Tag Archives: ad fraud

Time for Advertisers to Reach Out to the Regulators

26 Oct

Like many business segments, the ad industry has never been one to welcome government involvement when it comes to policing itself, and perhaps rightly so. That said, now may be the time to embrace the regulators.

Why? Simply put, digital advertising fraud is out-of-control. In a recent article in Campaign U.S. author Alison Weissbrot shared the results of a recent study by ad verification company Cheq and Professor Roberto Cavazos of the University of Baltimore suggesting that U.S. advertisers will lose $35.0 billion to ad fraud in 2020. In a sector that represents $333.0 billion in annual spend this means that ten cents of every dollar spent by digital advertisers is siphoned off the top by fraudsters. For perspective, the author cites the fact that this level of fraud is greater than that impacting the $3.32 trillion credit card industry. And the problem is not limited to the U.S. alone. Consider the finding from Juniper Research’s 2019 report on advertising fraud, which indicated that globally lost $42.0 billion to digital ad fraud last year.

Renowned fraud investigator, Dr. Augustine Fou once commented that, “ad fraud is more lucrative than tax fraud, counterfeiting goods or being a Somali pirate.” Adding credence to the increasing role of organized crime and criminal nation states in digital ad fraud, The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) recently stated that “fraudulent internet advertising schemes will become the second-largest market for criminal organizations.”

For all of its well-intended efforts, the advertising industry has been unable to effectively counter this growing threat. Thus, it may be time for The World Federation of Advertisers, the Association of National Advertisers, the 4A’s, the IAB and their members to reach out to lawmakers and regulators to join in a coordinated effort to uncover ad fraud at its root and to develop more effective means of enforcement to both deter and punish the criminal organizations perpetrating the fraud. The 18thcentury French social commentator, Montesquieu once said that; “there are means to prevent crime – its punishment.” Combining the expertise of the ad industry with the regulatory and enforcement capabilities of lawmakers makes good sense.

The problem of ad fraud is not abating. With the expanded use of technologies such as programmatic buying and artificial intelligence and the complex, often non-transparent nature of the advertising supply chain, the risk of fraud remains high, threatening not only digital ad spend but emerging media sectors such as mobile and connected television as well. 

When it Comes to Programmatic Digital the “Same-Old, Same-Old” Isn’t Working

26 Feb

EinsteinMedia’s murky supply chain, wrought by fraud and congested with too many intermediaries between advertisers and publishers, continues to serve up challenges for digital media advertisers.

The fraudsters at it again with a devious approach to separating advertisers from their media spend. As if digital ad fraud practices including fake devices, fake locations, fake impressions and fake consent strings weren’t enough, the media industry now has to deal with a sophisticated domain spoofing bot.

According to an article in The Drum, fraudsters have now launched bot networks to evade ads.text protections, which was introduced by the IAB to allow publishers to “list authorized sellers” of their inventory. Both DoubleVerify and Integrated Ad Science (IAS) have unearthed fraudulent activity using 404bots, which employ domain spoofing techniques that misrepresent URLs, making buyers “believe that they are getting valid inventory, when in fact it does not exist.” IAS suggests that more than 1.5 billion ads have been impacted since September of 2019.

When will it end? Likely never. Ad fraud is to lucrative and too difficult to detect, creating a literal gold mine for fraudsters. In fact, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) estimates that “over the next 10 years, the global cost of ad fraud is projected to rise to $50 billion. The best defense for advertisers according to Shawn Lim, author of the aforementioned article, is “Brands and publishers need to work with transparent supply chains, reputable supply partners, and know what ads are appearing – and where.”

If you’re an advertiser, you would be right to pose the question; “Who has my back?” For all of the money invested by digital advertisers in specialist agency support, fraud detection services and brand safety tools, who is safeguard their funds? It seems as though the only thing advertisers have to show, for the promise of efficiency that was ushered in by programmatic digital media, is suppressed working media ratios.

