Combating Counterfeit Ad-Slots in a Digital World

Post on August 17, 2017 by Ash Vemulapalli

Ash Vemulapalli Senior Product Manager

In any major city in the world, one could easily imagine the possibility of its streets being replete with counterfeit products, from faux luxury watches and bags to knock off designer shoes. Counterfeit goods are usually of an inferior quality, manufactured or sold under another’s brand name without proper authorization. It has been estimated that the counterfeit goods business is a $461 billion industry. But wait, how is this relevant on an ad tech blog?

These issues are not limited to the luxury goods market. Inventory spoofing, transparency and unauthorized sellers remain largely unsolved problems in programmatic advertising. Spoofing shares a lot of similarities with counterfeit products in the retail world; unscrupulous websites pose as premium publishers in order to game the system to sell inferior ad-slots at discounted prices. In the retail world, at least the buyer is sometimes aware that a transaction is for a counterfeit product based on the price of the item and the location where they bought it. After all, designer brands don’t sell their bags on the street corner. But in the programmatic world, we unfortunately lack such level of transparency, often resulting in buyers making uninformed ad buying decisions.

So what can be done? Enter ads.txt, the response of the IAB Tech Lab (of which PubMatic is a member) to help buyers gain better visibility into counterfeit inventory in the open digital ecosystem. Ads.txt (with ads being an acronym for “Authorized Digital Sellers,” not an abbreviation of advertisements) is a simple, flexible and secure method that publishers and distributors can use to publicly declare the companies they authorize to sell their digital inventory. Publishers host this information in the format shown below on their web servers, with a clear intention of helping buyers make better informed decisions:

Format:   <SSP Domain>,     <SellerID>,   <PaymentsType>,    <TAGID>

Ex:  ,         12345,              DIRECT,        5d62403b186f2ace

By creating a public record of “Authorized Digital Sellers,” publishers can control their inventory in the marketplace, making it harder for scammers to profit from selling counterfeit ad slots. Buyers will be able to identify all the approved sellers for a participating publisher, understand a publisher’s relationship with an SSP, and to some extent, compute the number of hops involved, allowing brands to assess the true value and authenticity of each impression.

A given ad opportunity can potentially go through multiple systems, and ads.txt can be used by anyone in the value chain to gain transparency into the legitimacy of their source. PubMatic understands the importance of ads.txt in cleaning up the digital ad ecosystem and is fully committed to educating its customers about the benefits of ads.txt and the resources available for faster adoption.

New initiatives and products evolve with time and ads.txt is no different. It’s a great step in the right direction, though we realize that it does not currently solve for all potential scenarios. We see great potential in scaling this solution further to include supplementary seller information like authorized geos, channels, and more.

In a world of algorithms and innovation, both publishers and media buyers must seek to work with software and solution providers who can not only drive results and meet KPIs, but also educate and support the ecosystem. As brand ad spend continues to shift to programmatic, the need for trusted partners should remain more important than ever.