The Crisis Of Trust: Russian Hackers And Video Advertising’s Battle Against Bots

gabipeles"On TV And Video" is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in programmatic TV and video.

Today’s column is written by Gabi Peles, chief operating officer at Eyeview.

Right before the holidays the advertising industry was rocked by the revelation that Russian cyberforgers have been waging an unprecedentedly large and sophisticated campaign. These hackers tricked the algorithms that advertisers use to buy web space with an army of bots that simulated users “watching” as many as 300 million video ads a day.

They defrauded advertisers into paying up to $5 million a day for video ads that were never watched by real people. The elephant in the room is that if meaningful video metrics had been in place, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Shame on us as an industry.

But in some ways this hack may be a good thing, as it may finally force companies on both sides of the table to seriously re-evaluate how they look at video marketing.

Methbot, as it has been coined, has serious repercussions for brands and advertisers alike. Brands bought – and many will continue to buy – millions of dollars’ worth of media that they thought was being consumed by their target audiences, only to find out they were giving that money to criminals.

Ad verification and video marketing companies likewise now face an uphill battle. The scale of the fraud committed has dealt a severe blow to the brands’ confidence and may make it difficult to convince their customers that traditional video media buys are still effective.

This revelation might officially mark a turning point in our industry.

For Video Ads, Demand A Shift Toward Accountability

Simply putting an ad in front of someone isn’t enough anymore, for advertisers or their clients. Moving forward, it’s essential that brand advertisers move away from simply buying reach and instead tie their spend directly to sales. Advertisers need to be able to prove to their clients that these campaigns are positively affecting their bottom line.

When we start caring less about video views and more about sales, performance increases exponentially while radically reducing fraud. The recent Methbot news and the continued issues around Facebook and miscalculated metrics, ranging from video completion rates to average time watched, are issues derived from the broken attitude of an industry focusing on media and ad delivery metrics.

Engagement metrics can easily be hacked, miscalculated or faked in some way. As Methbot proves, clicks, engagement and video views can all be simulated. But when advertisers focus on ROI and ROAS, the brand is protected from phony reporting and measurement because it’s impossible to defraud actual sales.

Additionally, brand advertisers should insist on third-party measurement firms to validate sales. The select few media partners unaffected by the fraud are successful because they not only buy known individuals, they more importantly buy individuals who are likely to buy a product, not just anonymous demos or viewable impressions.

In other words, rather than showing video ads to a generic audience on brand-name publishers, which is an operation that is vulnerable to fraud and largely ineffective, advertisers should focus on showing relevant ads to very specific individuals they know.

A Nail In The Traditional Advertising Coffin

This may be the final nail in the traditional advertising coffin, as it shines a spotlight on the giant elephant in the room that for years advertisers hated talking about: Simple views don’t count for much anymore.

The age-old KPIs of impressions and reach don’t count for as much as they used to when we consider that the way that people, especially millennials, consume and act on targeted advertising has completely changed. Who cares if a million people see an ad if you can’t demonstrate that any of them converted into paying customers? It’s time to shift the KPI of ads to real ROI.

We’re still reeling a bit and that’s OK. Nobody feels good when they’ve been cheated. The only thing to do now is redouble our efforts to provide transparency to continue solidifying the efficiency of how the industry operates in the future.

Follow Eyeview (@EyeviewDigital) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

 

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