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Best Practices for Preventing Ad Fraud

5 MINUTE READ | October 10, 2017

Best Practices for Preventing Ad Fraud

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Caitlin Meroney

Caitlin Meroney has written this article. More details coming soon.

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Derek Mireles

Derek Mireles has written this article. More details coming soon.

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Ashley McMahan

Ashley McMahan has written this article. More details coming soon.

As the programmatic industry continues to innovate new tactics and technologies, so do hackers.  With digital advertising becoming a larger part of the marketing mix for brands, criminals are finding new ways to illegally profit on this growing market and have done so through ad fraud.  According to IAS, ad fraud costs the industry more than $8.2 billion a year in the U.S. alone. With ad fraud becoming more sophisticated over time, it’s crucial for marketers to understand the impact ad fraud has on their business and the steps to prevent it.

So what is ad fraud? Ad fraud is the utilization of sophisticated software to trick advertisers into paying for non-human traffic or fake media.  While ad fraud is used in many ways across different channels, the main culprit is bot traffic.

  • Bot Traffic: A hacker can run software that sends out “bots” to perform tasks such as clicking on ads, page views or complete a form at a nonhuman rate.  Doing so means that advertisers and publishers are paying for traffic that provides no actual revenue to them and thus wasting media dollars.

As we near Holiday season, it’s important for agencies and brands alike to be aware of surrounding issues to better prepare themselves for future campaigns.

The problem has been brewing for a few years now, but 2017 has been the year where top brands have decided enough is enough. In January, Proctor & Gamble caused quite a stir when they told agencies to either clean up their buys to meet new standards for viewability, fraud prevention, and third-party verification or they’d be cut off.

As the nation’s top ad spender, P&G has made it their mission to use their weight to drive the industry toward adopting better quality control standards. While various platforms and vendors struggle to meet the new requirements, P&G has followed through on their ultimatum by cutting over $100 million from their quarterly ad spend due to concerns over fraudulent traffic and brand safety.

Ever since P&G decided to put its money where its mouth is, media platforms have taken notice. Even the big boys like Google and Facebook are not immune. In August, the issue was once again thrust into the spotlight when Google admitted that they would be issuing refunds after discovering an advanced ad fraud scheme affecting primarily video inventory from Q2 of this year. Advertisers had unknowingly purchased the fraudulent traffic on their DoubleClick Bid Manager platform. This particular bot utilized extremely advanced technology that made it next to impossible to detect and up to that point had never been seen before by most 3rd party ad verification/fraud detection partners.

P&G followed through on their ultimatum by cutting $100 million due to concerns over fraudulent traffic and brand safety. 

Uber has taken its fight against ad fraud one step further by filing suit with its mobile agency over tens of millions of dollars lost in wasteful ad spend. Uber alleges that the money was “squandered” by purchasing non-viewable ads placed on non-existent sites.

So what are the next steps? How can agencies ensure your media dollars aren’t going to waste and putting money right into these fraudsters’ pockets? Honesty and transparency. There are plenty of ways to execute programmatic media within the space. However, there are very few partners and agencies alike, that are willing to be upfront about all fees, margins, and campaign management. Brand safety measures will differ from brand to brand depending on sensitivity around certain topics. It’s best to also have a contingency crisis plan in place to implement when terrorist attacks or sensitive social topics occur. Additionally, agencies should be sharing their best practices when onboarding new brands and including any optimizations made within campaigns in weekly reporting write-ups.

PMG best practices include:

  • Agency-wide + advertiser specific site and keyword blocklists

  • Leverage third-party category tools to exclude undesirable content relevant to each advertiser

    • Web crawlers, data centers

  • Block times of day that have increased bot traffic

  • Utilize a third party verification partner – IAS, DV, MOAT

  • Regularly making site and keyword optimizations for regularly refreshed advertiser specific blocklists

  • Frequency caps at the advertiser/campaign level

In order to be a transparent partner, all discussions must truly be honest to eliminate any underlying mistrust between the agency and the partner. At PMG, all margins and fees are disclosed not just within initial SOW contracts, but in every weekly report, campaign wrap up report, and QBR presentation. This allows the brand to see where true media spend is being allocated per channel, as well as with fees baked in thereafter.

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Fees are taken before a single dollar has been spent, and never added within bidding technologies to ensure there is no double dipping. Being this open with a brand allows for a more honest and relatable conversation when it comes to strategy and budget weight. It avoids the underlying thought of “Well, yeah sure you want X more dollars but how much is that really going into your own pocket?” And gives PMG the opportunity to have a seat at the table with the brands, rather than the order taker. This, among relationship building and the thoroughness of campaign management, become the secret sauce that allows PMG to boast a 90% client retention rate for the last six years.

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