Why the Digital Media Industry Is Fed Up with Ad Fraud Solutions

Jul 02, 2018

Article ImageAd fraud technology is helpful until it isn’t. Many publishers, brands, and agencies work with multiple solution-providers, which gets pricy, frustrating and even confusing. Their laundry list of grievances includes sizable data discrepancies between solution-providers, outlandish pricing, and network infrastructure shortcomings. All of these problems are solvable. They require solution-providers to stop pouring money into marketing activities and instead invest in their product. They also require the industry to band together to define ad fraud measurement standards and rethink MRC accreditation.

When I ask agencies why they use multiple ad fraud solutions, they usually tell me it is because their clients demand it. One brand prefers Solution A while another wants Solution B, so the agency is forced to invest in both. That is not the real reason. Most of these solutions work well when they are judged by themselves. But if there is a superior tool, why would you need more than one. What their clients are actually saying is that the agency’s data needs to line up with theirs. A client wouldn’t care what tool the agency used as long as it effectively eliminated fraud, based on the client’s preferred metrics.

Because there are no ad fraud measurement standards, every brand has a different definition of fraudulent traffic. There are sizable data discrepancies between ad fraud solution-providers—as much as 30% to 40%, according to IAB. Thus, brands and agencies are forced to shop around in search of the tool that best lines up with their metrics. It is as if a brand is wearing rose-colored glasses and expects its vendor to have that same view of things. Everyone is happy because the numbers look good, but the problem is fraudsters know how to make the world look rose-colored.

Then another brand comes along and tells the agency it sees the world through a different filter. Now, the agency needs a solution that lines up with this new viewpoint. It is forced to invest in another ad fraud solution that aligns with these modern metrics.

Ad fraud solution vendors are spending big bucks on educating the marketplace about how it should be evaluating traffic. “These are the glasses you should be wearing. These are the metrics that matter,” they tell us. But they are not adequately solving fraud or keeping up with fraudsters’ ever-changing tactics. As brands and agencies become more data-driven, they are taking closer looks at the analytics and realizing the limitations of many ad fraud protection and detection tools. It is no wonder brands like Heineken are saying, “Screw it,” and taking ad verification in-house.

Another thing I often hear people complaining about is pricing. Some fraud solution-providers are charging an arm and a leg for their services. Many vary their pricing depending on how the client is using the solution. Customers pay one price for programmatic traffic, another for clicks and another for leads, even though the solution itself is the same. Once customers realize this—that they have to pay more for the exact same technology—they feel like they are being taken advantage of. It breeds distrust, and it is another reason to consider moving things in-house.

Technical difficulties are the icing on the cake. Brands tell me that some ad fraud solution-providers go offline more often than is acceptable. (Really, it is never acceptable.) Sometimes it is the brand informing the vendor of the problem. The vendor is not even aware of it! That tells me that the vendor is not investing enough in its technology and processes. When an ad fraud detection tool goes offline, customers are even more vulnerable to digital criminals than usual. If the solution isn’t even aware they have gone offline, could they be certain fraudsters haven’t infiltrated their network, stealing algorithms without their knowledge? Companies need to invest more in their network infrastructure and build secure products.

Rethinking MRC Accreditation

Although there aren’t fraud measurement standards, the Media Rating Council (MRC) has an accreditation program for ad fraud solution-providers. Some agencies and brands only want to work with vendors that are accredited by the MRC. The accreditation costs a lot of money, and frankly, leaves me wondering: “What are vendors being accredited for?” Since there are no ad fraud standards and accredited vendors can have wide variances in their data, what is the accreditation worth?

All of the aforementioned problems plaguing the ad fraud solution industry are solvable. Vendors must invest the necessary resources in tackling them. It is important to do so, not just for the brands and agencies that rely on these defenses, but also for the future of the industry. Big brands and agencies will move traffic verification in-house if they can’t trust the solution-providers on the market. They deserve and demand solutions that work.

If there were standards and we all measured and solved for fraud in the same way, clients would pick the solution-provider that was most effective or provided the best support or pricing. But that is not the case. Solution-providers are competing with one another to convince the market of which metrics to use. It is wasting time and resources—time and resources that should be going to product improvement.

The takeaway is twofold. First, the industry needs to work together to define standards for fighting fraud. Any accreditation process must reflect these basic standards. Then, ad fraud solution-providers could stop wasting time convincing clients that their standards are the right ones and instead invest more in their solutions.

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