comScore plays catch-up as industry cries for third-party verification

comScore has updated its multi-platform advertising measurement product, called validated Campaign Essentials (vCE), with new features for fraud protection and expanded industry accreditation, in hopes of regaining some steam as the top third-party digital advertising measurement company.

The update comes as advertisers’ voice growing concerns about digital advertising efficacy in the face of issues such as ad fraud, ad-blocking, and viewability. This week, the world’s largest advertiser P&G is leading the charge: P&G’s chief marketing officer Marc Pritchard called on digital advertising giants Facebook and Google to implement more thorough third-party verification for advertising systems. P&G’s stance on the topic follows similar messaging that emerged from advertisers during the recent Interactive Advertisers Bureau’s (IAB) leadership forum.

“We have a media supply chain that is murky at best and fraudulent at worst,” Pritchard said during his speech at IAB’s conference. “We need to clean it up, and invest the time and money we save into better advertising to drive growth.”

Last week, Dan Hess, comScore’s EVP of products, responded directly to that call: “The message was clear at the recent IAB Annual Leadership Forum. Leading advertisers will increasingly require trusted third-party campaign verification.”

The importance of third-party verification for digital advertising became painfully obvious last year thanks to two developments from the top digital advertising platforms: Google admitted that 60% of its ads are not viewed; and Facebook admitted that it had been miscalculating video viewing metrics for over two years.

The digital advertising industry’s verification pain point could be a huge opportunity for comScore, the once-king of digital measurements in the earlier days of Web and mobile video. That’s why comScore’s CEO Gian Fulgoni is redoubling efforts to expand and market the vCE product. “Our focus on the cross-platform opportunity ahead of us is unwavering,” Fulgoni said during an investor call last month. “We believe we are well positioned to benefit from really profound shifts that have already begun and will continue to occur in the media and advertising landscape.”

The announcement also serves as a step forward in the road to recovery for the company. comScore was delisted from Nasdaq after a financial scandal forced the company to re-audit its earnings reports for the years 2014-2016. Its products, particularly its vCE measurement tool, suffered setbacks during that period which the company is now hoping to remedy.

comScore claims its vCE tag gives advertisers comprehensive validation metrics for advertising campaigns across desktop and mobile platforms. It tracks things like validated GRPs (gross rating points), brand safety, audience delivery and viewability for video and display ad campaigns. comScore has also scored important accreditation from the Media Ratings Council (MRC) for mobile viewability and impression metrics.

And while Fulgoni considers vCE to be a strong product in the increasingly competitive landscape of digital advertising measurement, vCE had one serious blindspot: Facebook.

Google and Facebook accounted for the lion’s share of growth in digital advertising in 2016; and though comScore has leveraged a longstanding partnership with Google to include audience and viewability metrics from Google’s ad solutions into its vCE product, comScore was admittedly slow to do the same with Facebook.

That’s changed now, as comScore has expanded its vCE product to include viewability metrics for Facebook, Instagram and other publishers that are part of Facebook’s Audience Network.

“comScore and Facebook are currently working to expand this partnership to add campaign demographic measurement in the US across these Facebook properties, with additional markets to follow during 2017,” the company said.

comScore’s competitors – Nielsen, Moat and others – are also working to rapidly extend their digital advertising measurement products in response to advertisers’ concerns. comScore may have cause for concern. According to a report from Pivotal Research’s Brian Wieser, Nielsen is likely to have benefitted from comScore’s stumble and taken over some of its market share.

Last month, Nielsen announced new verification features for its digital advertising ratings (DAR) product. “The growth of cross-device providers, underscores market demand to understand consumer behavior across the various devices we use and engage with every day,” said Thomas Eaton Nielsen’s SVP of Digital. “Nielsen’s cross device verification will bring greater rigor and transparency to the measurement of cross device graphs and provide the market with valuable insights to assist in more informed buying and selling decisions.”