Drawing ourselves out of the rut of day-to-day decisions and calling upon ourselves to think more deeply about our partnerships is not an easy task. It is not a task that will usually fit into our busy schedules - it requires extra time, extra energy, extra thought. Frankly, we can barely assign time to reflecting on the relationships in our personal lives on a regular basis, let alone that of our ads.txt files.
In order to salvage supply chain transparency, a few extra considerations have to be made by all parties in the ad tech system. One of which regards thinking more deeply about who the most common direct sellers are to better understand these relationships and how their roles influence the supply chain. These are the sellers that have the highest number of appearances of ‘direct’ lines in the domains that the Sellers.guide team has scanned.
Going back to the basics, what is a direct relationship? Why can’t intermediaries hold this label? According to the IAB Tech Lab’s definition, “a value of ‘DIRECT’ indicates that the Publisher (content owner) directly controls the account.” They continue by stating that “this tends to mean a direct business contract between the Publisher and the advertising system,” or, in other words, a direct seller is the owner of the domain or the publisher itself. Intermediaries are not publishers, therefore they have no entitlement to ‘direct’ lines.
In ads.txt, direct relationships command a higher value and greater demand for sellers. This is not an industry secret, and, in fact, many resellers or vendors understand the benefits of sending ‘direct’ lines and use it to their advantage. Certain buyers will only target traffic classified as ‘direct’ via the DSP, giving resellers ample incentive to purposefully use this label inaccurately.
In order to see the full picture, it may be necessary to take a step back. By looking at all of the lines a company sends from a birdseye view instead of merely closing in on an individual ads.txt file, patterns and trends can be drawn out. Some of them are alarming, others are harmless.
There are many cases in which sellers that are legitimate have thousands of ‘direct’ lines in their ads.txt file such as ad operations companies. While this may sound like a red flag, this could be an instance of commonplace. Companies such as CafeMedia or Mediavine exclusively manage thousands of publishers, meaning the ads.txt files of thousands of publishers will contain “cafemedia” as a direct relationship as well as the ‘managerdomain’. Though technically this may not be compliant with ads.txt specifications because they are not the domain owners, this is a common practice because they are actually the shortest path to the inventory. This is a measure taken to ensure that DSPs do not discriminate against their traffic.
Another example of this can be seen with Google. Usually the first most common seller on the list, Google OB (open bidding) is written on the sellers.json file as “google.com” since the financial transaction for the sales go through Google. Consequently, Google holds the prized high number of appearances is due to the high number of sellers that work with OB.
How many companies own thousands of domains? There is a large gap between the answer to this question based on the files and reality. There are well-known intermediaries that send tens of thousands of ‘direct’ ads.txt lines. This is a hard pattern to ignore or chalk-up to error. What potentially results from this unchecked fraud is that buyers may favor these resellers over the publisher's direct seats, which can cause publishers to lose revenue.
The Most Common Direct Sellers report is intended to give you a full picture of the ‘direct’ lines that appear most frequently. The table shows all of the most common direct sellers – including true direct sellers and the bad actors clouding industry transparency. Take a look at these sellers for yourself. Who are the well-known intermediaries that claim to be ‘direct’? Where do they stand? For the sake of industry wide transparency, we all have to take in this data - not with a grain of salt, but with a judgemental eye and demand for the truth.