ZenithOptimedia CIO: Human Intervention And Tech Needed To Combat Fraud

John NittiZenithOptimedia Chief Investment Officer John Nitti will be a speaker at AdExchanger’s CleanAds I/O conference on June 3, an event examining issues and solutions around fraudulent inventory in the online advertising ecosystem.

Clients hold their agencies accountable when they run campaigns heavy on fraudulent traffic or misrepresented inventory.

While ZenithOptimedia, part of Publicis, understands that the problem won’t be eliminated soon, its chief investment officer, John Nitti, said helping clients access the cleanest possible inventory requires a two-prong solution. Along with Starcom MediaVest Group, it shares stewardship of VivaKi, its programmatic arm.

“We need to apply as much as we can in technology and human intervention, because there’s always going to be a loophole,” Nitti said.

Nitti talked with AdExchanger.

ADEXCHANGER: How is your agency combating fraud?

We have a VivaKi-verified process to add another layer to evaluating [inventory] sources, and we’re working on getting out of open marketplaces in favor of up-tiered inventory in private ones. How we evaluate inventory providers and procure inventory is going to be a huge factor. More programmatic inventory is being unlocked from tier-one and tier-two providers. The true scale and reach still currently exists on the open marketplace, but it puts more pressure on the media CPM, because you’re appending so much tech and verification on the top, such as Integral Ad Science and others, to ensure that the impression is true.

What is the VivaKi-verified way to evaluate inventory sources?

It’s a rigorous 300-point inspection process that evaluates media and technology providers to ensure they meet the highest standards when it comes to brand safety and consumer client protection. For all the campaigns we run, both through VivaKi and at the agency level, we also deploy a quality index, which helps agencies and marketers assess performance and optimize inventory at the site level and uncover fraudulent and misrepresented inventory.

When you do find a problem, what’s the next step?

Hopefully, we’re ahead of it, and before it gets to client or press, we blacklist those partners, if we find fraudulent activity that is at fault with the tech provider. With the daisy chain, there is a dirty underbelly in finding exactly who is the fraudulent source.

How do you figure out if one of the companies supplying bad inventory is the victim or perpetrator of fraud?

You have a chance to rectify it. Prove you’re not going to make the mistakes of the past. If you do it again, you’re blacklisted until we find out you’ve changed your practices. Our clients don’t have tolerance for being in a place that’s unsafe for them.

Is there a benefit to being a really clean inventory provider?

If you’re performing well and not a bad offender, more dollars are going to flow your way.

Are exchanges and publishers doing all they need to do, from your point of view?

No. We need stronger metrics and measurement from all sides of the equation. It’s still way too easy to game the system. You have these companies on the opposite side, in financial services and retail, who hire, pay and fully staff these hacking experts to make sure no one can get in. I think we [in the advertising business] need to get there too. It is still way too easy for these things to happen. It’s incumbent on all of us to do more. 

How are you educating clients about fraud?

Most of our clients have questions about [fraud in] programmatic in general, but when we deep-dive into video or mobile, that’s part of the education. We make them aware of the marketplace and the pros and cons – and unfortunately, nonhuman traffic is part of that. That’s something we need to educate them on and get them somewhat comfortable with. There’s always going to be some portion of inventory that gets away. There are some clients who have some tolerance for that, and there are others that have zero tolerance for that. For them, we deploy different programmatic solutions that do not include open marketplace inventory.

What are the greatest pain points now? Bots? Deliberately misrepresented inventory? Something else?

It’s all of the above. Bots and misrepresented inventory are the biggest areas of concern and reinforce the need to have human intervention and white lists, especially in the area of misrepresentation. It can come form a mishandled process on the platform or the publisher site, which we can fix, vs. the bot, which is clearly fraudulent.

How about emerging channels, like mobile or video? How much of a problem is “badvertising” in these spaces?

I think fraudsters are going to follow where the dollars are going. Video bot fraud is more prevalent than display bot fraud, and we only see that increasing. Mobile fraud is a growing problem because you’re starting to see more dollars flowing there.

It seems fraud and viewability are often tracked and measured together. Does this make sense, or is the conflation of the two counterproductive?

There are two major threats to advertisers. One, is my ad being seen at all? Two, who’s viewing it, nonhuman or real? That’s why they’re grouped together. Viewability can result from improper practices, whereas fraud is stealing money from advertisers. Fraud is the much larger issue.

Is fraud outlined in your terms and conditions?

Yes, there is standard info we can put in IOs. But because there are so many different variations and factors depending on the situation, what “retribution” is required happens on a custom, client-by-client basis. We’re starting to get into sequential liability. The same way our clients hold us responsible, we need to have everyone else in that chain responsible.

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