Unilever's Bold Move Makes Click Fraud A Very Public Discussion

It's one thing for researchers and journalists to band around click-fraud statistics, and quite another for Unilever's CMO to come out with the startling statement that he believes that nearly one-third -- or 29% -- of traffic to the average site comes from bots. That doesn't mean that nearly a third is fake, because some of that could well be "spiders" searching the Web for meaningful content, but it does mean that a substantial proportion is. And it most certainly does mean that 29% of Web traffic should not have advertising served to it, or at least, an advertiser shouldn't pick up the tab for delivering their message to a bot.

There seems to be a change in the air, doesn't there? I've been amazed at how stoic advertisers have always been in the face of click fraud and viewability issues. There were no doubt private conversations going on, but it rarely became the subject of a public business discussion. Unilever's CMO, Keith Weed, is changing all that this morning by telling the Times that he believes between $6bn to $10bn is spent per year on ads that are never seen. To put that into perspective, that's roughly the GDP of a small economy, such as The Bahamas or Togo, meaning that we have small countries generating as much money each year as advertisers waste on digital display ads that are never viewable to a human.

It's hardly surprising, then, that one of the world's biggest advertisers -- with a reputed $5bn annual marketing budget for brands including PG Tipps, Dove and Ben & Jerry's -- is speaking out on the subject. Very few have ever put their necks on the line and revealed how the ad industry -- and by definition every advertiser -- is being conned out of billions of dollars by systems by fake sites and click fraud. When you consider the fees that go into buying display, it's not hard to believe ISBA ('the voice of the advertiser') when it claims that auditors have confided in some brands that only half of what they spend actually goes to viewable media.

Weed outlined the three challenges to the industry as being the bots, viewability (particularly with regard to video when audio is not on) and the impact of ad-blocking software. 

The wish list is very clear, and requires the agencies -- through whom the likes of Unilever operate -- to develop the tools, or work solely with people who have the tools, to only charge when ad has been viewable to a real person. 

To my mind, this is the only future for agencies -- to be the sheriff in the Wild West who can assure advertisers that someone has their back and is ensuring, as best they can, that their budget goes to ads that can be seen. 

The big takeaway now for agencies, however, is that big brands are beginning to openly talk about the problems and giving briefings on what they think needs tackling. 

If alarm bells are not ringing very loudly in every nation across the globe, they should be.

4 comments about "Unilever's Bold Move Makes Click Fraud A Very Public Discussion".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 6, 2015 at 8:46 a.m.

    Certainly makes sense. Next step, get a realistic definition of "viewable:.

  2. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, July 6, 2015 at 2:15 p.m.

    Unilever through one of their agencies have been working with Sweepstakes Today on their promotions for about 3 years. The big difference is the we use their URL link and put this in our program.  The bad guy robot can't touch our links because they go after banner ads, not text link ads.  We control the membership process to the click of the ads. Then we have click overview and we keep on the lookout for fraud. This is several elements that automated programs cannot do.

    The bigger problem is the ad industry, agencies and advertisers is the fact they have been feed the notion is that only banner ads can work.  This was started mainly by Google and never has been challenged.  Google has refused to consider offering text link as saleable method of online advertisement.

    In short automation is great in online advertisement in a perfect world. It is time to bring back the human element in controlling fraud.

  3. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, July 6, 2015 at 2:41 p.m.

    One other thing... Nearly all of online advertising is based on either the "View", CPM or "Click" CPA or CPC.  However to stop click fraud this approach is not manageable or controllable. The best possible system is flat rate. Flat rate has been around for hundreds of years since the beginning of the printing press and billboards.  However this was abandoned with the creation of the computer and server. 

    We charge flat rate to our clients.  I charge on the month and week when we advertise their text link.  As a publisher I have no incentive to cheat my clients with flat rate nor would I.  Some of my client will create a sweeepstakes ad that would produce 10,000 entries while the next sweep ad might produce 1,000 entries over the same time period.  The difference is the quality of the sweep and the prizes.  Either way in this example the client gets their ad at the same price.  Do I lose out a lot of money?  Yes. However over the long term flat rate works out pretty fair for all parties.

    Isn't it time to start to rethink how online ads are priced and to look to the past methods to fix the fraud problem?

  4. Benjamin Morgan from LucrumNet, July 30, 2015 at 2:47 p.m.

    Blaming the Agencies makes 0 sense. It is the traffic platforms and their partners that are the closest to the problem that need to be held accountable. The traffic platforms (SSP/DSP) need to invest in anti-fraud NOT the agency and advertisers!

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