How brands can help in the war against ad fraud

Adtech can win the ad fraud battle — but with brands’ help, they can win the war too.

By Paul Wright, CEO at iotec

Planning a digital advertising campaign is no mean feat. As a brand there are so many factors to consider, from selecting partners and platforms through to setting metrics and briefing designers. And then there’s budget planning and sign-off — something that, even if you hold the purse-strings, can be a painstaking task. All of which makes this fact so hard to swallow: for every $3 you spend, $1 will go to fraudsters.

It’s staggering to think that a $209bn industry is so rife with fraud and unethical practices. Yet, that is the reality which comes hand in hand with being an ecosystem built upon the internet — for which more than half of all traffic is now non-human (or ‘bots’). It’s an issue that is increasingly recognised across the industry; ad fraud and ad misplacement are now key concerns for CMOs, according to a recent CMO Council report.

Progress has certainly been made. More sophisticated use of machine learning in programmatic campaigns, along with initiatives like ‘ads.txt’, were a good start. And of course, like a thousand other problems, some suggest blockchain could play a positive role in the future. But until a wholesale solution is found, fraud will find a way — especially if the problem is left up to adtech suppliers and self regulation.

That’s where brands come in. While smarter tech might help us start winning the battle against ad fraud, the brand advertiser has a critical role to play. And with these six simple steps, they could make all the difference and help adtech win the war against ad fraud for good.

1. Check the creds

Set yourself a higher standard, and others will follow. For example in the UK : only work with companies audited by JICWEBS DTSG compliance for brand safety and JICWEBS Ad Fraud compliance for ad fraud.

As an advertiser, it’s in your own interest to work with trustworthy partners and run campaigns based on reliable data — otherwise, how can you or the rest of your organisation really see the full value of great advertising?

2. Buy ads.txt inventory

The Interactive Advertising Bureau introduced ads.txt as a tool designed to clean up the programmatic advertising supply chain, by helping ad exchanges and buyers avoid illegitimate sellers and helping publishers prevent unauthorised inventory sales.

Adoption will be a gradual process — but as the budget holder you have a tremendous amount of pulling power. Don’t let the rest of your supply chain skirt around the issue: when possible, insist on buying ads.txt certified inventory and have that inventory independently verified by a third party. Until advertisers across the board care about ads.txt, it won’t be seen as an imperative by all publishers.

3. Prioritise brand safety

Brand safety has many interpretations, but in the context of digital media a key point is placement: are you aware and confident of where your ads will appear, and that they will not display alongside content which will be damaging to the brand’s reputation?

It’s up to you to take the lead on this issue. Become an expert on placement and any other issues that might put your brand at risk, then educate your internal stakeholders and hold your supply chain accountable. What blacklist/whitelist approach do you have? What system do you want to use for verification?

I would always recommend clients seek independent assessment of their programmatic media cost, performance and spend efficiency to give an added level of oversight and trust in the digital media supply chain that verifies the impressions being bought are brand safe. AD/FIN’s AD:BOX will securely collect campaign log level data which can then be used to conduct independent analysis at any time — including deep analysis of data in order to see a complete picture of working and non-working programmatic spend, as well as intelligence that can be used for trading optimisations and media cost benchmarking.

4. Interrogate your supply chain

Marketers have the right to understand how their money is spent. They deserve to know what media or data they are buying and pay a fair price for it. They should work with suppliers and partners who respect this principle and enforce it up and down their own value chains.

Where is the inventory you are buying coming from? And what do you know about those suppliers? What is their approach for fraud? Do they compensate you for fraudulent inventory? These are some of the questions you should be asking in order to hold the different parties accountable.

If answers to these questions can’t be provided, then you should be wary of those who claim to add value without providing evidence. Don’t be afraid to discuss with your service providers how they and their downstream suppliers make money.

5. Take a ‘fair trading’ approach
As I outlined in another recent post, brands can play a key role by creating and instilling a more ethical adtech approach. Put a rigorous process in place for selecting new suppliers, with decisions based on merit through a tender or RFI process.

6. Implement consumer privacy controls
Finally, put data processing agreements in place with partners and ensure that you only collect agreed data. It’s also important to include an option to opt-out of tracking for consumers.

It’s fair to say that ad fraud will be around for some time yet; predictions suggest it could cost marketers billions more in the coming years. But there can be no doubt that brands have a key role to play. These six starting steps will go a long way to protecting both your brand and your customers — and might just help the rest of the digital media supply chain win the war against ad fraud for good.