Are ad fraud prevention measures favouring big spenders? - picture
Posted by Christina

Whether you work in digital advertising directly as a media planner/buyer or are incorporating digital ads into your in-house marketing strategy client-side, you’ll likely be aware of the scrutiny digital ads have come under regarding the legitimacy of their delivery, and whether actual human eyeballs have seen every single ad impression your campaign reports.

Ad Fraud Prevention Measures - supporting graphic - coins on notes
Photo credit: Dmytro Demidko

As a result, you now question the percentage of impressions and clicks from your ad delivery which are accounted for by bots vs. real humans and therefore, how much of your ad delivery and spend is invalid?

Trying to prevent ad fraud comes at a cost, often too great for the small, catering to the mighty

Historically, you may have also reserved this level of scrutiny for display ads (across publisher sites) however, with the rise of fake social profiles (some of those pesty bots creeping in again) and CTV thrown into the mix for continuing to serve ads after TVs had been switched off to name a few, ad fraud prevention needs to play a role in almost all your paid media planning.

Ad spend lost to ad fraud is predicted to reach $172bn globally, by 2028

Juniper Research’s independent analysis of ‘The Global Cost of Ad Fraud: 2023-2028’ (full report available from Fraud Blocker) predicts a 105% increase in media spend lost to ad fraud vs. $87bn estimated in 2023. It may seem less depressing to see this the increase is largely driven by an overall increase in predicted ad spend in 2028 vs. 2023 (with 23% of total spend estimated to be fraudulent vs. 22% respectively).

Nevertheless, that’s a huge investment wasted globally. As fraudulent activity chases spend, 2024 is likely to see a rise with many wanting to jump on the back of the Paris 2024 Olympics, and for the US, the Presidential election. Ad fraud continues to be one of the biggest challenges to overcome within digital advertising.

Trying to prevent ad fraud comes at a cost, often too great for the small, catering to the mighty

There are some great preventative measures available to implement across your ads via specialist partners and tools, which are continuously improving their service offering, but their commercial models are largely built for businesses and agencies with hefty media budgets and ad volumes.

Meaning if you’re a start-up, be that a client or agency and/or your total ad spend is ‘considered to be modest’ (I say this because whatever your investment, it’s subjective to your turnover and could feel huge to you irrespective of total market spend), you’re often left aware of the problem but unable to take advantage of the solutions…essentially, it’s your risk and it’s tough!

This is a bitter pill to swallow, particularly when digital advertising is often your first approach to paid advertising because it’s affordable, scalable, doesn’t require large media spend guarantees/thresholds (for most formats) and effective.

What are some of the solutions?

Integral Ad Science (IAS) or MOAT:

These are suppliers specialising in ad fraud protection and brand safety. Your ads usually have a piece of JavaScript code tagged to them (via these providers) which help to proactively stop your ads from being served to bots (reporting to you the volume of ad impressions they prevented being served).

They also help to identify suspicious patterns of activity whilst your campaign is live (beyond the known in their database, identifying uncommon patterns as well as running malware analysis) preventing further fraudulent attempts.

Ad Fraud Prevention Measures - supporting graphic - phone screen with graph
Photo credit: Georgia de Lotz

Their algorithm is constantly learning, evolving, and working to protect your ad spend. Additionally, they provide visibility of the publisher sites your ads are served on with brand safety statistics against them, helping you to determine whether the sites your ads are being displayed on are ‘brand safe’ as well as preventing your ads from displaying on sites they’ve deemed potentially fraudulent or inappropriate.

With rise of MFA (made for advertising) websites, preventative measures such as this are essential but not always affordable.

These suppliers are usually charged on a CPM basis, so the more your ad is seen, the more expensive this cost. But, to even become a vendor with them, you need to be reaching a threshold to make it worthwhile to even set up an account.

Google’s Campaign Manager 360 (CM360)

This is primarily an ad serving platform and ‘double verifies’ the number of impressions you’ve served. Prior to the deprecation of 3rd party cookies, it also was used to de-dupe impressions, clicks and conversions across a single marketing campaign utilizing a multitude of digital channels (e.g. de-duping delivery and performance between social platforms and display).

