Ad fraud is higher than ever and poses a serious threat to luxury brands looking to drive authentic results, writes James Brown of Cream UK, that is, if they can be convinced to understand the risks and hold their suppliers accountable.
2015 saw ad blocking grab all the headlines. But a recent study has highlighted an issue that we think is more deserving of marketers’ immediate attention – ad fraud.
The research was a result of a collaboration between the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and White Ops, the digital advertising security company. Its conclusion? That advertisers will lose $7.2 billion to ad fraud this year, up 14% from 2015.
“ The study estimated that ad fraud is responsible for between 3 and 37% of ad impressions ”
$7.2 billion is a huge amount of money, but looking at the problem on a campaign by campaign basis makes the scale of the problem even more stark. The study estimated that ad fraud is responsible for between 3 and 37% of ad impressions. And the higher the CPM – and affluent impressions command higher CPMs, of course – the higher the incidence of ad fraud. The study found that display ads with CPMs of $110 or higher had a 39% higher incidence.
The source of ad fraud is primarily non-human traffic – bots that mimic the behaviour of humans. It’s a highly attractive pastime for fraudsters because the potential rewards are so lucrative and there are so many flaws in the systems for them to exploit, particularly in the fast growing programmatic space.
So what should luxury brand marketers do about it?
Well the first step is to find out how your agency is approaching the problem. If they tell you that the fraud in your campaign is within the industry standard averages (usually quoted as 5-10%) and that there’s nothing they can do to improve it, it may be time to switch supplier. Through our partnership with premium verification company Adloox, we’ve reduced fraud levels for our clients below 1%. That’s been achieved through two specific differences in Adloox’s approach when compared to other ad verification vendors.
The first is how they tackle domain spoofing – a common deception where the fraudster hijacks a reputable URL and fools the ad network into thinking they’re a legitimate publisher. Adloox take a more rigorous approach to uncovering domain spoofers by probing down to subdomain level and looking for common indicators of fraud. For example, traffic may be coming from an unusually high proportion of old internet browsers – commonly targeted by fraudsters as they’re no longer supported and easier to infiltrate. Or ad viewability levels may be abnormally high – a clever con as many campaigns seek to optimise towards this metric and, without the proper checks, can unwittingly direct a higher proportion of their clients’ business to fraudulent sites.
“ The fraudsters are constantly concocting new ways to con publishers and ad networks alike ”
The second difference in the Adloox approach is the stage at which they detect the fraudsters. Many verification companies work on the ‘post bid’ side of the programmatic process – the ‘unsafe’ site is detected once the transaction has been made, so although the ad isn’t served the fraudster still gets to pocket the cash. Adloox uses the blacklist of fraudulent sites it’s compiled post bid to detect fraudsters during the pre bid process – weeding them out before any money has changed hands.
Even with technology such as Adloox’s, nobody can rest on their laurels. The fraudsters are constantly concocting new ways to con publishers and ad networks alike. On top of that the industry needs to work harder to stamp out some examples of malpractice by what would be regarded as legitimate publishers and ad networks – delivering human impressions which, by their very nature are of very little value to the advertiser. Publishers pocketing cash for mobile ad units they can’t display properly is a prime example.
But the whole process starts with marketers – it’s their money that’s being wasted after all. Many agencies and networks aren’t being as rigorous as they should be because, frankly, ad fraud can bolster campaign metrics – bots are more responsive than humans. Marketers should expect a zero-tolerance approach to ad fraud from their suppliers, but most will need to demand it before they get the results they deserve.
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