Commentary

Why Brands Should Stop Moving Ad-Traffic Verification In-House

For brands, ad fraud can feel personal. They wonder, “why me?”

But advertisers, fraudsters aren’t targeting you, specifically. Criminals don’t discriminate or play favorites. In fact, they don’t think about brands at all. It’s the supply side they are exploiting.

As an industry, we have our defense strategy wrong. Fraudsters launch schemes at the publisher level, yet we continue to move verification closer to the demand side, in large part because brands don’t trust others to fight fraud as diligently as they would themselves.

But as we move tools further away from fraud sources, they lose some of their effectiveness. To best protect the industry, we must shift parts of traffic verification to the supply side — particularly to supply-side partners.

When Patients Treat Themselves
Of course ad fraud feels personal for brands. It is their budgets on the line. By year end, ad fraud is predicted to cost advertisers $19 billion, according to Jupiter Research.

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Agencies, trading desks, demand-side platforms, supply-side platforms, and publishers, on the other hand, have less incentive to take action. Turn a blind eye to fraud that an advertiser hasn’t noticed, and you are rewarded with a cut of that brand’s spend. Blow the whistle when you see suspicious traffic patterns, and you draw negative attention to yourself and your traffic.

This misalignment of motives has fostered mistrust. Brands like Heineken feel compelled to move traffic verification in-house, or to ask their agency to handle it for them, even though most brands and agencies don’t have the expertise to manage ad-fraud-detection tools. It is akin to patients deciding to treat an illness on their own because they don’t trust their doctor. Sure, patients can be confident their own motives are pure, but do good intentions trump a medical degree?

Wait, There’s a Baby In That Bathwater
Focusing anti-fraud efforts on the brand side also makes communication difficult. A brand or agency doesn’t have time, incentive, or even the contact information to reach out to a publisher to investigate when something looks fishy.

Because of this, brands and agencies sometimes “throw out the baby with the bathwater,” meaning they nix quality traffic sources because something looks odd, possibly has been diluted with fraudulent traffic, or doesn’t align with advertisers’ preferred KPIs, even though the traffic is not primarily fraudulent.

Often, publishers don’t even realize their traffic is being flagged as suspicious, since no one reaches out to tell them. They wonder why they are not getting the demand they expected. Without ad revenue, many publishers can’t afford to stay in business. Ad fraud costs brands budget, but the disintermediation of ad verification can cost publishers their existence.

A more effective approach would be to fight ad fraud from the supply side, since the closer you are to the fraud source, the more likely you are to find it. Marketplaces are uniquely positioned to take on the traffic verification role. Brands trust these players to act in their best interest. And as fraud detection improves, brands should lose less of their budgets to fraud. Publishers will also benefit, because marketplaces can easily reach out with questions when they see an odd-looking pattern, rather than assuming the worst.

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