The long held adage, "half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half," has taken on new meaning in the digital age. Online and mobile ad fraud now costs advertisers approximately $4.6 billion in the U.S. alone, and the problem is getting worse.
Digital ad spend now nearly matches TV ad spend, making the spotlight on digital ad fraud brighter than ever. It has forced the industry to think critically about real solutions to combat this multi-billion-dollar challenge. Brands, publishers, and marketers are starting to form a meaningful partnership to create actionable solutions. New organizations like TAG (Trustworthy Accountability Group), created in partnership with the 4A's, IAB and ANA is just one such example. Brands can further protect themselves by implementing the following best practices.
Fight the fraud
- Judge your ad network partners based on their ability to deliver high quality traffic and engagements verified by third parties such as MOAT and IAS. Using a third-party provider allows you to make sure that your ads are running where they are supposed to, and that they are viewed by your target audience (not bots or click farmers). Assess each network partner based on how much fraud your verification partners detect.
- Understand which types of ad units and publishers generate the most ad fraud and steer clear of them. While running your ads with the most well-known publishers can feel "safe," some of these large publishers may not utilize the most advanced fraud prevention tools. This can be an even greater problem for publishers that price on a CPM, since most ad fraud is committed on the CPM model.
- Navigate towards newer ad formats like opt-in video, and native placements that are relatively immune to ad fraud. Consider running these units in mobile apps, which are protected from the harms of the open web.
- Guide your team to ask questions about how campaigns are run. It's not just about what publisher you're on, but the specific placement and ad formats you're using. It's best to evaluate campaigns on engagement quality as opposed to emphasizing low CPMs. A completed 30-second view is much more impactful than a three-second view.
- Register your ad grievances with your agency and ad tech partners and demand that they address them with improvements in technology and measurement systems. To beat ad fraud, brands, agencies, and ad tech partners must collaborate.
- Outline all campaign metrics, transparency, and performance requirements upfront. Ask your partners about rebates, refunds, and discounts due to ad fraud. Ensure that they're committed to serving you the right traffic. Track your campaigns obsessively and ask for weekly reports to monitor fraudulent activity closely. Ad fraud caught early on means less of a hassle down the road.
- Upgrade your knowledge on ad fraud and stay ahead of the curve. Attend workshops, discussions, and industry events so your company is never caught off guard. The ANA, IAB, MMA, and MRC are great resources, and these organizations set the standards that govern the industry.
- Prepare for the future, be attentive, and always ask questions. Never be comfortable with your solution. Ad fraud isn't going away; even if you feel your advertising efforts are immune now, this could change at any point. Remember that technology changes daily, and nefarious characters are constantly looking to exploit advertisers that grow lax.
Future of ad fraud
The industry is showing signs of improvement. Publishers are responding with better native placements and embracing in-app ads that are immune to fraud.
Better creative ads, delivered at the right time and place, may also help improve the plight of ad fraud. The New York Times, BuzzFeed, Vox, and Conde Nast have all created in-house studios to produce branded content, which is relatively immune to ad fraud. Organizations like the MRC, IAB, and TAG are creating working groups to bring industry leaders together, and offering accreditation on new fraud fighting technologies.
Industry coordination, together with the best practices above, can help reverse the trend. Will ad fraud decline in a meaningful way in 2016 and beyond? The jury is still out. If brands, marketers, and publishers can align on a mission to combat fraud together, we could start winning the battle to save the digital advertising economy.