The risks continue to mount as the amount spent on digital media in the U.S. is approximately $79 billion, with 85% of the total transacted programmatically (source: Interactive Advertising Bureau, February 2020). eMarketer estimates that advertisers spent 38% of their non-social programmatic display budgets on programmatic fees in 2019, a 20% increase over the prior year.

As one example of the congested digital media ecosystem, Danny Khatib, CEO of Granite Media wrote an excellent article in AdExchanger illustrating the inefficiency of the programmatic digital media supply-chain. Entitled; “Can We Please Reduce This Link In The Programmatic Chain Already?” the article advocates for consolidation between the DSPs and SSPs, long thought to function respectively as buyer and seller advocates, with “each taking a 15-20% cut and confusing the heck out of the web ecosystem in the process.” According to Mr. Khatib, “there really shouldn’t be a traditional SSP business separate from a DSP business – that distinction no longer makes sense, if it ever did.”

No wonder advertisers have stepped up compliance and performance audits of their suppliers and have heartily begun to embrace supply-chain optimization. The madness has to end and fueling investments in specialist agencies and adtech solutions is simply not achieving the desired result.

 “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”          

~Albert Einstein

 

Haven’t We Seen This Picture Before?

20 Dec

Frame movie, clapperboard blue neon icon. Simple thin line, outline vector of cinema icons for ui and ux, website or mobile applicationAs you are likely aware, over-the-top (OTT) television expenditures are rising incredibly fast. According to Magna Global, OTT grew at a rate of 39% this year with advertisers spending $3.2 billion in this sector of the TV marketplace. Further, Magna is projecting spend levels of $5.0 billion in 2020.

As consumer demand for viewing video content via the internet on devices such as smart TVs, gaming consoles, laptops, tablets and smart phones continues to escalate, advertisers are jumping at the opportunity to reach these so called “cord cutters.” However, while advertising demand is strong the supply of OTT impressions or inventory is limited.

This scenario has created an opportunity for fraudsters that attempt to fool advertisers into buying OTT inventory that doesn’t actually exist. eMarketer estimated that in 2018 fully 1 out of 5 OTT impressions were invalid due to “a combination of fraud and ad serving measurement errors.” Compounding this issue is the fact that approximately 40% of OTT ad impressions are served via server-side ad insertion (source: AdLedger, 2019) thus rendering traditional fraud detection services, which rely on Java script, ineffective.

One cannot help but view this scenario and its similarities to the challenges and risks associated with programmatic digital media and real-time bidding. Sadly, the ad industry’s demonstrated willingness to latch on to “shiny new objects” comes with real risks and at a significant cost. Worse, once the proverbial genie is out of the bottle, the industry has demonstrated an inability to marshal its resources in a timely, efficient manner to create standardized measurement and tracking solutions to combat fraud and safeguard advertiser funds.

And, as with the meteoric growth of digital advertising, advertisers are all too willing to jump in, versus testing the waters or forgoing investing in these emerging channels while fraud prevention controls are introduced, tested and rolled out. The net result is that advertisers must spend more money spent on ad tech, fraud detection and viewability services, while the downward pressure on working media dollars multiplies.

Earlier this spring, Forbes published an article on ad fraud and the OTT market, in which it interviewed Adam Helfgott, CEO of MadHive. Mr. Helfgott identified a range of ways in which OTT ad fraud can manifest itself. These included fraudulent arbitragers misrepresenting where an advertiser’s impressions actually ran and app-based or device-based fraud which report uncharacteristically high activity levels, not reflective of human consumption patterns.

While Mr. Helfgott believes that OTT ad fraud can be combatted using blockchain-based technology, he suggested that the first step in the process is for industry stakeholders to acknowledge that OTT ad fraud can and is occurring. That said, it is scary to think that there are those who would believe otherwise.

If knowledge truly is the key to success, then perhaps the ad industry would benefit from Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s words of wisdom:

“Knowledge is in the end is based on acknowledgement.”

Time for a Financial Review?

26 Jul

knowledge and ignorance puzzle pieces signdreamstime_xs_53502419

Really?

No triple bid.

