For years, the advertising buying model worked in a similar fashion. Brands sat down with their agencies and cared only about reaching their target and growing sales. They saw the ads on TV and in print, and that was satisfactory.
Today, brands are forced to acknowledge that fraud has become a daily concern -- especially in online media. Reports in December indicated that bots create as much as 11% of display ads purchased, and 23% of video ads. Advertisers could lose $6 billion globally in 2015, a tough to pill to swallow amid otherwise cheery forecasts for digital’s growth.
Brands must make sense of a byzantine web of technology layers, data partners and additional middlemen if they want to curtail the problem. It’s apparent that brands now need to understand how their ads get to consumers and which ads are legitimately viewed by consumers, and try to recoup the wasted budget that comes as a result of non-human traffic. The only way to combat fraud is for brands to demand more transparency and take back ownership of their data and technology.
The current ecosystem, marketed as cutting-edge and efficient, has allowed fraud to persist, largely because some middlemen rely on obfuscation to earn a profit. So far ad networks and publishers have not shown a concerted effort to tackle the issue. When companies rely on opacity for revenue, they also create an environment where fraud can thrive.
Programmatic buying and selling has emerged as one scapegoat in the battle against fraud, but that is too easy a target, a case of applying the blame to the new technology on the scene. But programmatic is not the problem. The issue remains the complex and difficult-to-navigate layers that come between buyer and publisher, and the incentives for obfuscation, coupled with few rewards for detection. Trading desks, ad networks, and, yes, even publishers themselves are responsible, with one quarter of bot traffic coming from the top 1,000 sites, according to White Ops.
Brands looking to eradicate fraud need to learn about ascendant online buying strategies like RTB and programmatic while looking closely at their direct buys as well. By embracing programmatic technology solutions, brands can control where their money goes, avoiding the fraud they detect not only after their ads run, but before they even bid on suspect inventory.
The only source of energy that can drive change in this ecosystem is brand budget. That’s the money that keeps the lights on at the agency, the tech vendor and the data brokerage. The CMOs and CFOs at major brands -- the ones losing billions to non-human traffic -- need to ask questions about where their dollars go. If the money is disappearing into opaque “planning” line items or inventory mark-up, then those items need to be defined.
Advancements in ad tech should take the advertiser down this path, rather than obscure it. If brands put poor-performing partners under review to eliminate fraud and gain transparency and still don’t see a favorable result, then it’s time to change the approach. Just like a car, too many attempts at repairs should make it obvious that you’re dealing with a lemon. It’s time for brands to move on and take ownership.