For Brands, Breaking Up With Fraud Is Hard To Do

jeff-bander"Data-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 Ephraim (Jeff) Bander, president and chief revenue officer at Sticky.

It has become overwhelmingly apparent that brand marketers have become digital crime fighters.

As digital ad spend continues to rise and the term “omnichannel” infiltrates media planning discussions, new breeds of tech-savvy fraud perpetrators are rolling in the dough across digital video, social and search.

Many marketers believe they aren’t the ones with an ad fraud problem; rather, it's the other advertisers that do. However, hackers are getting awfully clever about how to game the system. A brand’s next innovative idea may unknowingly plant the seeds for hackers’ next schemes.

For example, over the past year, marketers have become googly-eyed about leveraging location data to serve the right ad at the right time and, now, at the right place. But in fact, location fraud has become a gold mine, where fraudsters take advantage of the fact that 50% to 70% of reported GPS coordinates are still questionable.

Are brand advertisers helpless? While it will be very challenging for brands to break completely from fraud, marketers can still implement measures today across their multichannel media mix. Not only will these measures reduce ad waste in the short term, but also provide a runway to achieve longer-term goals.

Surreptitious Adware Undermines The Promise of Digital Video

Video inventory contained more than twice the percentage of bot fraud in a recent survey by White Ops and the Association of National Advertisers. Interestingly, some of the highest impression-volume video ad campaigns not only took huge hits from bot traffic, but also from video autoplay adware. Adware is software that is usually installed on user devices, serving ads visibly or unbeknownst to users to boost ad consumption numbers.

Marketers can’t expect to solve the adware issue alone, nor should they attempt to. Instead, marketers must rally publishers, agencies and technology providers to work toward establishing industrywide policies that discourage adware practices and institute enforcement on unsanctioned adware. Jumpstarting an industry dialogue would create urgency in advancing technology solutions. Viewability is a prime example of how ongoing discourse has effectively moved an entire industry to address an endemic problem.

Avoid Social Network Black Markets, Demand Better Engagement

Despite reporting strong ad revenue last quarter, Facebook still faces major fraud scrutiny. Last year, Derek Muller’s YouTube video, “Facebook Fraud,” went viral in a depiction of an entire underworld of “click farms” – sweatshops full of low-paid drones who spend their days indiscriminately “liking” stuff on Facebook. For brand marketers, this poses a serious problem. While social metrics may appear to show high performance as a result of earnest social media campaigns, the numbers they see most likely don’t translate to real consumer engagement in key desired markets. Per Muller’s investigation, a disproportionate amount of “likes” he experienced firsthand came from remote areas abroad in Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

To avoid being misled by fraudulent click performance, marketers should remain extremely selective about which social media metrics they track and ensure the shortlist aligns with their brand’s goals and objectives. Article comments or Twitter replies, for example, can be good measures of engagement because they require a higher bar for consumers to interact. Therefore, I’d argue that 10 to 15 substantial comments on a posted article can demonstrate significantly higher effectiveness and insight than 1,000 likes.

Google’s $1 Billion Lesson From Invalid Click Fraud: Be Proactive

In 2007, Google reported on its AdWords blog that invalid clicks represent less than 10% of all clicks.

“At Google's current revenue rate, every percentage point of invalid clicks we throw out represents over $100 million per year in potential revenue foregone,” said Shuman Ghosemajumder, Google's business product manager for trust and safety.

This amounts to Google losing roughly $1 billion in revenue every year due to ad fraud. Since then, Google launched a proactive three-stage system to detect invalid clicks, consisting of real-time filters, offline analysis and reactive investigations. Google further outlines its protection policies with advertisers and publishers in Google’s Ad Traffic Quality Resource Center, such as issuing credits to advertisers affected by flagged invalid clicks.

As paid search continues to grow, digital marketers could use Google’s approach as a model for preventing and managing fraud in their paid search programs. For example, marketers can implement a multistage approach that not only proactively monitors suspect activity in collaboration with data analysts, but also triggers internal processes that quickly address and credits clear instances of fraud.

While brand advertisers will never be able to eradicate themselves of fraud, the industry is developing new policies and technology solutions to fight digital crime. By demanding better engagement measurement, implementing multitiered initiatives and working with industry associations, brands are positioning themselves to become free of ad fraud’s shackles.

Follow Ephraim (Jeff) Bander (@Stickyadman), Sticky (@sticky_ad) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

 

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