, let alone passage, of the Honest Ads Act. However, this self-regulation will need to extend to others meeting the requirement threshold, like ecommerce and media publishers.

Regardless of Honest Ads going to vote, changes are in the air. As an industry that has largely grown via self-regulation, the signals are obvious. It is incumbent upon the industry to embrace these changes, especially with the DVRM platform as an easy way to codify and operationalize your policies.

Agencies and the Ad Quality Quandary

Authored by Chris Olson, CEO and Co-Founder, The Media Trust.

Increasing advertiser demands turn the wheels of change for agencies.

Media buyers and ad quality

There’s no denying that two major phenomena are actively reshaping the existing digital advertising supply chain:

  1. Accountability is being pushed upstream

Not long ago, digital publishers bore the brunt of the blame, shame and liability (financial and legal) for ad-related problems such as performance issues, unauthorized collection of audience data, and security concerns (malvertising). Today, armed with more public awareness (in the form of ad blocking, among others), industry best practices (e.g., TAG, IAB LEAN) and regulations (GDPR anyone?), publishers are finally pushing back on upstream partners when policy-flouting ads are served to their digital environments. And, many partners are listening. Now, several other ad tech players on the buy side of the digital supply chain are joining this publisher revolt and to direct accountability for creative issues to their upstream partners.

  1. Advertisers have spoken

Earlier this month, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, P&G’s chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard didn’t mince words when it came to expressing his irritation with everyone’s acceptance of serious flaws with the digital advertising supply chain. While he highlighted the complexities of digital advertising and confusing agency contracts, what stood out were his comments on the quality of the digital ad experience for consumers:

“Sometimes we deliver a high-quality media experience, but all too often the experience is, well, crappy. We bombard consumers with thousands of ads a day, subject them to endless ad load times, interrupt them with pop-ups and overpopulate their screens and feeds…”

This comment from the world’s biggest advertiser underscores the importance of digital ad quality in regards to what is being “presented” to audiences today and rightfully so. According to recent research, the consumer packed goods (CPG) industry spends almost 20% of their $225 billion annual marketing budget on digital advertising, yet retailers and shoppers alike gave digital advertising low marks for effectiveness. This provides further impetus for more advertisers to focus on improving the digital ad experience, thus putting the sell-side is under immense pressure to not just launch high-quality ads into the digital supply chain but to prove that those are high-quality ads.

New priorities, New challenges

As the digital ad ecosystem evolves, agencies and media buyers need to re-establish trust with both consumers and advertisers. The first step is adopting industry best practices and standards for ad quality and security. This includes being judicious about audience data collection activity and keeping abreast of the ever-evolving guidelines for a plethora of ad formats.

Agencies have a lot of work to do. As depicted in the image 1, most media buyers today need to take a more farsighted approach to campaign development and scanning. The assumption that an ad, upon entrance into the digital ecosystem, is exactly the same when it renders on a website showcases this ignorance. To meet changing advertiser demands for a better digital ad experience, agencies need to look at:

Creative vs. Total Ad Experience Characteristics

Image 1

Simply put: agencies need to adopt a more comprehensive view of the entire ad experience – creative + ad (the actual creative with all the corresponding analytics code) + landing page, not just the creative. 

A paradigm shift in agency priorities is required. Agencies and media buyers are under unprecedented scrutiny to address ad quality as they are where creatives originate. Their inability to meet the changing demands of both advertisers and publishers directly impact the following areas:  

  • Ability to Launch and Serve Ads

As ad formats and standards continue to evolve, meeting these specs across publishers, platforms, and networks impact your ability to serve ads

  • Ad Spend and Campaigns

Delays in launching campaigns jeopardize ad spend and campaign metrics. Also, the inability to verify the campaign and its success – is the ad getting served the way it should be and to the target audience – could damage relationships with advertisers

  • Brand Image

Noncompliance with complex and changing regulations damage brand image and lead to penalties potentially for the advertiser, publisher and the agency itself

Pressure changes the status quo

While the brief to media buyers about what to do and what is expected is clear, it will be interesting to see how agencies actually adapt to the changing digital advertising landscape. Balancing advertiser demands while trying to achieve operational efficiencies and scale and trying to win a turf war against big consulting firms can prove to be a heavy lift for agencies. These bi-directional pressures coming from advertisers on one end and published on the other end of the digital ad supply chain will force revolutionary change. If done right, the end result is a transformed digital advertising ecosystem: positive UX via an optimized and profitably monetized channel.