Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve conducted a series of brand safety Q&As to offer publishers various perspectives of the brand safety landscape throughout the industry. We thought, “Who better to offer publishers advice than a publisher themselves?” That’s why we reached out to our partner Microsoft, a household name and industry leader, to share its thoughts and brand safety considerations. Here’s what Andre Sevigny, Director of Monetization at Microsoft, had to say:
What is Microsoft’s brand safety strategy? With a multitude of vendors with various specialties, how would you advise other publishers to incorporate brand safety into their tech stack?
As a company, Microsoft takes brand safety and ad fraud very seriously. Recently we’ve been spending a fair amount of time looking into the percentage of our advertising inventory that is being deemed fraudulent and why that’s occurring. Fortunately, the percentage is very low compared to industry norms. Windows offers a protected environment, which decreases fraud, but we still occasionally see third-party verification services flagging our inventory. Largely, we think this is tied to the user IP addresses and associated data they have collected from bid requests or previous auctions. However, how this filtering is done is completely opaque to us. It’s hard from a publisher’s perspective, since filtering is happening at every juncture – from ad call to reconciliation – with little to no explanation as to why it occurred. We understand that advertisers want transparency and should only pay for legitimate traffic, but we as publishers need much more transparency as well.
With such premium inventory, is it safe to assume domain spoofing is a primary brand safety concern for Microsoft?
Domain spoofing is a concern of ours. Not just in terms of lost advertising revenue, but also the potential impact on our inventory’s perceived value and performance caused by fraudulent and low-quality inventory. We rely on trusted partners like SpotX to help us monitor and identify potential spoofing in the marketplace, and then try to take a proactive approach to shut down these bad actors.
In response to the heightened activity in domain spoofing, many publishers have begun to adopt ads.txt. Has Microsoft begun to implement this solution?
We are fully supportive of this initiative and were quick to implement ads.txt across our properties. It is an elegant way for buyers to discern good actors from bad quickly. However, this needs to be done carefully, especially if you have many sellers, properties, and platforms across the globe. My key advice to other publishers is to keep it simple. I think it is easy to overthink ads.txt because digital advertising by its very nature tends to be overly complex. If your ads.txt file is more than a page, then time to rethink it.
Microsoft must face a lot of unique challenges with inventory in a variety of environments. What type of issues do you encounter in some of these environments and how have you overcome these?
Windows 10 was a great step forward in terms of finally having a single unified operating system across all our devices, but it also introduced some unique challenges. Apps written for Windows can run across desktop PCs, Xbox, and even our mixed reality device HoloLens. For properties like Microsoft Solitaire, which ships with every Windows 10 PC, this poses a challenge because technically the game is an app but runs on a PC, not a mobile device. So, for our ads.txt we had to put the file on a specific URL that we associated with our sold ad inventory even though it doesn’t run on the web. Problem solved, but a lot more work to setup and maintain compared to a web property.
According to Jay Pinho, Principal Product Manager at Oracle’s Moat, “Viewability has become a watchword for marketers, publishers, and platforms over the last few years.” How does Microsoft ensure the ads on its properties are viewable?
For us, it all starts with carefully designed advertising experiences and then the underlying technology to maximize viewability. Many of our partners have or are moving to a model where advertisers only pay for ads at a minimum render or are viewable by MRC standards. That’s why it is critical for us as a publisher to ensure that every impression is seen.
As you can imagine, this is challenging for a unique platform like Windows, because the standard viewability tag is not designed to measure in our environment. To specifically address this challenge, we are working with the IAB Tech Lab to bring their Open Measurement SDK to Windows this year and integrate it into the Microsoft Advertising SDK. This will allow viewability measurement across the hundreds of millions of Windows devices in market.
About Andre Sevigny
Andre Sevigny is the Director of Monetization for the Microsoft Casual Games Studio, which produces time honored classics like Microsoft Solitaire that have been enjoyed by Windows users for more than 28 years. In his role, Andre is responsible for direct and programmatic advertising sales as well as operations for the studio’s video, display, and native ads, which total over 4 Billion impressions per month. Before joining Microsoft 10 years ago, Andre helped build and run several successful digital media and technology businesses across Asia and the US.