No staffing plan.

No reconciliation.

Fixed fee

100% advanced billings.

Slow job cost reconciliation.

Poor Agreement language.

Old Agreement.

No examples / templates.

No breakout of retainer vs. out-of-scope fees.

No agency reporting of costs / hours.

Programmatic supply chain not understood.

Use of in-house agency services, no rate sheet.

Use of in-house agency services, not reconciled.

Freelance billed at full retainer rate.

Interns billed at full retainer rate.

Credits held.

Low Full Time Equivalent basis.

High Rate per hour.  No fee detail.  Non arms-length use of affiliate.

Mark-up applied.

Float.  Kick-back.  Favored expensive suppliers.

Duplicate charges.

Time reported doesn’t match time system.

Overpayments.

Luxurious Travel.

Gifts.

That’s the short list.

Don’t let this happen to your critical marketing dollars.

Update and lock down financial terms in Agreement.

Tighten up definitions.

Enhance Agency reporting required.

Perform routine spot checks.

Follow the money to the ultimate end user.

Vet Agreement with ANA template.

Ask the Experts.

Maintain consistence of control and visibility across the Marketing supplier network.

Maintain trust but validate Agency financial activity.

Strengthen the Agency relationship through understanding and alignment.

Really.

 

Come On in, the Water’s All Right

17 Jan

jawsOver the last several weeks, there have been many pronouncements from ad tech providers, publishers and agencies that ad fraud and transparency concerns, which have beset advertisers for the last several years, have largely been addressed and that it is safe for advertisers to resume their programmatic digital real-time bidding (RBT) media activities.

What? Sounds a bit like the movie Jaws where a profit minded Mayor, Larry Vaughn attempts to convince Sheriff Brody to keep the beaches of Amity Island open for the 4th of July holiday, when tourists will flock to the Island, driving tourism revenues.

Granted, there have been positive developments including the efforts of the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), the adoption of Ads.txt, the implementation of fraud solutions by ad tech providers and agencies and the involvement of the FBI, which has successfully busted a number of email, digital and cyber fraud operations over the course of the last year.

However, it would be a mistake for advertisers to let their guards down and assume that ad fraud has been solved and non-transparent practices have been cleaned up. Sadly, invalid, unviewable and non-human traffic continues to plague the industry and requires continued vigilance.

Honest, in-depth conversations between advertisers, their agencies and ad tech vendors should be ramped up before advertisers eschew the safety of private marketplaces (i.e. programmatic direct, premium, reserved, private auctions) to reallocate funds to RTB. Discussion topics should include, but not be limited to:

  • Determine whether or not the agency and ad tech vendors are using TAG Certified channels.
  • Assess if these same entities are screening programmatic domains to eliminate those that have not yet adopted Ads.txt from consideration.
  • Scrutinize the efficacy of the fraud and brand safety software solutions being deployed on the dvertiser’s behalf.
  • Confirm whether the advertiser is being provided a direct line of sight into the fees being charged for data, technology, and campaign management for both the demand and sell side of the ledger.
  • Verify whether the agency and ad tech verification vendors are examining 100% of the advertiser’s programmatic impressions for suspicious activity or whether they are instead sampling.
  • Check if agency and ad tech vendors are retaining log level files and if so, substantiate they will make them available to the advertiser or their auditor.
  • Assess how the agency and or ad tech vendors identify platform auction methodologies (i.e. second-price, first-price, header bidding) and adapt their bid strategies to optimize the advertiser’s investment.

We would counsel that it should be the results and learnings from these conversations, rather than self-serving proclamations, that the “water is all right” that influences an advertiser’s decision as to whether and when to jump back into the RTB marketplace. In the words of the Roman writer Publilius Syrus:

“It is a good thing to learn caution from the misfortunes of others.”

 

4 Questions That Can Impact Your Digital Buys

15 Nov

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According to eMarketer, in 2017 advertisers will spend 38.3% of their ad budgets on digital media – in excess of $223 billion on a worldwide basis. Yet, in spite of the significant share-of-wallet represented by digital media, there is generally little introspection on the part of the advertiser.

