Marketers are moving from quantitative to qualitative measurements: Saurabh Khattar

IAS India head Saurabh Khattar talks to e4m about emerging marketing trends, ad frauds in digital marketing and available solutions

by Kanchan Srivastava
Published - March 09, 2023
6 minutes To Read
Marketers are moving from quantitative to qualitative measurements: Saurabh Khattar

At a time when global tech majors are facing economic headwinds due to a drop in digital advertising spend, New York-based ad-tech firm Integral Ad Science (IAS) has reported $408 million revenue in 2022, a 26% increase compared to the prior year. Its programmatic revenue increased 42%.

The company, which offers various tools to curb ad frauds and effective measurement of media quality, hopes that in 2023, its revenue figures may cross $450 million.

The growth of IAS underlines the increasing significance of ad-tech tools in the prevailing macroeconomic situation where marketers are facing tremendous pressure to deliver ROI along with a cut in ad spend and increasing ad frauds.

Saurabh Khattar, Country Manager, India, Integral Ad Science (IAS), tells exchange4media, “Marketers are increasingly looking at cost efficiency and media efficiency now. They are trying to move away from quantitative aspects such as likes, shares and impressions of digital ads. The current focus is on consumers' attention and viewability of ads which are qualitative metrics and far more important.”

Digital ad spend is rising in India and in 2023 it is expected to constitute more than half of total ad spending, as per the GroupM report that pegs the entire advertising industry in the country at ?1.46 lakh crore.

With more than Rs 73,000 crores at stake, brand leaders are trying every bit to prevent ad frauds that punch a big hole in their pockets and ensure that every ad impression counts, says Khattar, who says that western headwinds are now tickling down to Indian companies making marketers conscious about ad spend.

While IAS works with global clients like Nestle, GSK, J&J, Nissan and Samsung, Coca Cola and several gaming companies, it also has global partnership with media giants like Twitter and Spotify for prevention of ad frauds. The company’s clientele in India has now expanded to homegrown brands.

“No one wants to see his/her ad around a news piece alongside the news of violence or negative news of Covid-19, whether they buy ad space programmatically or through open web. A lot of homegrown brands are increasingly concerned about ad hygiene and hence we are providing them solutions,” says Khattar.

IAS has also partnered with TikTok (banned in India) and Netflix’ AVOD platform (yet to be launched in India), says Khattar, adding that the company is doubling down on such partnerships.

Ad frauds major headache of brands

Advertising has been an impression-based business since the beginning. While newspapers have been using subscriber counts to represent reach, TV channels use BARC ratings, digital platforms count the number of “likes, shares and views” for ad measurement.

With the emergence of ad frauds and bots, digital impressions are losing their relevance. Surveys have found that ? of digital ads remain unseen in certain environments. Marketers have started asking how viewable their ad was, how much time consumers spend on viewing the ad or was it served in the desired context?

Time-spent on ads is now being considered a better indicator of an ad’s overall effectiveness than pixels in view. An ad is typically considered viewable by the Media Rating Council (MRC) when 50% of pixels are in view for at least one second. Video ads require a bit more—they’re considered to generate viewable impressions when they’ve been in view by a user for at least two seconds. And larger desktop ads only require 30% of the pixels to be in view.

This is where ad-tech companies offer a range of solutions. Various tools developed by IAS aim to bring transparency into programmatic media buys by reducing media waste, curb ad frauds and optimizing spends. “These tools provide insights at the campaign, its placement, reasons for potential failures and suggest required optimizations even detect ad frauds," Khattar explains.

“If an ad is served, but no one sees it, the money is wasted. To be counted as a quality impression, a digital ad must be viewable, by a real person, in a brand-safe environment and at correct geography,” says Khattar, adding that his tool- Quality Impression- excludes invalid traffic driven by bots and thus eliminates wasted spend.

An IAS study has found an 11-fold increase in ad frauds in campaigns for which mitigation tools were not deployed. On the other hand, their clients who use ad mitigation tools see ad frauds less than one percent, claims Khattar.

Ad frauds on Connected TV on rise

According to a GroupM-Kantar report, about 20 to 22 million households in India have internet-enabled connected televisions (CTVs) today. Further, brands are estimated to increase their CTV advertising spends from USD 86 million in 2023 to USD 395 million by 2027.13-Feb-2023

However, ad fraud on the CTV platform has emerged as a major headache for advertisers. A GroupM report last year found $1 billion fraud or ad waste in the connected TV segment globally. It could go up to $50 billion by 2030, according to the world federation of advertisers.

Khattar says, “Many types of ad frauds are prevalent on the CTV and OTT platform. One is your smart TV is off and ads are still running behind. Then there are invalid Server Side Ad Insertion (SSAI) which has emerged as a big risk factor to OTT/CTV advertising.”

“As CTV, gaming, OTT and audio platforms are scaling up their reach post-pandemic, the issue of ad frauds, brand safety, viewability and attention become all more prominent”, says Khattar, who uses machine learning and algorithm to help brands at three levels-detect ad frauds, ensure brand safety and work in viewability and attention of ads.

Contextual targeting

With deprecation of cookies coming closer making personalized targeting tougher, a lot of brands are now focusing on contextuality.

Khattar explains, “Contextual targeting has been there for ages. For instance, classified sections of newspapers are contextual ads. Now, just the technology has changed as media platforms have gone online. We have a tool that is based on natural language process (NLP) technology that analyzes the digital text along with sentiments with the speed of the machine.”

Khattar cites a study that claims that over 46 percent of the audience would not buy a product if the ad is not in the right environment. “Our NLP-based tool helps brands to advertise their products in a positive environment and avoid placing them in negative environments.

IAS works with all stakeholders-brands, agencies, publishers and platforms. Which one needs an upgrade the most, in terms of technology and mindset?

Khattar responds, “All of them are working towards upgrading themselves in terms of technology. Education and information about qualitative aspects is missing across. We are conducting roundtables on the same issue to make all stakeholders aware of magnanimity of ad frauds and available solutions.”