Grappling With Ad Fraud And Its Nuances
Charles Dickens once penned the now famous line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." I am going to counter that with a quote from Art Buchwald, "Whether it's the best of times or the worst of times, it's the only time we've got." I bring this up while trying to grapple with advertising and the best/worst of times we now find ourselves in.
Here is an open question for us all. In an environment of unlimited content, there is also by default unlimited advertising. What is the revenue destiny of unlimited ads and unlimited content? Do you know the answer?
It's obvious that there is now more complexity going on in our industry than at any other time in media's long history. So much that it is hard to keep up with the constant changes on any meaningful level. Among those changes ad fraud is one of the hottest of topics. What does ad fraud really mean other than the theft of something valuable? What are the far-reaching parameters of ad fraud? What do they include?
Perhaps the obvious place to start is a recent news release from the Association of National Advertisers which proudly boasted that ad fraud will drop 10% this year from $7.2 billion to about $6.5 billion. To that I suggest that all quantifying statements on this topic are at best a guess and at worst an additional fraud.
Ad fraud is not yet a trackable science. There is no benchmark from which to make any kind of all conclusive declarative statement, least of all that it is going down. If there is a known fact anywhere here, it is that the fraudsters are and always have been many steps ahead of the supposed "rule makers." The problem is that you can't track by any means what you don't know. So, any statement that ad fraud is going down is patently absurd. While it might be possible to define in broad terms what ad fraud is, it isn't possible to quantify it now.
Is ad fraud about robots (bots) pretending to be humans clicking on ads?
Is it about viewability where ads that were never seen are paid for?
Does ad fraud include the use of ad blockers?
Is it about Google apps, several of known one's taken down, that carry illegitimate ad clicking functionality and produce at least 1 billion fraudulent ad impressions per minute?
Is it about the use of sourced traffic where publishers acquire more visitors to their sites through third parties, which is claimed by some to be about 52% bots?
Is it about the millions of fake websites that hackers create and then sell ad space on?
Lastly I ask innocently, how isn't it ad fraud when the accepted standards for advertising measurement is that an online ad can be counted as "in view" if 50% of its pixels are viewable for one second by a human, or bot?
Let's review. In the simplest of terms hackers create bots to exploit the automatic, non-human, programmatic paid ad system and then steal billions of dollars from businesses around the world. And there is no reasonable way to quantify any of this fraud with science, with algorithms, or any biased business association calculation.
I want to briefly extend this conversation about ad fraud to some thoughts on social media because there are billions of ad/marketing dollars being spent there, too. Are dollars being spent on social media part of ad fraud? No, not directly. But social media is part of the digital media ecosystem. And there, too, are misunderstandings and confusion about dollars spent.
In a recent study by Duke University, the American Marketing Association, and Deloitte, over 88% of senior marketers surveyed said they could find no measurable impact from social marketing. So, why does it still happen in such abundance? If it's not fraud, does that leave us with incompetence?
Maybe this whole conversation falls into an arena of total incompetence on an industrial scale. How else does an industry brag that we are down to only $6.5 billion in ad fraud?
What I am very sure of is that five years from now when we look back at how this era of big ad data evolved, we will be stunned how amazingly uninformed we used to be when we made important decisions.
Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group (BoSacks.com). He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (Media-Ideas.net), and publisher and editor of a daily international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.