In Today’s Scam-Plagued Ad Industry, Where Will Fraudsters Win?

ericwheelerddtData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Eric Wheeler, CEO at 33Across.

It was abundantly clear at AdExchanger’s Clean Ads I/O conference last week that fraud will continue to plague the industry for the foreseeable future.

Its impact will be even more profound if we don’t all take aggressive and coordinated steps now. In the short term, we’ll see the amount of dollars being siphoned to fraudsters continue to grow at the expense of publisher monetization and advertiser dissatisfaction. In the long term, I believe we run the risk of undermining marketer trust in our ecosystem, and the dollars that should flow to digital marketing will flow elsewhere.

Although I see several ways where fraudsters could win, I also see potential solutions to prevent it.

You’re Either With Us Or Against Us

The first way that allows fraudsters win is simple and, unfortunately, pervasive: inaction. If marketers aren’t actively engaged in blocking fraud with every impression, they’re probably enabling it because their media dollars are funding it.

Today, with fraud as pervasive as it is, every campaign must have strong anti-fraud efforts around it. Marketers and agencies need to ask the right questions of media and technology providers to ensure the safe handling of their brands. Otherwise we can be certain that a significant amount of media dollars are funding illegal activities.

The Cost Of Fixing Fraud: Minimal Compared To The Billions Being Stolen

Fighting fraud is expensive, which one reason why fraudsters keep winning. But the cost of fraud is worse. The oft-cited fact that $6.3 billion will be lost to fraud this year is staggering. Yet it’s a drop in the bucket compared to how high it could get if we don’t take action now.

While the industry will always struggle with fraud, significant progress has been made to get ahead of the fraudsters. Along with technology innovations to address fraud and viewability, there’s the recently formed Trustworthy Accountability Group. Led by the IAB, it brings together marketers, publishers, consumers and leading ad tech infrastructure players to eliminate fraudulent traffic, combat malware, fight Internet piracy and promote brand safety through greater transparency.

However, individuals are also responsible for doing their part and not solely relying on technology providers, third-party verification companies or the efforts of a few to solve the problems of all. Trust, but verify, Ronald Reagan once said, and that can also apply to fraud. The best protective technologies are better when combined with actual human inspection and verification, such as having people vet publisher sites as a first step to curating quality inventory.

Follow The Money 

The most direct way to uncover any illegal scheme is to follow the money from the buyer all the way through to seller and inspect the value chain. Are marketers taking responsibility for the entire chain, from insertion order to impression? No.

In our industry, the quick money often flows to the most unregulated or highest-priced areas, which are out-of-view ads and video. Ads that appear below the fold and out of view have no upside for advertisers or customers, and only benefit those looking to game the system. They allow some sellers to game the post-view attribution measurement system, creating a downward revenue stream for publishers.

The faster we can agree on standards for display, video and mobile to drive higher viewability rates across platforms, the safer we all will be. We’re already seeing a new era of higher viewability standards, as evidenced by GroupM’s efforts with Condé Nast.

Fear Of Admitting That You’ve Been Duped

Remember, inaction becomes an action because it allows fraudsters to continue siphoning budgets. You can take back control by bringing people and technology together. Since there’s no such thing as “set it and forget it,” teams needs to be mindfully engaged with their technology, curating inventory and monitoring ongoing success.

Setting The Bar Low

 The industry’s continued growth should be built on raising the bar, exceeding client expectations and continuing to deliver solid results that will take the form of impressive numbers on reports. Instead, we’re building a house of cards when we don’t take a closer look at those numbers, subtract fraudulent traffic and set higher expectations.

While significant progress has been made, the is much we need to do ensure that today’s advertising industry today does not develop a real or perceived problem with crime.

Back in the 1970s in crime-ridden New York City, many had adopted a point of view: “It’s not my fault so it’s not my responsibility.” If a few hadn’t stepped up to mandate more aggressive policing, encouraged citizens to get involved and let criminals know who was ultimately in charge, we might be looking at a very different Manhattan today.

As our industry works closer together to fight fraud, everyone needs to be open and receptive to scrutiny. The more vetting put in place, the more high-quality ads will be delivered, therefore continuing to raise the industry standards and further protect all of us.

Follow 33Across (@33Across) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. My experience from the client side and consulting side is that, while the advertisers need to improve their game (a lot), the agencies need to lead the way. Until recently, riding a raft of dumb money, there’s been little incentive.

    Why so much onus on the agencies? The advertisers are simply not aware of how the technology can be manipulated to siphon off ad dollars. They just don’t spend all day on sites like this and speaking to anti-fraud experts. The agencies we hire must have the backbone to make the buck stop with them, even if it means running less media. Short-term pain? Sure. The marketers may not notice problems, but the client CFO ultimately sees performance or lack thereof and will call shenanigans with the resulting departure of the CMO and subsequent agency review.

    I’m pleased to see increased focus on doing the right thing. Let’s increase the rate of change.

  2. Putting the onus on the agencies is a good idea, however, it is hurting early adopters because not ALL agencies are taking the same steps. The advertisers need to take some responsibility and focus on true quality. We still believe it is our responsibility to fight fraud for our clients and sooner or later more of them will recognize our quality difference and use our services.

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