T’s & C’s For Our Decade

At the tail end of last year, the IAB Ad Ops Summit held a 3MS Town Hall Discussion around the implications of viewable impressions. The 3MS defines itself as “a cross-industry coalition committed to developing brand-building digital metrics and cross-platform measurement solutions.” Their major initiative at the moment is viewability, or an assurance that a purchased impression, when it delivers, is truly visible to a user and not beyond the screen they are consuming. (A broader definition can be found here: http://www.iab.net/mmms).    

There are many debates happening concurrently around the validity of viewability as a new metric standard, and the feasibility from a publisher’s standpoint of how to implement. But one thing that rung true from the IAB Town Hall Discussion was a call-to-action from George Ivie of the Media Ratings Council for the online ad industry to take a closer look at today’s transactional terms and conditions. The IAB has been putting out their recommended T’s and C’s as a voluntary standard since 2001, which has served both publishers and agencies well. However there has not been an update beyond version 3.0, which was released in 2009. Ivie’s concern, a valid one, is that a lot of technologies have been invented since then which are not adequately reflected in today’s terms and conditions. In the current ad technology landscape, there are least four of those services that stand out, namely, viewable impressions, verification, data aggregators, and audience extension. And when looking at the IAB’s T’s and C’s, it is clear which corresponding language could stand some treatment to keep up with the times. 

Ad Placement and Positioning

In section II of the IAB terms, there is a paragraph that references editorial adjacencies. To summarize the point, the onus is on publishers to “make commercially reasonable efforts” to ensure an advertiser’s creative will not show on content deemed as inappropriate, via the ad targeting means at their disposal. The text makes no mention of data verification providers, who in today’s world work on the advertiser’s behalf to actually block an ad from ever reaching the page if it falls within an undesirable category. Because this happens dynamically and at the advertiser’s discretion, it often leaves publishers unprotected, wreaking havoc on their ability to make accurate inventory projections for the campaign and/or to monetize the blocked inventory. Yet it can be held over their heads as a contingency in securing a buy. The interesting thing is that data verification providers have not been held to the same accreditation standards by the MRC and other auditing bureaus. While a company such as Double Verify has an audit in progress to validate their viewable impression technology, they have not been listed in the past as an accredited vendor by the MRC, as evidence that their ad blocking technology works as intended. In the broader view of ad placements and positioning, this paragraph should be expanded to incorporate the meaning of both data verification and viewability, and that both agencies and publishers should attempt to work with accredited ad technology vendors to measure this appropriately.         

Non-Disclosure, Data Usage and Ownership, Privacy and Laws

The language within Section VII is at best, dated. It provides some definitions around campaign performance data, as well as site data and parameters for retargeting ads. But it makes no reference to the true behavioral targeting landscape of today and the possibility for data leakage. The IAB put together a useful code of conduct and best practices in May 2010 with their Data Usage and Control Primer [PDF], but it seems fair to list in a set of T’s & C’s that either an agency or publisher reserves the right to terminate a buy with any violation of the code (if adopted by both parties). In tandem, with the increasing integration of real-time buying (RTB) and ad serving platforms, the potential for audience extension will grow. If a media company knows that they may utilize this technology and serve ads outside of their network to fulfill on a campaign, it should be disclosed in the terms. 

Third Party Ad Serving and Tracking

The first “Controlling Measurement” bullet point in this section says that billable impressions “will be taken from an ad server that is certified as compliant with the IAB/AAAA Ad Measurement Guidelines.” With the advent of a viewable metric coming from the likes of Comscore and Double Verify, should their technology now supersede the ad servers we know to be MRC-accredited? How long will it take for most commercial ad servers to be at parity? The terms and conditions of the past do not make any contingencies for this. Imagine an agency or advertiser who chooses to purchase viewable impressions, in conjunction with ad blocking, using their own third-party vendors. What kind of discrepancies might surface, and whose numbers should win out? Until we know how various systems will work in conjunction with each other, it is difficult to establish the default controlling measurement, and whether or not a 10% discrepancy is still suitable. Regardless, it is clear the language of 2009 no longer reflects the climate of the times.

It is not apparent if the IAB is planning an overhaul of their terms and conditions anytime soon. It’s not listed as a current committee or council. Regardless, they have provided an invaluable service to the industry by crafting a document that both the buy and sell side have deemed reasonable to work with. Surely there will be amendments if and when the CPM deliverable morphs into GRP. But publishers and agencies alike should be conscientious of the fact that they cannot necessarily fall back on this document today to address certain disputes that may arise out of their everyday transactions. In the interim, individual organizations might want to think about addressing some of the more obvious points with their legal counsel and distribute an updated version to their business partners.