Dispatches from the European war on ad fraud

Some of the sharpest minds in European media are gathered in Amsterdam for the Digiday Programmatic Summit to discuss the future of programmatic advertising. Finding efficient ways to combine automation, creativity and scale is at the top of the minds of attendees and speakers here.

But the topic that truly keeps brands, agencies and publishers awake at night is ad fraud. With an estimated 36 percent of all Web traffic considered fake, it’s easy to understand why. So we asked several attendees and speakers one simple question: “Is the war on ad fraud winnable?” The consensus: It may be manageable, but it will probably never be eradicated. Excerpts:

Andrew Shebbeare, founding partner & global innovation director, Essence
I hope so. The stakes are high enough that there should be enough money and resources available to fix the problem or at least to mitigate it to the point where the risk is acceptable. I do think that the solutions have to come from the bottom up. It’s very hard for someone in an agency or a brand position to be part of solving the problem beyond moving their inventory to the safest places. Even that only offers so much protection. Because of course any inventory is subject to ad fraud. But through a private marketplace, it’s harder for the operator of that marketplace to benefit from fraud without being involved in it.

Conor Mullen, commercial director, RTÉ Digital
Yes it is. It’s a bit like chasing drug cheats: They’re always a couple steps ahead, but recognize it and keep dealing with it as opposed to keeping your head in the sand and ignoring. If you ignore it, it’s not winnable. If you take an approach to it, publishers, tech suppliers and agencies can address it. You clear one, something else may come up. But as long as you keep closing them, you’re closing down options.

Alessandro De Zanche, head of audience and ad systems, News UK
I think so. But as long as we are working as an industry and not individual publishers and individual players. There is no point in a publisher doing a deep job in tackling ad fraud and the other doesn’t. Because at the end of the day we are sharing users. When the user is affected, all of us are affected. This is for ad fraud; this is for viewability; this is for data accuracy; this is for measurability; this is for accountability; this is for transparency. We need to start working together on all these fronts.

Tom Bowman, svp, sales operations & commercial production, BBC Worldwide
It’s manageable. The analogy is like getting rid of malaria. And that is really, really hard to do. The thing is, it’s software. And software has inherent vulnerabilities. And there are a lot of people out there who spend most of their time figuring out ways to hack systems. And there’s money in it. If you do your homework as a publisher, you can inoculate yourself against it. But it’s a live thing. You have to be on it. It just becomes part of what you have to do. There is crime in the world. And so you have to lock your front doors. What you shouldn’t do is be the house in the street that doesn’t have the burglar alarm on it. I don’t think it’s ultimately winnable. We aren’t going to eradicate it. People are going to try to hide banners behind banners. People are going to infect browsers and drop stuff over the top of the website, so you think your ads are serving and the customer is seeing someone else’s.

Marco Bertozzi, president, global clients, VivaKi
As long as we live in a world where the buyer is judged by what their CPM is, is as long as this problem will go on. From the buy side, we as agencies and advertisers have to do our own due diligence around this. You’ve got to put steps in place; you’ve got make sure they’re consistent. Soon as you drop the ball, these guys are going to get it. It’s incumbent on us to raise our game when it comes to tackling fraud. Part of that equation has to be agencies doing their bit, but also advertisers have to challenge more and more what they’re buying through whoever they’re spending money with. They have to be sure they’re spending with companies that can demonstrate to them where their ads are appearing, what type of inventory they’re buying. This completely blind approach to buying — there’s vast swathes of it in America; they want a flat CPM on video for instance and they pile in loads of crap to get it — all those behaviors are going to have to change if we’re not going to beat but just vastly improve how things stand.


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