Focus on the Human Element to Fix Ad Fraud

Inplace #2

Recent headlines have forced advertisers and agencies to give ad verification a second look. With $16 billion set to be lost to fraud this year, it’s not surprising that marketers now want more reassurance that their digital media buys are actually being seen by their intended audience.

While it’s long overdue that marketers and their agencies are paying increased attention to where their dollars are being spent, I’m concerned that the debate is still too focused on just proving the viewability of campaigns, rather than taking a look at the entire ecosystem of traffic and clicks.

A successful online campaign goes well beyond ensuring an ad can be accessed and seen for the appropriate duration. However, many in our industry believe that is all that’s needed to guarantee that their advertising budgets are being well-spent. In reality, the issue a far more complex than that and, if ad fraud is not top of mind, your campaign and benchmarks of success are likely to be a waste of time.

It’s a challenge keeping up with the cyber-criminals behind ad fraud as their methods are constantly evolving. Fraudsters are currently able to wreak havoc on campaign results using the more than 30 classified categories of GIVT (general invalid traffic) and SIVT (sophisticated invalid traffic). But there are steps that can be taken to stop fraud before it starts.

Pieces of the Puzzle

For starters, focusing on viewability alone is just one small piece of the puzzle. It’s important to recognize that the problem is not so much about shady websites as it is the shady traffic visiting them. Our research has shown that up to 80% of ad fraud is hiding at the (mostly) un-reported user level. If the bad user traffic is removed, fraud can be reduced to less then 1-2%, not the 30-40% you find across the industry.

If we only require reporting of website scores (from verification tools + the suppliers themselves) and try to optimize campaigns on this ‘success’ metric, the campaign is being set up for failure from the get go. While there might be impressive cost per view figures using this approach, how can you be sure that it isn’t non-human traffic that is fuelling these numbers? Put another way, if you’re only concerned with the number of clicks, then you shouldn’t be surprised that the fraudsters have found ways to supply you with those clicks. It’s just that there isn’t a human finger behind it (or reading your ad and considering its contents).

We as an industry need to fundamentally change how traffic quality is measured. It has taken more than eight years to administer a Cost per View (CPV) metric, now it is about marketers pushing for adoption of a Cost per Human (CPH) benchmark. I say this half in jest but let’s face facts, the ad fraud threat will only grow in the coming years and with a focus on the human factor, we can force suppliers to prove that their targeting is reaching people rather than bots.

Taking this approach proves successful for marketers because it raises the brand effectiveness of their human targeting, and consequently the return on investment. It also ensures confidence with quality traffic from more trusted suppliers.

If we can expand the debate beyond viewability and increase understanding of where ad fraud begins, we have the chance to renew confidence in digital advertising. But if we continue to buy into the industry standard built on an ancient obsession with impressions and clicks, then the cyber-criminals will continue to run rings around us. It’s up to us to change the current conversation and make sure they don’t.