Looking beyond the “Big 3” [ad fraud, safe brand environment and viewability concerns], the lack of introspection begins much closer to home. Simply, in our experience, client-agency Agreements do not adequately address digital media planning / placement roles, responsibilities, accountability or remuneration details.

Standard media Agreement language does not adequately cover digital media needs – specific rules and financial models need to be included in Agreement language that covering each potential intermediary involved in the buy process and to guarantee transparent reporting is provided to the advertiser. It is our experience that Agreement language gaps related to “controls” can be much costlier to advertisers than the aggregate negative impact of the Big 3.

And, regardless of Agreement language completeness, a compounding factor is that too few advertisers monitor their agencies compliance to these very important Agreement requirements.

To assess whether or not your organization is at risk, consider the following four questions:

  1. Can you identify each related parties or affiliate that your ad agency has deployed on your business to manage your digital spend?
  2. Does your Agreement include comprehensive compensation terms pertaining to related parties, affiliates and third-party intermediaries, that handle your digital ad spend?
  3. Is your agency acting as a Principal when buying any of your digital media?
  4. What line of sight do you have into your ACTUAL media placements and costs?

If you answered “No” to any of the questions, then there is a high likelihood that your digital media budget is not even close to being optimized. Why? Because the percentage of your digital media spend that pays for actual media is likely much lower than it should be, which is detrimental to the goal of effectively using media to drive brand growth.

Dollars that marketers are investing to drive demand are simply not making their way to the marketplace. Often a high percentage of an advertiser’s digital media spend is stripped off by agencies, in-house trading desks and intermediaries who have been entrusted to manage those media buys. A recent study conducted by AD/FIN and Ebiquity on behalf of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) estimated that fees claimed by digital agencies and ad tech intermediaries, which it dubbed the programmatic “technology tax” could exceed 60% of an advertiser’s media budget. This suggests that less than 40 cents of an advertiser’s investment is actually spent on consumer media.

A good place to begin is to ask your agency to identify any and all related parties that play a role when it comes to the planning, placement and distribution of your digital media investment. This includes trading desk operations, affiliates specializing in certain types of digital media (i.e. social, mobile) and third-party intermediaries being utilized by the agency (i.e. DSPs, Exchanges, Ad Networks, etc.). The goal is to then assess whether or not the agency and or its holding company has a financial interest in these organizations or are earning financial incentives for media activity booked through those entities.

Why should an advertiser care whether or not their agency is tapping affiliates or focusing on select intermediaries to handle their digital media? Because each of those parties are charging fees, commissions or mark-ups for services provided, most of which are not readily detectable. This raises the question of whether or not the advertiser is even aware charges are being levied against data, technology, campaign management fees, bid management fees and other transactional activities. Are such fees appropriate? Duplicative? Competitive? All good questions to be addressed.

When it comes to how an agency may have structured an advertiser’s digital media buys, there is ample room for concern. Is the affiliate is engaged in Principal-based buying (media arbitrage)?  Is digital media being placed on a non-disclosed basis, versus a “cost-disclosed” basis where the advertiser has knowledge of the actual media costs being charged by the digital media owner?

Evaluating your organization’s “risk” when it comes to digital media is important, particularly in light of the findings of the Association of National Advertiser’s (ANA) “Media Transparency” study released in 2016, which identified agency practices regarding non-transparent revenue generation that reduces an advertiser’s working media investment.

The best place to start is a review of your current client-agency Agreements, to ensure that the appropriate language safeguards are incorporated into the agreement in a clear, non-ambivalent manner. Once in place, monitoring your agency and its affiliates compliance to those contract terms and financial management standards is imperative if you want to assure compliance, while significantly boosting performance.  

“Today, knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.” ~ Peter Drucker                                                                                                                    

Interested in learning more about safeguarding your digital media investment? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal, AARM | Advertising Audit & Risk Management at ccampeau@aarmusa.com for a complimentary consultation on this important topic.

 

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