We at Programmatic Insider have read many articles about ad fraud, but rarely do we see client names attached. But, to borrow a slogan from the old Confidential magazine — “tells the facts and names the names” — we will endeavor to get inside one case of ad fraud.
We get regular emails from Google and its agency DoubleClick, generally arguing that only DoubleClick can solve your advertising dilemma. A recent one had this to report: “A high-profile agency for a bank approached the FT [Financial Times] about buying some home page roadblocks. (Buying all the ads on a home page is a roadblock.) During discussions they mentioned that previous roadblocks for the client had under-performed. Our records showed no recent spend from this particular client. It turned out they had purchased two home page roadblocks programmatically and not one single impression had appeared on FT.com as they were purchasing fraudulent inventory on open exchanges rather than via FT managed private marketplaces.”
Why would Google/DoubleClick want to publicize this terrible waste of money that they were not initially involved in? Because, they argue, the client made the terrible mistake of using an “open exchange,” where fraud is manifest, instead of using FT’s private exchange or a more secure outfit like DoubleClick.
What's wrong here? Everything. The FT got no money, the multiple roadblocks didn’t run, and the bank got no ad juice. Wait, let’s correct that. Apparently, the roadblock ads did run, but on a fraud server that had mirrored the FT.com domain. We also get the impression that the clueless agency for the big bank, unnamed by DoubleClick, didn't even know its ads hadn’t run, as they must have been directed by the fraud-meister to the fake FT.com domain.
Interestingly, the DoubleClick promotion dovetails with a piece that ran in Advertising Age last week by Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP of ads and commerce at Google. In it, he argues that there’s too much ad fraud now, that the current digital ad environment is “ridiculously complicated,” and that ad fraud “undermines the stability of our ecosystem.”
A One-Stop Shop?
“It would be much clearer, more intuitive and more transparent,” Ramaswamy adds, “if I could go to one place and make those choices for all my activity at once.”
What’s that one place he is considering? It wouldn’t be DoubleClick and Google would it?
We take ad fraud just as seriously as Sridhar Ramaswamy, and we agree with him that it’s undermining the credibility of the burgeoning programmatic industry. But one solution? A one-stop shop? Really?
The FT has so far not responded to an email asking for comment. Nobody wants to look foolish, but wasn’t it the client’s fault, not the media, in this case? How would the FT even know that an agency for a would-be client had placed a non-functioning roadblock? All the agency and client thought it knew, sadly, was that roadblocks on FT.com don’t work. That is very harmful to media in general. If a “high profile agency” can be fooled, can’t anybody?
Fraud is very seductive. We got two emails recently promoting a Facebook “Work from Home Program,” supposedly called Bonanza. It offered links clearly intended to get responders’ personal information. The fine print was interesting, because the return address for this ridiculous pitch was in Limassol, Cyprus. And there was reference to a “small enrollment fee” one would first have to pay to apply for this wonderful job opportunity. To us, this was an obvious fraud. But to others, especially the unemployed, it would look enticing.
Investigating further, we found this sad tale on a message board: “I think it’s a scam, because I responded to it and put my info in for the kit and now I have a $97.00 charge on my account when the ad said it would be $4.95. I called the number that was listed for the charge and an operator from a Robert Allen's office answers and says that I have the wrong number.”
According to various malware-oriented sites, the scam has hit people in Australia, India and worldwide. We hate stuff like this, but it’s ubiquitous. Who gains? Certainly not Facebook. Who knows if the crooks are even in Cyprus. This email links to something called bitesonabudget.com, which has no info whatsoever about what it is and offers bland recipes. It looks quasi-legitimate, if you don’t have your thinking cap on.
Meanwhile, if you know more about the FT.com fraud, let us know. We tell the facts and name the names.