It’s Time to Tighten Up Digital POP

By David L. Smith

This article first ran in Media Village on June 22.

There are discussions happening now between the IAB, 4A’s and other interested parties about a new Digital Advertising Terms and Conditions (Version 4.0) which will require viewability for digital advertising Proof of Performance (dPOP). As an interested party, and one of the drafters of V 1.0, I don’t think that’s enough. In my opinion, viewability is now just “table stakes” for dPOP (which enables media payment). We also need proof that the ad was “seen by a human” (a true opportunity to see, or OTS, the standard for all other media metrics), and some proof that it ran where it was intended rather than in a place that is “unsafe” for the brand.

That’s a lot to require, and … one of the issues is that it is not affordable today. But we do have the technology to do this affordably, just not the infrastructure…

More about that later in this piece.

My recommendation for dPOP has been provided to the 4A’s, IAB, ANA and Mike Donahue’s new Trust and Transparency Forum. Here it is:

A New Standard Relative to Digital (draft version)


The current state of POP for various Media is as follow:

  • TV-requires a sworn affidavit (agency execs have been imprisoned for faking these) with an itemized date/time stamped invoice. In the case of audience guarantees, delivery is verified by a post-buy analysis based on Nielsen ratings.
  • Print-requires a checking copy for a magazine ad or a tear sheet for a newspaper ad to accompany the invoice. Verification of circulation delivery is generally provided by AAM or BPA, but long after payment has been made.
  • Digital-Currently based on T’s & C’s V 3.0, which specifies that impressions must be verified by a Media Ratings Council (MRC) Certified 3rd Party Ad Server (3PAS) deployed by the agency/advertiser and or the publisher with a delivery threshold of +/-10% if there is a discrepancy.

 Proposed New Standard for Digital (Draft version)

1)      Proof that ad was fully loaded by MRC Certified 3PAS

2)      Proof that ad was viewable by a human via MRC Certified Verification Vendor (3PVV)

3)      Straightforward evidence that ad ran “where intended” by full disclosure from exchanges, extended networks, etc. This is subject to I.O. specified white lists, black lists, agreement on the use of 3rd Party Brand Safety Vendor (3PBSV) and would mean that the continued use of blind or misleading URLs would have to cease.

4)      In the case of audience buys, proof that audience was delivered from a 3PVV and 3PBSV.

Within the above, a clear chain of responsibility from both a financial and data standpoint needs to be established.

Here is a good example of a chain of data and financial responsibility:

  • Publisher|SSP|Exchange|DSP or Ad Network|Agency Trading Desk|Agency|Advertiser

If POP is not complete, the agency does not make payment to any middleman company and the middleman does not make payment to the publisher.

The issue, as indicated above, is that there is no single technology which satisfies all aspects. In addition to ad serving, we need to deploy tech for viewability, bot and fraud detection, and brand safety. The various vendors would need to each charge either a percent of the buy or a negotiated CPM based on their model. The challenges with this process include:

1)      Too many tags, too many redirects, and too much latency

2)      Paying for too much overhead in 3-4 marketing, management, financial, sales and operational organizations.

3)      Complexity to the point where many advertisers and agencies throw in the towel and say they can only afford a partial solution.


The answer, of course, begs for consolidation. One company to do it all. A single tag. A single overhead. A single point of responsibility. And much more control for the publisher, agency, and advertiser.

How can this be achieved? It can be done from the top down, bottom up, or from a new solution… For example, the fraud detection companies believe that it starts with impression detection, not delivery, and the solution should be bottom up, built by them.  Newer solutions provide brand safety but don’t deliver the ad or ensure viewability or fraud protection.  At the top of the chain, the 3rd party ad servers could have owned this field but they failed to innovate as shown in my I-COM presentation. All of the above could have been features in an ad server.

But the fact is, no single solution exists. The advertiser is in the unfortunate situation of having to spend money on too many vendors or settle for less than best of breed. While companies try to build the ideal “mousetrap”, the first one to come along with a single tag solution might just walk away with the market.