This is often used if you’re running CTV, app or display activity via a managed service format (whereby the publisher e.g. Amazon/Samsung/Hulu etc…or a programmatic provider you’re working with, is doing the actual media buying for you) so you have full visibility of your ad delivery on a daily basis as opposed to having to wait for them to share their reporting (and trust their reporting is accurate, as on a rate based buy, you pay for what has served).

Similarly, this tracks your ads via having additional tags applied to your ad creatives like IAS/MOAT (it can also host and serve your creative, even if you’re working with another partner, enabling you to share assets easily and have control over swapping creatives if needed without needing to accommodate 3rd party partner SLAs).

This practice is also known as ‘ad trafficking’ and often used in conjunction with the above. However, subscribing to CM360 typically costs $12.5k per month ($150k per year) or more, and that’s in addition to the actual ad serving CPM costs.

If that last one sounds like your entire annual media budget, it’s unlikely you’re able to take advantage of these preventative measures. But ad fraud impacts all ads, regardless of spend. I know…it’s not fair, and the industry needs to find a better solution for all so the David’s of the world have protection, not just the Goliath’s.

Don’t be disheartened, you can still take some preventative action.

The intention of this post is not to make you feel hopeless. Some of you may have media spends which can afford to incorporate these solutions, but you may not have been aware of them or understood the value they bring. Hopefully you do now (or know enough to explore further). For those of you who aren’t close to the thresholds for these solutions, there’s some tips below you can start to incorporate to help reduce your risk and ad spend wastage.

  1. Take advantage of partnerships - If you’re running this via a managed service e.g. working with the likes of MiQ, Amazon, Hulu etc…they typically have access to their own CM360 and are registered as vendors with the likes of IAS/MOAT. Therefore, you can ask for these tags to be added (some will have accounted for these costs in the rates they’ve already quoted you (CPM/CPV/CPCVs/CPC) so may advise no additional cost is required to implement these, but it’s worth checking. You can also request automated reports from these providers to be emailed to you for your review.
  2. Publisher and targeting exclusions/inclusions - Ask what brand safety measures they have in place (if working with a provider) and discuss additional measures you’d like implemented e.g. collaborating to compile a blacklist (sites you don’t want your ads to appear on) or whitelist which is sometimes easier (list of sites you’re happy to approve your ads being displayed on) to minimise the risk of appearing on MFAs. You can also put together a contextual list of terms you wouldn’t want your ads associated with (so content on the site will be scraped to search for these terms before your ad is displayed). If you’re managing display, YouTube, or app campaigns within Google Ads, you can build these yourself within the shared library area (or specifically for the campaign). Review where your ads were served at least weekly to build upon the preventative measures already in place. Performance Max ads can also still implement measures such as this, but some need to be implemented at an account level and may have a smaller cap against them than other formats.
  3. In social platforms, avoid ‘audience network expansion’ – It’s not 100% effective alone as ads can still be served to ‘fake active’ profiles on the platform, but it does minimise the risk by keeping your ads contained within the social platform as opposed to expanding to deliver across display/other networks. These platforms are also constantly working to improve their algorithms to detect imposter accounts.
  4. Make use of in-platform settings – Most ads manager platforms have a variation of security/inventory settings in place which are displayed to you as you build your campaign. Pay attention to these and the differences they display (usually around the type of content you’re happy for your ads to be displayed alongside e.g. content of a sexual nature etc…) and opt for the one most suitable for your brand’s campaign and target audience’s age.
  5. Ask questions – when working with a media partner, agency, or in-house team, don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is not an area a single person has all the answers to, but collaborative discussions can either help reassure you or sometimes create additional preventative measures to help protect more of your ad spend.

So, whilst we, and others in our industry continue to push for greater accessibility to ad fraud prevention as well as fighting the good fight to reduce this as much as possible, don’t be afraid to continue pushing the boundaries with your digital advertising mix, just keep this topic and above solutions in mind when planning and buying your activity.

And if you work with an agency, this will (or should) already be on their radar, so just ask what measures they have in place to help combat against ad fraud.