As published in Ad Age
Unless you have been living under a digital rock, the mounting outrage about fake impressions is quickening, commensurate with a deepening understanding of ad tech fraud among advertisers. Recently, Forrester confirmed advertisers’ suspiscions in a study titled “The End of Advertising As We Know It.” In it, the analyst firm argues the current backlash against major publishers and ad networks, including Google and Facebook, comes “as advertisers re-examine their digital spend and demand more transparency.”
This has been a long time coming, and what follows is clear: advertisers must confront the issue of fraud from all angles — the buy side and the sell side. This must also include a clear-headed assessment of traffic verification services delivered by outside companies.
An honest look at traffic verification practices reveals a deeply disturbing conflict of interest, in that their business model rests entirely on scoring as many impressions as possible as either “good” or “bad.” In other words, these verification companies are incentivized to keep impression volumes up — not to solve the underlying fraud issues, which would naturally reduce the number of impressions scored.
The disconnect is revealed in recent assessments by a traffic verifers that 9% of ads served through programmatic tech are fradulent. For many advertisers, this understates the problem, especially when independent auditing experts like Dr. Augustine Fou, in analyzing advertiser campaigns, believe that fully 90% of impressions marked as “good” are, in fact, “non-human.“
No doubt there are well-intentioned folks at these companies, but their tonnage business model means they have no incentive to shut off the fraud traffic hose at all, thus institutionalizing the fraud. To repair the trust gap, it is up to all of us — advertisers, agencies and technology ventures — to take clear actions that can change the course of our business, and fast.
1. Focus on verification services that measure both humans and bots, and also when/what the portion of data that is not unmeasurable. These services should also provide detailed data so clients can verify and understand the results (not a typical practice today).
2. Explore newer “people-based marketing” initiatives that ensure universal identifiers like the consortium just launched with Appnexus, Media Math and Live Ramp. This type of collaborative effort can go far to detect fraud in digital media.
3. Shift ad budgets to newer, fully transparent and auditable media platforms, such as programmatic content marketing, a bright spot in ad tech. When correctly done, programmatic content marketing delivers KPIs that can be achieved only with authentic audiences.
4. Adopt new metrics and buying models that reward agencies to buy fewer impressions but with higher quality. These metrics should include rich data insights that digital and programmatic buying delivers. By changing incentives, agencies and tech firms can be weaned away from the reliance on tonnage for compensation.
The DNA of verification companies requires lots of lots of impressions to be scored, even though most of those impressions should not even exist — much less be scored! This is the heart of the problem, which can be rectified if the focus for everyone pivots to verifying real audiences at much lower volumes and moving away from trying to catch a lot of bad traffic. With this shift, we can start to stabilize the newer paradigm of transparency in the digital world.