Rick Mulia
May 26, 2017

Fighting the digital advertising criminals

Rick Mulia at Rubicon Project lays out the critical issue that is ad fraud, and the promising moves being made across the industry to tackle it.

Rick Mulia
Rick Mulia

A recent study by the Association of National Advertisers estimated that advertisers could potentially waste US$7.2 billion this year on nonhuman traffic to ads – or in plain English – on the delivery of ads no one will ever see. The primary vehicle for ad fraud is automated software programs known as bots who deliver fraudulent impressions. The issues these bots cause is compounded by the fact that genuine users may have no idea their browsers have delivered ads, since the web pages can be loaded in the background without them noticing. That means they have no chance of seeing the ads – or those ads having any impact for advertisers.

It’s a complex issue on its own, but what many in our industry don’t seem to realise is that ad fraud can also impact every other performance and effectiveness metric our industry uses to demonstrate success. ComScore recently released a report: “Non-Human Traffic: Why it Matters and Why You Should Care”. It’s worth a read.

Recently I spoke on a panel at the IAB Programmatic Summit about the need to be 100 percent committed to cleaning up the digital advertising industry with the aim of minimising fraudulent activity.  A tall order you might say, but every dollar spent on a fraudulent ad is a dollar that is stolen from marketers’ already over-stretched budgets. It is in our collective best interest as an industry to all be clean and create an adaptive ecosystem that will respond quickly to fraudulent activity.

A cross-industry initiative set out to stamp out ad fraud ‘Certified Against Fraud’ is showing promise to reach this common goal. Set up by the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), this programme strives to fight criminal activity in the digital advertising supply chain, and in particular digital ad fraud. Under the programme, TAG rewards ad buyers, sellers and intermediaries who comply with a rigorous set of guidelines with a “Certified Against Fraud” seal of approval, recognising their commitment to protect those in the industry against fraud.

These measures are designed to help protect us against those who want to abuse the digital ad industry, by reducing marketers’ ability to reach their intended targets, diminishing the effectiveness of their campaigns and ultimately hurting ROI.

Most of the major advertising agencies have been instrumental in supporting anti-fraud efforts to protect their clients’ investments. They now include a common sense requirement in vendor agreements that their digital advertising partner also has the TAG anti-fraud seal. Everyone who plays a relevant role in digital advertising should apply for this seal.

By establishing transparent quality systems and processes we will help block billions of bad ad impressions from ever entering the marketplace.  Partnering and working closely with providers focused on cyber-security services, such as WhiteOps, will also be important in tackling the issue of fraud and non-human traffic from all angles and viewpoints.

We are also keen supporters of third party validation, which is why Rubicon Project partnered with Integral Ad Science to provide advertisers with reputable, third-party viewability scores for display and video advertising. The world’s largest advertisers have been outspoken of late about transparency in the digital media supply chain, and partnerships of this kind bring valuable, trustworthy data to advertisers seeking increased transparency and effectiveness throughout the planning, buying, measurement and attribution funnel.

Make no mistake, there is an arms race underway between those who are truly committed to fighting ad fraud and those who want to profit from it. Now that we have a clear and simple way to identify those in the industry who are truly committed to fighting fraud, marketers know who they can trust to deliver value and ROI. Our job is to educate advertisers, publishers, and agencies on the technical aspects of fighting digital ad fraud so we can improve the effectiveness of digital advertising for the good of the industry.

Rick Mulia is managing director, JAPAC, at Rubicon Project

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