Banbury Howard

Working against ad fraud – Ten tips to counter this concerning trend

In the fast-paced, mercurial world of digital advertising, it can be difficult to measure audience engagement on any given campaign. What’s more, with the inexorable rise of ad fraud, many companies are struggling to verify who is viewing their ads – and whether they are even human.

In 2017, a WPP study predicted the devastating global impact of ad fraud – suggesting that it could cost the industry a staggering $16.4 billion every year. This is more than double the 2016 estimate of $7.2 billion, which was put forward by the Association of National Advertisers. This astonishing rise is due, at least in part, to a number of major brands losing nearly 20% of their total digital ad spend to fraud during that year. There is no doubt that this is a problem that needs to be addressed – quickly.


So, what is ad fraud?

Simply put, ad fraud is a type of scam in which advertisers are duped into paying for advertising space that hits the wrong audience, an artificial audience or no audience at all. This might be in the form of false web traffic, fake leads or misrepresented and ineffectual ad placement.

Ads involving video are particularly susceptible, since their CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) are much higher. In fact, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) suggests that one in four video ads are viewed by bots – a disturbing statistic as, no matter how creative or well-optimised a campaign, return on investment can only be maximised when ads are being viewed by humans.

These concerns are echoed across the industry and, in 2016, Bob Liodice, ANA President and CEO, said: “The level of criminal, non-human traffic literally robbing marketers’ brand-building investments is a travesty. The staggering financial losses and the lack of real, tangible progress at mitigating fraud highlights the importance of the industry’s Trustworthy Accountability Group in fighting this war.

“It also underscores the need for the entire marketing ecosystem to manage their media investments with far greater discipline and control against a backdrop of increasingly sophisticated fraudsters.”


How does ad fraud happen?

Today, the majority of advertisers outsource their digital campaigns using myriad technological systems. The online market is structured as a multi-layered system comprised largely of intermediaries, making it much easier for ad fraud to proliferate – oftentimes undetected.

Ad fraud has many different manifestations, including search ad fraud, click fraud, ad stacking, domain spoofing, and pixel stuffing. Of these, click fraud is the most common.

For example, Jenny is a YouTube Vlogger, with over 1 million subscribers to her channel. An advertising company, ‘BizCo’, feels it would benefit them greatly if they were to showcase a client’s ad before and after one of Jenny’s videos. For every click or lead that BizCo receives from Jenny’s video, Jenny will be paid an agreed amount.

So how does such an ostensibly smooth process end up going so wrong? Fraudsters can interfere by using malicious bots to automatically click the ad that appears. This creates the illusion that the ad is directing large volumes of traffic to BizCo’s website. Jenny still benefits, but the advertisers do not. Oblivious, they continue paying substantial fees for false hits and leads.

Regrettably, this type of scenario is all too prevalent. Only by increasing awareness, and taking preventative measures, can we hope to mitigate the situation.


Ten ways to work against ad fraudsters

While outsourcing can, clearly, be a much smarter way of working, decluttering the media supply chain allows us to gain a clear view of the tools, platforms and techniques that are necessary to detect and minimise fraudulent activity. Here are ten tips from the Banbury Howard team to help you start fighting ad fraud today:

1 Trust reputable sources only
Choose partners who demonstrate the highest integrity, sourcing traffic from reputable ad exchanges.

2 Don’t rely too heavily on automation
Select private marketplace companies offering high quality ad inventory, on trusted digital properties.

3 Insist on validation from third-party measurement services, accredited by MRC
Organisations such as Integral Ad Science will provide detailed performance reports.

4 Demand greater transparency
Dissect media spend raw data to find out exactly where your budgets are being spent.

5 Enlist the help of data scientists
A data scientist can assess large volumes of data and turn it into revenue.

6 Set up blacklists/whitelists for Postback Pixel Firing
Prevent fraudulent conversions by setting up predefined safe IPs.

7 Apply advanced targeting parameters
Reach your audience with greater precision – conversion rates should also be greater too.

8 Implement frequency capping
Limit the amount of impressions for a unique user to prevent clickbots racking up false hits.

9 Check for suspicious activity in the Click & Conversion report
Ensure that your campaign settings and targeting are running as expected.

10 Educate employees
Keep up to date with industry guidelines and initiatives.

As we can see, taking control is key to stopping ad fraudsters in their tracks, and success will, ultimately, hinge on the combined efforts of all industry players.