Online ad fraud is costing millions. Every year advertising pounds are wasted because of fraudulent traffic, and if the industry continues on its current course this amount is only set to grow. A 2014 report from eMarketer predicted 16.7 per cent year-on-year growth in digital advertising spend globally, meaning that digital spend now represents a quarter of total media investment. In our hyper-connected, always-on world this proportion will continue to increase, making digital fraud more and more costly for the industry.
The growing prominence and prioritisation of digital advertising is no surprise: It enables brands to reach their most relevant audiences effectively and at scale. However, this growth is being matched by a rise in the volume of rogue traders and bot fraud. According to eMarketer's latest report, released in April this year, fraud prevention specialist DoubleVerify estimates that digital ad fraud costs $1 million per day for its clients alone. Looking at the industry landscape as a whole, another specialist - White Ops - predicts that botnets will cost digital advertisers more than $6.3 billion worldwide over the next twelve months.
This issue needs to be addressed through a concerted effort from the entire ad industry. Transparency and verification must become standard practice in order for brands to see ROI. This must also be matched by greater drive from brands themselves in ensuring they reach the right audience, or humans at all. Here in the UK, as much as 78 per cent of advertisers have no insight into how many of their ad impressions could be fraudulent, according to research from Project Sunblock. This must change, and this ultimately means there must be a rallying cry from brands for greater accountability, before it's too late.
Defeating the bots
Bots are disruptors, pure and simple. They skew engagement metrics, mixing in with real human traffic to dilute the value of a publisher's inventory, and lead to advertisers paying some of their campaign spend to fraudsters who generate false ad impressions.
This non-human traffic is difficult to detect. Not only can bots mimic human behaviour on websites, they're increasingly working through residential IP addresses via compromised home computers and malware. This makes bot traffic even harder to identify, as it's mixed in with legitimate traffic from the same source.
True advertising success is based on a human audience engaging with an ad, and this means advertisers need to focus on viewability. According to comScore, Kelloggs saw a 75 per cent increase in sales by increasing viewability rates by 40 per cent. Ensuring that the ad is above the fold and adjacent to content that's relevant sounds simple but it takes preparation, planning and partnerships to deliver on this goal.
In order for brands to better understand ad success right now, they need to look beyond the number of views. Dwell time, shares, and completion rates are far more informative when it comes to uncovering the success of an ad. Numerous brands are already looking past the simple click to measure success, but their measurement methods and standards differ. This is where the need for a concerted, industry-wide drive comes into play. There is an urgent need to align on the standardisation of viewability, across platforms. Brands will then be better able to realise ROI.
We're making progress
Brands are realising they need a clearer idea of what online ad success really looks like, and this is the first step to positive change. There's a lot of work to be done still, but we're moving in the right direction. We need to see a consistent verification method, accepted by the ad industry as a whole. Driven by brands and underpinned by collaboration on measurement, this is how we'll see fair play in advertising and reliable ROI. The IAB has embraced is leadership position and developed an accreditation service that seeks to set standards for engagement for all sides of the ecosystem. We must focus on level the playing field for all participants in our industry so its clear what "quality" and "premium" really mean.