Buyers Need to Help Clean Up Ad Tech

Walter Knapp is gm and evp of media for Federated Media Publishing. Follow him on Twitter @wtknapp.

Do fraudulent impressions in online advertising convert for advertisers? It’s a somewhat tongue-in-cheek question, but from the data we’ve seen, one could reasonably conclude that they must. Otherwise, why is everyone still letting it happen?

Over a year ago, I wrote an article outlining some of the more insidious types of fraud and other nefarious tactics used to cheat or steal from legitimate marketer-publisher advertising transactions in the ad tech ecosystem. That ecosystem is a key economic pillar of the Internet, driving billions of dollars of revenue for publishers and, one would presume, even greater value for the marketers who buy there.

But all those billions of dollars have drawn legions of crafty fraudsters who create fake or un-viewable inventory and then feed it into our platforms. It’s an ongoing, never-ending battle to stop the bad guys, and if we are to win, both the supply and demand side will have to lock arms. This isn’t a supply-side problem or a demand-side problem; it’s a fundamental shared responsibility and a market problem.

Unfortunately, no one’s locking arms yet. We should be.

Over the past several months, Federated Media Publishing (FMP) has ramped up our anti-fraud efforts. Despite the time and effort it takes (it’s significant and expensive, believe me), it’s a benefit to our legitimate publishers as they should be seeing higher revenues, lower discrepancies, and getting better advertisements. What concerns me, however, is that when FMP denies a suspicious site or tamps out suspected bad behavior, we see it pop-up in another network often within minutes. Seeing easy money, the new network lets the bad guys in. And worse still, the buy side just keeps buying.

This matters a lot, and not in a good way.

The bad guys have figured out that many buyers’ performance metrics are unsophisticated and that it’s pretty easy to spoof them. And while the buyers may know they’re getting fraudulent results, they prefer to check their ROI boxes rather than ask hard questions.

This problem won’t go away until both the supply and demand sides band together and collectively put the squeeze on the bad guys. Until then, the efforts of my teams and other good actors to keep our networks scrubbed will go unnoticed by the ecosystem at large.

If we do band together, the upside is enormous. Less bogus traffic mean less overall inventory, but more quality on the sites that have truly earned a marketer’s trust. Marketers will spend more on a CPM basis since the inventory is more valuable and brand-safe. Their back-end conversions and ROAS will remain static or, more than likely, increase over time – no brand ever sold a product thanks to the actions of a botnet, after all. The best part is that publishers who deserve it will get higher revenues, and there will be far more great content available to all on the Internet.

That’s a better end game for everyone involved.

Image via Shutterstock

More in Marketing

Digiday+ Research: A definitive ranking of brands’ and agencies’ marketing channels, where social reigns supreme

For brand and agency marketers, social media holds the top spot by far when it comes to spending and confidence that the channel drives marketing success.

Inside Red Robin’s comeback plan amid a cookie-less future

As a 54-year-old brand, Red Robin is revamping its digital efforts with a cookie-less future on the horizon.

Research Briefing: Will Snapchat’s rebrand bring in more ad dollars?

In this week’s Digiday+ Research Briefing, we examine how Snapchat is pitching itself as an alternative to current social platforms, how Priceline and other e-commerce companies are approaching generative AI, and how legacy programmatic media buying practices often disadvantage Black-owned media companies, as seen in recent data from Digiday+ Research.