Fight ad fraud through innovation… just like the ancient Greeks
The ad industry needs its own Trojan horse to battle ad fraud. Columnist Merrily McGugan outlines three innovative techniques to help marketers win the fight.
Most people have heard of the Trojan War. But if you haven’t, the famous story surrounding the war goes something like this…
The Greeks attacked the ancient city of Troy, only to discover that the walls were so strong that the only hope for victory was to lay siege to the city and starve the inhabitants out.
But after 10 years of waiting, the Greeks realized their original strategy didn’t seem to be, well, working. They needed to innovate — fast — or else resign themselves to a shameful defeat.
Cue the entry of innovation in the form of the now-famous Trojan horse: a hollow wooden horse the Greeks constructed and gave the Trojans as a gift. Of course, soldiers had hidden inside, and when the Trojans brought the gift inside the walls, the Greeks gained entry into the city undetected. After a 10-year war, innovation delivered (in a single night) a complete and utter Greek victory.
Although ad fraud is technically also old news, it continues to make global headlines. Perhaps that’s because a year after the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and fraud detection firm White Ops published a joint report predicting that fraud would cost brands a whopping $6.3 billion in 2015, a second report has been released. Contrary to showing improvement, the report painted a dismal picture of the year ahead.
Ad fraud is slated to cost advertisers around the world $7.2 billion in 2016 — nearly a billion dollars more than in 2015. Like the ancient Greeks, ad fraud is laying siege to the industry and is slowly bleeding us all dry.
Wars, fraud-fighting tools and techniques all share something in common: They’re easier to discuss than to oversee and implement successfully. But the continued presence of rampant ad fraud among exchanges and publishers alike indicates that existing market solutions are not robust enough to fend off fraudsters.
A Trojan horse to fight ad fraud
A need exists for a solution that can tackle our industry’s ad fraud problem in a different, entirely new way — just like the Greeks’ innovative Trojan horse.
The fight against ad fraud need not begin with traditional ad blockers, fraud detection/prevention software, or even stringent viewability requirements. Video is particularly susceptible to fraudulent activity — including both bot fraud and site fraud — in part because the format is attracting accelerating levels of investment from advertisers.
Given enough time or financial incentive, hackers and fraudsters can infiltrate into practically anything and find a way to monetize something. Fraudsters follow the money, and in this scenario, video represents a textbook case of supply and demand.
The demand comes from advertisers pursuing premium experiences, and the supply is being met by fraudsters eager to stow away in the horse and wreak havoc on the wealthy citizens inside the gates.
Innovation may be just the counteroffensive needed to stem the unrelenting attacks on advertiser wallets. Below are three innovative approaches marketers should consider in the war against fraud in 2016. Zero siege towers required.
1. Rethink key marketing metrics
Could combating fraud possibly be as easy as rejiggering desired outcomes and success metrics to focus on non-impression-based KPIs (key performance indicators)?
If marketers cease to pay a premium for clicks and impressions — the currency of today’s fraudsters — and instead focus on more meaningful KPIs that are also less susceptible to fraud, fraudsters will have their legs cut out from under them.
And while agencies and tech partners will be empowered to deliver a whole new category of meaningful campaign success, fraudsters will be left scrambling to develop new ways of replicating customer actions.
De-incentivizing clicks and impression counts and boosting the importance of higher-value actions, such as completed demo requests or confirmed offline sales, shift the importance away from easier-to-game metrics.
2. Refresh existing marketing plans
VAST 4.0, HTML5, Digital Video Rising Star ad units… New ad unit types and formats continue to be released at an ever-accelerating pace. New units with advanced configurations and specifications add a layer of complexity to the fraud game and may temporarily outwit fraudsters until they catch on and catch up.
Industry executives say that new channels such as addressable or connected television are proven to be fraud-free. Innovative marketers who are willing to shift dollars into relatively nascent channels may feel as though they are taking a risk but in fact are dramatically reducing their exposure to fraud in the process.
3. Remember that proactivity, not patience, wins the war
Advertisers often plan their strategy roadmaps 12 to 24 months out. But if a large organization that spends millions annually knows precisely where its budget is headed months in advance, fraudsters probably do, too.
The citizens of Troy expected a traditional, continued siege. They got a Trojan horse full of Greek warriors instead.
Instead of simply hoping for an end to the current ad fraud siege, start thinking about which tools, partners, technology or decoys will be needed to start combating potential future fraud now.
Advertisers looking to combat fraud effectively need to move beyond current industry efforts toward true innovation. They should form a “fraud squad” that stands together to make the bold statement that the ecosystem needs to find a way to stop fraud, or budget will be moved elsewhere. In this way, advertisers will galvanize agencies, associations and technology partners to get behind them and find a way to solve a problem that traditional methods haven’t yet cracked.
If all else fails, advertisers should put their money where their mouths are and back only DSPs (demand-side platforms) and other partners who are investing in rigorous quality guarantees. After all, someone has to win the war against fraud.