The latest controversy launched on Reddit by an anonymous poster criticizing the Thrive+ video agency/SSP has exploded across the adtech universe and has raised the topic of adtech cyber bullying and the appropriate use and purpose of ads.txt. I reached out to interview Fiona Walsh the CEO of Thrive+ and discover what really is going on.
Question: Fiona, you’re famous now, can you tell us about why you sent this email to publishers?
Answer: Well this isn’t the kind of fame I was hoping for, but the email has been completely misunderstood and misconstrued in a way that is definitely not my intent. I tried to do something in the positive honest transparent spirit of ads.txt and it was cast as deceptive. Nothing can be further from the truth. I’ve heard from many people who have reached out and most have not read the email and just read the posters harsh interpretation which is wrong.
Question: So what was the purpose of the email?
Answer: We buy on behalf of specific advertisers like an agency and we also are a small SSP working directly with publishers selling their inventory to platforms and direct advertisers. We copied the text from most of the emails we received from our various partners to create it. So my email had three purposes:
#1 To let them know that we purchased ads from them in ad exchanges in the past and would like to continue to direct.
#2. To reach out to prospective publishers and inform them that they need to work with us direct and add our ads.txt IDs in order to continue buying their inventory otherwise we cannot.
#3. Provide them with our ads.txt ID#s should they work with us direct and decide to let us be an authorized seller.
Question: Why do you think you received such a strong reaction to the email?
Answer: There’s a lot of sensitivity in the market to bad behavior. The poster wrongly assumed that the reason we were asking to add our ads.txt was to arbitrage in banner video or do malware or bad ads that he was frustrated about in his own business. This is absolutely unequivocally not true and we’ve never ever purchased in banner display on any publisher and sold it back to our demand partners as video ever, or any of the other disparaging assumptions he made.
The confusion is if we’re a buyer why do we need ads.txt. But the misunderstanding is that we are both an advertising agency who buys on behalf of advertisers which makes us a buyer at times and we are also an SSP platform seller, like OpenX, of publisher inventory which makes us a seller at times. To make matters more confusing, to most mid and long tail publishers they perceive us as a buyer since we send them the money and do direct contracts with them. We often define ourselves as a buyer to them, even though the adtech industry considers a buyer someone like ‘The Trade Desk’.
The email’s purpose was work with them as a direct SSP and have our ads.txt added so we would be a buyer to the publisher and an authorized seller to our advertisers. We reach out to them because we see their domains are desirable to our advertisers. Period. Nothing nefarious.
Question: Are you sure you don’t do in-banner video arbitrage?
Answer: Absolutely not, never! It never happened.
Question: Tell us about Thrive+ and you?
Answer: Thrive+ is my baby, we’re in NYC and after 15 years experience in adtech working with pubs and advertisers across many companies we took the jump 18 months ago to be entrepreneurs. We were committed and started it with all our savings and now have some great employees and the business was built to have great relationships with our customers. It was scary to do and this whole situation threatens us. My husband and I work around the clock and we balance adtech with two young kids. It’s crazy, but fun.
Question: I saw OpenX and Pixalate emailed their clients about you and Spotx cancelled as a partner, what do you think of that?
Answer: Well it’s devastating. I’ve known these companies and respected them for years. I thought they would take greater care to understand what we’re trying to accomplish and not just assume the worst assumptions and then blast it out to their contacts. It was very damaging and reckless. They didn’t call us or even try to understand and just used it as moral material to promote themselves. Our attorney is considering if the actions rise to defamation since there has been damage by their actions.
As far as Spotx is concerned they are a good company and we’ve loved doing business with them and regret losing them, they felt the pressure from the article but didn’t ask for clarification. We showed them factually that our data proves the assumptions aren’t true, but they haven’t gotten back to us yet. We did nothing wrong and we hope they will be fair. Look the industry is full of bad actors, we’re not one of them and making us the poster child for it is wrong.
Question: Anything you regret from this situation?
Answer: I had no idea the email could be interpreted in this way and in retrospect I would have adjusted it to be even clearer, but honestly all we want to do is work with publishers and advertisers in a compliant way using ads.txt. We embraced ads.txt with our partners before almost anyone else and while it’s hard to do we are committed to it because we’re in it for the long haul. I have my family and employees riding on it.
Question: Any last words?
Answer: I am happy to talk and have an open dialog with any of these anonymous posters and industry companies like pixelate and openx etc. who have disparaged us to clarify the truth. I put myself transparently out there in a reply, I’ve been honest. Now I am still ready to move forward and build our business.
Here’s a copy of the email Thrive+ sent:
Thrive+ has been purchasing a substantial amount of your ad inventory through various ad exchanges over the past year on behalf of our advertising clients and needs your assistance to continue.
On Thursday 11/2, we will no longer be able to purchase inventory on your domain without a Thrive.Plus Ads.txt file in place.
We will only be allocating budget to sites we can work directly with that have our seller ID located in your ‘ads.txt’ server file. This change and requirement is due to advertisers’ concerns of growing fraud and transparency issues on ad exchanges. Our advertisers have collectively agreed to require the ads.txt IDs to insure continued purchasing on your site. If you do not add the IDs you will be adversely impacted.
To resolve this issue, simply add our Ads.txt IDs below to your Ads.txt file on your site so that we can stay an active buyer. In addition, please respond promptly to me so I can answer any questions you may have and we can work with you directly to increase your rates and earnings beyond the current level. We are generously rewarding those sites who we work with directly.
Simply paste the following ID list as is into your ‘ads.txt’ file to resolve this:
Thank you for your time and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.
Adotas is owned by Delivering Yield, LLC, an investment and advisory company. Delivering Yield, LLC is also an investor in Thrive+. This interview was conducted by Adotas.