THE DIGITAL ADVERTISING INDUSTRY HAS A BOT ADDICTION

Fraud in digital video advertising is a well-known issue, in constant evolution that has been plaguing the business for several years.

Views, or “ad impressions” are the currency of the digital video advertisement market constituting a substantial chunk of company’s advertising budgets. Impressions are sold, as packages ranging from thousands to millions, as “website traffic”.

Companies who buy traffic believe they are purchasing genuine human views; but during recent years it has become clear that more often than not this is not the case.

Being relatively new- and still largely unregulated- the traffic market has unwittingly invited in an array of increasingly sophisticated scams, loopholes and tricks that have polluted the ecosystem to breaking point.

Several researches have uncovered many of those gimmicks. The most popular remain automated bot views-programmed to mimic specific and highly desirable consumers’ behaviour that swell the overall viewing scores and prompt targeted ads hoping to convince the perspective buyer (in reality just a bot) to make the purchase- and browser hijacks- malwares embedded into an ad placed in a website, that take over the computer and interact with the ads without the users ever actually seeing it.

Other reported tricks of the trade include “pixel stuffing,” — where ads are crammed into a indiscernible 1 x 1 pixel square, but still counted as multiple impressions- and “ghost websites”- webpages with non-relevant content, often cloned from popular pages solely created with the aim of directing botnets towards them and generate ad impressions which are then sold to by advertisers as genuine views.

It seems that the possibility are endless.

The numbers are mind- boggling: it’s been reposted by comScore that 54% of ad impressions (and others have reported up to 92%) were never shown to a human visitor. This counts for over $7billion dollars of advertiser’s money.

And companies have starting to realize that online advertising in its current form does not deliver. As Ron Amram, Media Director at Heinken, put it (when interviewed by Bloomberg Business) companies are ” just paying for the ad to be served, and there’s no guarantee who will see it, or whether a human will see it at all”.

It seems that both the big players and the rogue cowboys are cashing in on this. The most famous example so far as been the Rocket Fuel case- whose dirty laundry was fully exposed by FT in 2014, as they published their claim that 57% of the ads they ran for a Mercedes campaign were viewed by bot rather than humans.

However, this is the tip of the iceberg. Videoflare — a London-based known player in the bubbling ad tech market- also has been implied in claims of utilizing malware code in users’ browsers thus ballooning its viewing reports and exponentially boost their revenues.

Several companies are coming up with clever tools to counter- attack the trend of the bot views (WhiteOps to name one) but the industry needs a all round regulations to protects all players involved.