Why Aren't We Talking More About Ad Fraud?

Way back on Nov. 7, 2023, there was an article on Forbes about the “Biggest Threat to the Advertising Industry” being ad fraud.  Fast-forward to last week, when there were a bunch of stories calling out Forbes for “mistakenly” running a made-for-advertising (MFA) site for many years where advertisers thought they were getting impressions on and instead were getting manufactured impressions on a site at  That site is no longer live, of course, and a number of big advertisers are pretty upset.

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem as if many people are talking about this.

Ad fraud is certainly an issue, and it has been for many, many years.  Since the beginning, in fact.  In my first ad buy way back in 1995, I remember buying on an ad network (which shall remain nameless even though it is long gone) and discovering it was running our BMW ads on adult websites without permission to get the impressions we had contracted.



At that point, there were literally hundreds of thousands of people online, so getting impressions could be difficult to scale.  Today, there should be no such problem -- and yet here we are, battling fraud because of the programmatic nature of media buying and the almost impossible task of ensuring your ads run where you have contracted them to be.

Couple that with the volume of performance-based advertisers who are only interested in clicks and actions, and you end up with more opportunities for fraud. 

Where there is demand, the Internet will find people to create supply.  In this case, however, a trusted brand is allegedly playing the same game and creating “made for advertiser” sites to fill its own insertion orders.

The responsibility to uncover fraud rests on the shoulders of the advertiser.  Your brand, or your agency, must be the ones demanding to see reporting, and should be checking that reporting.

The easiest thing to do is to view your own website logs and look at bounce rates and time on page for the clicks that are immediately coming to your site.  That may not capture impressions, but it will uncover bot traffic.

I believe there is a correlation between false or MFA impressions and bot traffic that generates clicks.  I don’t think a publisher creating MFA pages is employing bots to drive traffic, but once those pages are there, they are victim to bots as much as any other page.  Specifically in this case, that domain existed outside of the paywall and was more easily crawled, indexed and botted, so to speak.

Conversely, your brand or your agency needs to find channels and platforms that embrace transparency.  A premium partner should be able to provide log data that shows exactly where your ads ran, at least within a specific and predetermined rate of accuracy.  If you can’t get that from a premium partner, then you should know you are not dealing with someone who should be considered premium.

Transparency is the way to combat fraud. The industry has to embrace tactics to reward transparency in partners while avoiding fraud that can be detrimental to the brands who support this advertising-driven economy.  Without that trust, what happens to the ad spend that supports all this digital media?   It’s a question worth asking whenever we can.

1 comment about "Why Aren't We Talking More About Ad Fraud?".
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  1. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, April 18, 2024 at 9:07 a.m.

    Cory, it not just the advertisers who are upset, add publishers to the list I had members who were complainting about sex toys by a Chinese company offer through a leading ad distributor. There are more questionable ads showing up. In the past two weeks, Google AdSense sent a strange email to me and sure other publishers about running "Experiments". Apparently, if I read this correctly, they can place ads on my site and if I don't like, I can remove them. Hello, what in the world does that mean?

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