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Why audience verification isn't enough to combat ad fraud

Why audience verification isn't enough to combat ad fraud Sean Crawford

Many of the big news stories over the past year about our industry have been about the emergence and existence of ad fraud. And, judging by the large numbers cited on everything from bot traffic to non-viewable ads, this is for good reason.

As someone who spends his professional life examining and countering the various ways the safety of brands and the quality of transactions are endangered, it's not surprising to me that fraud exists -- spending on video advertising continues to grow 40 percent every year in the U.S., according to eMarketer.

However, it is surprising how many in the industry rely on singular detection or filtering technologies and partners as their only line of defense. It's not enough to tack on some safety and quality features and call it a day.

Protecting ad investments from fraud isn't a feature -- it is a multi-faceted process, one that should be built into everything we do. That is where the industry is going, because that is what's needed. This process requires constant diligence across teams, across companies and organizations, and it is one that will require us to rethink how we maintain the integrity of the web as an advertising medium.

Seems quite audacious, right? This is what is expected from advertisers. And, frankly, we fall short when we as an industry don't look at fraud from the many directions in which criminals are perpetrating it.

Take audience verification, for example. Today, most digital campaigns run with audience metrics verified by third-party measurement solutions, allowing marketers to reach TV-like audiences -- females aged 18 to 49, for example. Not surprisingly, the higher the percentage of impressions that hit that target demographic, or the "in-target" percentage, the better a campaign has performed.

But, on closer inspection on how third-party audience verification works, you can certainly see where fraud can work its way into the myopic process:

  • One percent of campaign impressions are verified through a proprietary panel of viewers.

  • Another 30 to 40 percent of campaign impressions are verified using other, real-world data sources, like Facebook's demographics.

  • The rest -- 60 to 70 percent of a digital campaign -- is an extrapolation, or best guess, at what the audience should look like. In other words, about two-thirds of a campaign reaches an unknown group of viewers that are "verified" using finger-in-the-wind estimates. Criminals can easily generate audiences that matches what marketers want -- whether it's the age or gender of a viewer, or ones which have specific interests -- and, if not directly verified through panel and third-party data, it can then be passed off as in-target on a marketer's campaign report.

These unknown impressions can generally be had for a lower CPM, so for marketers it seems like a great deal to get "verified" impressions for cheap.

We put this hypothesis to a test in a closed environment, and found that buying traffic on known fraudulent websites yielded a 35 percent higher in-target percentage than buying on inventory thoroughly audited by industry-leading first- and third-party technologies.

Third-party audience verification has its merits, but using that as the sole basis for measuring a campaign's success puts close to 70 percent of ad spend in jeopardy and can lead to marketers being fooled into how effective, or not effective, their campaigns really are.

Rather, ensuring brand safety is a larger process, one that ties together audience verification, viewability, and fraud detection to ensure campaign success. This process should lead to conversations between buyers and their inventory partners that principally answer, among other key queries, the following three questions:

  • Did a real person see my ad?

  • Did my ad have a chance to be viewable by that person?

  • Did the ad run in the place I asked for it to run?

As I continue to meet with advertisers and agencies on roadshows across the U.S., Europe, and Australia about the many facets of brand safety, it's become clear that we've come a long way in understanding and rooting out some of the biggest drivers of wasted advertising.

Singular-minded tactics are not going to get the job done in today's world, where organized criminals are innovating their tactics. We need to work together to continue to innovate even faster.

Sean Crawford is the vice president and global head of inventory at Adap.tv.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Sean brings to Adap.tv more than 15 years of experience driving revenue and partnerships for global media and technology companies. He currently leads the business group responsible for ensuring the Adap.tv is the biggest, most diverse, and brand...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Augustine Fou

2014, August 06

Great commentary on the need for multiple techniques and data sets to be used together to triangulate and fight ad fraud. One method or data set is not enough.