Ad Networks: A Look at Compliance Issues

Ad Networks: A Look at Compliance Issues
Stephen Yagielowicz

Among the major concerns of online marketers when evaluating advertising creatives are the return on investment, click-through and engagement rates, (re)targeting and opportunities for micro-tuning monetization. These factors face adult advertisers and publishers alike, as each tries to maximize their earnings.

Given the complexities of creating a competitive campaign in 2017, not to mention running a profitable website, it’s easy to overlook any number of factors as your capabilities and needs grow — but something that should not be overlooked is keeping pace with compliance issues.

[Our team] manually checks every campaign and its related landing pages for compliance. We also have additional software tools to constantly monitor our network. Any campaign that breaks ExoClick’s advertiser guidelines is rejected. Of course, no network is 100 percent safe but our team is fast to react. -Mark Westwood, ExoClick

For example, online marketers have long coped with CAN-SPAM, the need for “unsubscribe” links and other restrictions on marketing and promotional venues. But, with rich media formats driving today’s digital advertising landscape, more factors are added to the equation, like whether an ad is fully copyrighted. Many elements within the ad may or may not be authorized for use, such as fonts, graphics, images, sounds and videos.

Other considerations come into play, often in subtle ways, like whether there are any background or scene elements that contain another company’s trademark, be it a visible hood emblem on the vehicle a model is draped over or an identifiable logo on a piece of clothing. Pro producers are experienced in these matters — but not every advertiser or publisher is as savvy.

Beyond other people’s content, your own claims, imagery and offers may fall afoul of laws and policies meant to protect businesses and consumers. Your use of social media and the materials you post there is also a source of concern, not only from a brand-impact aspect, but in compliance with the social sites’ terms of service and regulations regarding transparency in advertising.

For example, you may not be authorized to reuse a positive post made by a customer on your Facebook page in an advertisement. Also consider that ads, advertorials and other sponsored content, plus paid referrals, etc. should always be clearly identified as such and with full disclosure. Publishers must also be aware of how their ads may be impacting their site’s privacy policy, updating this document as needed.

Other problems can arise from contests, prize offerings, sweepstakes and similar games of chance, which can easily run afoul of various lottery laws; as well as from endorsements and testimonials, including any campaigns pushing posting positive comments on social media, or efforts to buy “Likes.”

In adult circles, the issue of ‘2257 compliance continues to come into play, as does the banks’ demands in regards to what is acceptable — and this extends from ads to landing pages to sites and their offers.

Fortunately, marketers are not alone in their quest for compliance, with qualified attorneys and quality ad networks playing a positive role in helping to keep advertisers and publishers out of harm’s way — something that is further aided by operators staying abreast of regulatory and policy changes and best practices that can help up their game.

For example, professional ad networks will reject campaigns containing malware, phishing attempts, ransomware, redirects and other questionable content or creatives, in an effort to protect publishers and their customers. Publishers are also able to prevent specific companies, products or services they do not want to appear on their sites, and can limit the networks they work with and ad types they allow (such as in-video or popunder ads), in an effort to balance revenue with better quality user experiences.

All of these requirements are enforced by an ad network’s compliance department, which may also work closely with advertisers and publishers to ensure they play by the rules.

Adamo CEO Judy Shalom told XBIZ that in 2017, compliance issues exist for publishers, advertisers and ad networks alike.

“Although they are not always overlapping, they are always intertwined,” Shalom said, “from advertiser malvertising affecting ad networks and publishers; to ad networks using illegal tracking techniques for fingerprinting users and violating several data protection acts; to publishers sending bot traffic, causing damages to advertisers and ad networks.”

Shalom says all parties in this equation are trying to balance each other and stay clean on all sides.

“As you can see, any violation of compliance issues results in a chain-effect causing damage to the other parties in the symbiosis,” Shalom explained. “Ad networks do cooperate with each other, in sharing information, and are also integrated with their own and several external tools in order to constantly scan all of the data that flows through their systems.”

Shalom says that making sure compliance is being followed is one of the most costly aspects of the company’s system — but also one of the most important ones.

“We need to protect our publishers and we need to protect our advertisers equally from bad advertising experiences, and while doing that, we in the end also protect ourselves,” Shalom concluded. “The motto we go by here at Adamo is that maintaining a clean track record in the end always pays off.”

According to ExoClick’s customer services director Mark Westwood, the company also takes compliance seriously, leveraging a dedicated team of 12 professionals working 24/7 to deal with compliance issues.

“[Our team] manually checks every campaign and its related landing pages for compliance. We also have additional software tools to constantly monitor our network,” Westwood told XBIZ. “Any campaign that breaks ExoClick’s advertiser guidelines is rejected. Of course, no network is 100 percent safe but our team is fast to react.”

“Mistakes can happen, we accept that, so providing that advertisers can offer a reasonable explanation, other than rejecting the violating campaign(s), we won’t take any further action,” Westwood added. “Advertisers need to understand that we are here to protect our publishers’ websites, so if there are multiple violations in a short space of time an advertiser’s account may be temporarily suspended.”

Westwood said this approach ensures that the advertiser has time to permanently fix any problems before going live again with their campaigns.

“Of course, there may be clients who we simply can’t work with anymore because of the problems they caused to our network of publishers were too extensive,” Westwood revealed. “We are pleased to say, though, that once we explained the compliance rules to advertisers in these situations, most go on to run issue-free campaigns for months and years following the incident.”

“Publishers are also evaluated for the quality of their traffic,” Westwood concluded. “We will remove a publisher from our network if they have fraudulent or poor quality traffic because this type of traffic offers no value to our advertisers.”

TrafficForce’s Ross Allan told XBIZ that the biggest problem for publishers who rely on search engine traffic is misleading ads.

“Google is cracking down on this in 2017 and starting to penalize sites that have misleading ads or ads that are built to look like a part of the site or encourage users to click for a specific purpose other than going to the advertiser’s product page,” Allan explained. “Advertisers also run big risks by using a large company’s branding in their ads to entice a higher CTR to their landing page. We are seeing more companies protecting their trademarks/copyright materials and going after individuals who take their branding.”

Allan also said that some publishers get greedy and devalue their users by adding too many ads or having multiple pop-under ads on their site to make more margin on their purchased traffic.

“These type of [‘circle jerk’] sites are fed with low-quality traffic and sold onto ad networks to make a 10/20/30 percent margin, allowing the owner to generate easy income,” Allan said. “Often you will see these sites signed up with multiple ad networks to leverage more ads, [without] having too many on the same network. This is bad for everyone involved, and we are careful at TrafficForce to ensure our publishers bring quality traffic to our network to allow our buyers to continue to scale their campaigns and make profits.”

Clearly, the playing field is becoming more complicated, but for those who can master the details of compliance and conversions, a world of profit awaits.