If you run an ad campaign on behalf of a client, chances are you've been asked to capture some screenshots of the ad in the wild and throw it in a powerpoint. Often, this is referred to as ad screenshots, tear sheets, campaign screens, or proofs. An ad screenshot is a visual, preview or receipt of an ad on a page, meant to give confirmation to a client that the ad is running.
Origin of the tear sheet
Long before the Internet took over the advertising world, the main channels for ads were print magazines and newspapers. Every time an ad would run in a newspaper, the advertiser or agency would require the newspaper to tear out the page with the ad and send it to them as confirmation that the ad was live. Hints the name, tear sheet. Often, the advertiser wouldn't pay the newspaper until they received the tear sheet.
Ad screenshots for digital advertising
Now that ad campaigns are run primarily on digital channels (ie. banner ads, video ads, native ads), the visual confirmation is now called a screenshot. Whenever a campaign is running, a screenshot needs to be captured on the URLs that the campaign is running on. See the example below:
This is fairly simple for run of site or sponsorship ads, because you know when and where they're going to show up. But, when it comes to programmatic ad campaigns, this can be a tedious task trying to track down the ads in the wild. To make things harder, many clients have special requirements in terms of what the screenshots need to look like (we recommend you push back on some of these request):
- URL bar from the browser needs to show
- Date and time from your computer's OS needs to show
- Top nav bar of the website needs to show (these aren't always sticky when you scroll down the page looking for the ad)
- Ad choices icon showing on the ad (this little logo loads on the page separate from the ad so sometimes it just fails to load)
- No other ads showing in the screenshot
- No controversial content showing in the screenshot (ie. Covid 19 and politics. You know, pretty much all the content on news sites 🤕)
It's become a full-time job with the hundreds of campaigns and thousands of ads that companies are running every month.
How to generate ad screenshots
There are multiple ways to capture screenshots of digital ad campaigns:
🔍 Browse for ads in the wild
You could certainly find out what websites the ads are running on (via DV/IAS/etc.), then go load those different pages over and over until you spot the ad in the wild. This is incredibly monotonous and time consuming, plus it's very likely that you will never find some of the ads because you're not within the campaign's targeting criteria.
📰 Publisher can use DFP preview (sometimes)
If you're a publisher, you can use DFP preview to preview the ad on the URL of your choice within your domain. For programmatic campaigns, you won't be able to use this for obvious reasons. This doesn't always work for certain types of ads and it's still time consuming to do these one at a time. Plus, if you want to do a mobile device screenshot you have to go through this time consuming QR code process to preview the ad on your phone.
🎨 Mock it up
If you're running programmatic campaigns (non-publisher) and you don't want to spend days clicking reload on pages to see if you can catch the ad screenshot in the wild, then you're probably just doing a mock up of the ad screenshots and relying on verification tools (ie. DV, IAS, etc.) to verify what sites the ads ran on. While mock ups don't take as long as browsing for the ads in the wild (which is pretty much impossible), they're still very time consuming when you're having do all of this in photoshop, one ad at a time.
⚡️ Ad Reform
We automate ad screenshots for programmatic campaigns in bulk, including all the annoying special requirements we listed above. You can request screenshots for display, video, and native ads on any URL and device (desktop, mobile, tablet). High performing ad ops teams have estimated that they’re able to speed up their ad screenshots by 10x, while cutting their cost in half.