Accountability has been one of interactive media's selling points over the years - the idea that advertisers can account for every dollar spent, every impression, and every click. In many respects, it requires that interactive be held to a much higher standard than its offline cousins, which has generated no shortage of complaints from those of us who work on the interactive side of the business. Many of us tend to think there's a double standard at work here.
On the client side, accountability issues are certainly not limited to interactive. There is no shortage of big stories in the trade press concerning moves to less accountable media, in fact. Circulation scandals have made headlines as of late with newspapers and magazines. We all have knowledge of the decline in television ratings, with makegoods for shortfalls galore. Product placement also seems to be quite hot, even though accountability in that sector enjoys a standard nowhere in the neighborhood of that which is expected of other media.
Let's face it. A lack of accountability is something that poses a problem to varying degrees in all forms of media. Just ask the advertisers suing Newsday.
I don't want to understate the click fraud issue. Advertisers can and should employ detection methods currently available to them, including double-checking click traffic against lists of known spiders and robots and checking for multiple clicks from the same IP address or IP block within a relatively short length of time. It's undoubtedly a problem, but it's not the end of the world.
In almost all cases, as we employ technological controls to cut down on fraud in interactive media, there are those who would seek to circumvent it. We check our paid search clicks to see how many come from a single IP address and those behind the fraud adapt by writing scripts that click on ads from multiple or rotating IPs. We come up with verification techniques, they come up with ways to get around them. It's a constant arms race with no end in sight.
But how is that different from what happens on the traditional side of the business? The Audit Bureau of Circulations has been a trustworthy auditor of magazine and newspaper circulation for many years, yet as evidenced by the description of the Newsday scandal in a recent MediaWeek piece, even ABC can be fooled by an orchestrated con job aimed at deceiving their auditors.
Media fraud is a fact of life, unfortunately. The key to insulating advertisers from it is to have a roster agency that takes appropriate steps to spot fraud or prevent it. On the interactive side, data analysis, anti-fraud tools, and a smart agency can keep fraud to an absolute minimum, such that advertisers aren't tempted to throw the baby out with the bath water.