LET’S TALK ABOUT .TXT
How one small file breeds trust.
“An agreement can be expressed quickly and clearly in words, but is only made effective by a ritual gesture: open, weaponless hands stretched out toward one another, grasping each other in a mutual handshake,” said Walter Burkert.
The Assyrian King Shalmaneser III used handshakes to seal alliances. The epic poet Homer described handshakes in his Iliad and Odyssey. In ancient Rome the handshake was often used as a symbol of friendship and loyalty.
Throughout the ages signs of trust were crucial in solidifying alliances and peace, and opened pathways to the future.
Now, journey through the ages, past ancient Rome and Babylon, past American colonisation, to the here and now.
The digital age is upon us and ad space is everywhere. A user is bombarded by leaderboards, MPUs, native ads, rich media engagements and a whole plethora of formats on a daily basis. Agencies duel one another in real time bidding, their trading desk swords at each other’s throats. Suppliers and publishers roam the digital streets selling premium ads to the highest bidder, while repackaging remnant inventory. In the midst of this dust-ridden arena, surrounded by adexchange gladiators, a lone metric is left bewildered: ad fraud.
Ad fraud has been a daunting question swirling around the media industry from the beginning of digital time: “Are the impressions and clicks I am paying for legitimate?” I have personally witnessed the demise of platforms in the region due to ad fraud allegations, and red-handedly caught websites impression stacking.
Done are the days of no-KPI MPU buying, done are the days of basic reporting, done are the days of digital basic clients. The era of metrics has arisen and the average media employee (be they client, agency or publisher) no longer stares at digital reporting in befuddlement but has the aptitude to question and challenge. Therefore, as an industry we must educate ourselves and rise against the tide of dinosaur-esque buying and selling of digital ad space. Enter Ads.txt. Ads.txt (‘ads’ stands for Authorised Digital Sell- ers) is as simple as its name implies: a text file. It seems almost whimsical in nature that a text file could solve the all-time problem of ad fraud, but it’s a step in the right direction.
So how exactly does Ads.txt work? It starts off with publishers. The text file is added within the web servers that lists all companies and ad exchanges that are authorised to sell that publisher’s ad inventory. Simultaneously, ad exchanges add the text file within the platform listing all the publishers they are authorised to sell. Once the selling side of the equation has adopted this new tech, the buying side (agency trading desks and demand-side platforms) can check the files to make sure that the inventory they are purchasing is authorised.
Ads.txt has opened an opportunity for the industry to say no to undisclosed selling and push publishers to legitimise the inventory they are packaging to us. As an agency we can confidently tell our clients that their digital media budgets are allocated to accountable inventory with no fear of wasted impressions and unseen ads.
The number of SSPs (supply-side platforms) that benefit from “shady” reselling will be affected directly, as it would be arduous to continue their selling rituals. The lives of the day-to-day ad exchange buyers and sellers will be affected, as they now have to take into account authorised inventory.
With all that said and done, will ads.txt really matter? The key to all this lies with the publishers. If they embrace this new creation and apply it correctly they can lead the charge to ending ad fraud in our industry. The MENA region is at a pinnacle moment in digital history. The rate of digital acceleration and integration is staggering and the knowledge spreading is utopian. We want to learn, we want to grow and we want to excel. As agency employees we can push our regional publishers to adopt ads.txt and we can set the trend. So I ask: what is holding us back?
Armed with weapons such as ads.txt, those fighting ad fraud can battle the impression-stacking Hydra, wrestle the Chimera of domain spoofing and defeat the Cyclopean arbitrage to emerge victorious. This way we will be able to create a safer ad exchange world where our media spends can reach real users.
Are the impressions and clicks I am paying for legitimate? I have personally witnessed the demise of platforms in the region due to ad fraud allegations, and red-handedly caught websites impression stacking.