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Ads.txt Has a Major Impact: Q&A with Jochen Schlosser, CSO, Adform

With DSPs increasingly making ads.txt mandatory for their publishers, the pressure is on publishers to adopt the IAB project in order to fight inventory fraud. In this Q&A, Jochen Schlosser (pictured below), CSO, Adform, tells ExchangeWire that the majority of publishers are committed to implementing ads.txt, with adoption rates doubling in some markets. 

ExchangeWire: How far is the industry in terms of adopting ads.txt?

Jochen Schlosser: The most important fact is that all of the key people I talk to in the industry are aligned and fully supportive of ads.txt and what it stands for. Of course, it’s much easier for advertisers to say they’re ‘100% ready’, as adoption for them does not require any implementation and comes with significant benefits. Concerning ad technology platforms, it’s a much more complex landscape, which I think is best understood by looking at adoption categorised via different phases. Some players have not really started to adapt their roadmap and have no solution in place. They are still in a passive observation mode waiting to see what the impact will be and how many advertisers will have ads.txt-based buying as a strict requirement in the future. However, quite a few players have already been using ads.txt signals for months and are just waiting for the right moment to activate this in real time in their product. A few have already made the decision, and likely all in the intermediate stage will follow very shortly.

In the end, publishers hold the key to success, as it is their websites where ads.txt is implemented. Publishers need to make sure that legitimate sellers are whitelisted and, as a result, fraud happening via unauthorised sellers can easily be identified. This means that when adoption on the publisher side is significant, everyone who has the crawler and filters implemented will finally pull the trigger. This will also further incentivise the remaining providers to get their roadmaps in shape and to follow quickly.

Do you think that publishers are by and large committed to the adoption of ads.txt?

Jochen Schlosser, CSO, Adform

Publishers are very committed. This isn’t my opinion, but rather a fact based on what we’re seeing on the exchanges and are hearing in our conversations. Supply- and demand-side platforms, at least the ones that have the necessary website crawlers in place, have access to the relevant data. In the past months, quite a few statistics have been published on this. Still, there is some discussion and misplaced rumors of ‘slow adoption’ being spread. I presume that this mostly comes from the usage of old, not well-collected or misunderstood data. In the end, ads.txt does establish strong governance for publishers and clearly leads to a reduction of fraudulent activity. Already today, we are sure that ads.txt has a major impact for the entire industry and it will only grow.

What are the difficulties with aggregating data on ads.txt adoption at this point?

It is actually not difficult. You only have to ask the team collecting the data from the publisher websites and building the statistics the right questions. However, in reality, this is one of the central challenges when it comes to executing analytics projects. In the case of ads.txt, it all boils down to the list of websites you are checking for ads.txt adoption. What is relevant, the number of websites having ads.txt, the number of publisher websites having ads.txt, or only the percentage of traffic from the programmatic exchanges that can be verified via ads.txt? Pulling this data and aggregating it isn’t really difficult, in the end. However, when I read many of the cautionary statements about ads.txt adoption not taking off, it seems fairly clear that people aren’t asking the right questions or pulling the right data, which results in surprising numbers.

For example, if you use the Alexa Top 500 as your input, you will end up with a low adoption number. This is because the list includes quite a few sites that are not acting as publishers. For instance, you will find 14 Google websites, also Facebook, Wikipedia, and so on. Of course, these websites do not need an ads.txt and will (most likely) never have one, because they do not sell display inventory via SSPs. For this reason, it’s important that these are not included while calculating the adoption statistics. You need to look at the relevant publishing sites and make sure you’re evaluating only those.

Can you share your own figures for adoption of ads.txt? Are there any significant differences in adoption in the various markets? If so, why?

Yes, and the numbers speak to my earlier comments about adoption. In particular, the rather impressive rise over the last four months. The following figures highlight the overall percentage of programmatic impressions that originate from domains that can be verified via ads.txt. When we first published our research, we saw around 40% adoption in the US/UK and just over 20% in some countries in Europe. Now, just a few months later, the situation has drastically improved. On a global scale, we are on average already at 75%, which is a major success and indicates strong adoption with the regional spread between Europe and the US ranging between 68% in France and 84% in the US and UK. Also, we can clearly see that premium domains are, to a wide degree, ‘on it’. Of course, there are still regional differences, but compared to the first analysis, the gaps have narrowed dramatically. Those differences are usually tied to general adoption of programmatic buying and also the level of fraud present in these markets. The US, as the biggest market and one of the most mature programmatic markets, is of course leading when looking at adoption rates.

Moving forward, and with some DSPs switching to filtering in a black/white fashion, we will see further pressure to adopt ads.txt within a short time horizon. Now, publishers can – by documenting all direct sales and all trusted network partners in their ads.txt file – really control their destiny. Advertisers still have the possibility to whitelist their own view on brand-safe domains. As a result, blacklists derived from ads.txt, and whitelists that are specific for each advertiser or at least each industry, are coming together to improve the impact of programmatic advertising significantly. We see this as a great step forward and as a major milestone in the fight against fraud.

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