Marketers Must Watch Out for Video Ad Fraud
At least 100 companies fell victim to video ad fraud schemes recently, having spent portions of their ad budgets to have their creative materials appear on “zombie websites,” which greatly inflated page view counts to make it seem that more people had engaged with the ads, a report in BuzzFeed detailed.
Ford, Unilever, MGM, and Hershey’s were just some of the companies that lost money after buying ad space from seemingly credible partners in their supply chain.
“Ad fraud is one of the most important challenges facing the industry,” says Leslie Bargmann, director of client services at Jun Group, an advertising company. “And the most popular placement, video, is not immune to this multibillion-dollar scheme.”
Video advertising is a prime target for fraud because the cost-per-thousand (CPM) impressions “are so high,” explains Reid Tatoris, vice president of product outreach and marketing at Distil Networks, a bot detection and mitigation company. Advertisers are willing to pay more for viewable videos, and even more for completed views. But “smart fraudsters can easily program bots to game both of these metrics.” Distil Networks has conducted studies that prove that video completions are lower when ads are targeted at verified humans. “This makes sense because humans don’t like watching ads, while bots are happy to sit through them.”
Programmatic video has also been so problematic because most executive-level marketers don’t understand how the supply chain works, according to Jason Beckerman, CEO of Unified, a business intelligence platform designed to help companies get the most out of their advertising budgets. He points out that too often they rely on third-party agencies to help them buy ad space, and the result is subpar performance. Such agencies are mostly concerned with “getting the job done” as opposed to getting it doing right, because an unspoken goal of theirs is to spend the money as quickly as possible.
In agreement is Vlad Shevstov, director of investigations for Social Puncher, one of the advertising companies whose research helped expose the video ad fraud scheme for BuzzFeed. He says that, as horrible as it might be, the main goal of most publishers and advertising systems is to sell cheap traffic to companies for as much as they can. “Therefore, no one on the side of advertising systems is interested in strict verification: More advertising views equal more money.”
In such an environment, companies need to take proactive steps to protect their reputations and make sure they are not being duped by malevolent players.
According to Beckerman, technology can be used to alleviate some of the difficulties companies have. Unified provides a transparency tool to help companies see everything that goes on in their digital advertising ecosystems and make sure that agency partners are not doing anything they shouldn’t be, he says.
However, Shevstov argues that “software cannot solve the problem of advertising fraud.” He holds that since people are looking at ads, people, rather than machines, should be evaluating its effectiveness.
Tatoris recommends that companies buy direct when possible. “I know this is a pain, but if you are buying inventory that’s been resold five different times, you run a really high risk of hitting a video farm.”
He also warns against using completed views as an indicator that someone watched your ad; all that means is the ad played through to completion. He suggests that companies use follow-up actions to confirm that real people watched the ad and then took some step as a result.
"First, advertisers should partner with trusted verification vendors" that track where ads run, verify human viewing, and measure ad interactions, Bargmann suggests. "Not all video placements are created equal, and advertisers would do better selecting placements that are in-app and opt-in in nature. In-app ads are highly regulated by Google and Apple, and opt-in placements must be initiated by a person to appear.
"In the end, advertisers always do best when working with trusted partners, purchasing placements that they understand, and utilizing clear measurement guidelines," he concluded.
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