Can Video ad fraud derail programmatic?
“Automated buying in New Zealand is advancing rapidly, underpinned by the desire of brand advertisers to drive transparency and efficiency in their ad spend,” said the company’s Australia and New Zealand managing director Sam Smith in a release at the time.
The problem, however, is that programmatic is often priced in terms of cost per thousand views (CPM). And this obviously isn’t ideal when statistics suggest that as much as 25 percent of all online video views are registered fraudulently through bot activity.
As illustrated by the growing demand in the programmatic market, this hasn’t
In the case of television, Nielsen provides data on the performance of shows; in radio, TNS has until recently conducted a twice-yearly survey on the number of listeners that tune in; and the magazine industry continues to rely on Nielsen and ABC figures for readership and circulation, respectively.
In each of these instances, media owners sell their ad slots based on information that’s provided by the independent third party. However, as things stand at the moment, the digital industry does not have a preferred supplier for online ratings, making it challenging for yet stopped advertisers from spending ad dollars on programmatic ad-buying.
As OMD’s Andrew Reinholds points out: “Ultimately programmatic for OMD delivers such a cost-effective audience for our clients that even say if 25 percent of the clicks were fraudulent, the way we track and optimise, then the remaining 75 percent of the actual clicks are of real value for us and the CPA [cost per action] delivered will be well below other types of buys.”
And provided that programmatic players can limit the extent of ad fraud and keep this perception of adding value to the client’s offering, then it’s likely that the market will continue to grow. advertisers to determine what the most accurate data is.
To address this problem, the IABNZ last August released a document that compares the different measurement vendors available in New Zealand.
“No current audience measurement system is perfect – each has its own strengths and weaknesses so the Measurement Council helps progress improvements across multi channel platforms and keep New Zealand at the forefront of best practice,” says the online publication.
Nielsen, Comscore, Experian and Effective Measure are all pitted against each other in terms of methodology, metrics, positives and user interface, among other things. The IABNZ is not hedging its bets on any specific vendor, and instead says that its “approach is to provide the industry with objective information on the existing methodologies.”
In doing so, it places the onus on advertisers, media agencies and publishers to incorporate their own measures to ensure that their reporting is accurate.
A media agency yoke
Given media agencies’ role in buying the most suitable slots for their clients, it follows that they are principally responsible for safeguarding against fraudulent activities that may obscure the truth behind a campaign’s performance. For this reason, media agencies across New Zealand have consolidated their online campaign tracking capabilities and skills.
“Bot traffic impacts every single campaign online,” admits Nick Boulstridge, the head of digital media at VivaKi. And he says his company has responded though VivaKi Verified, a policy that sees VivaKi evaluate and score web advertising platforms in terms of how they monitor and filter out bot traffic and other fraud, as well as their process for vetting sites for brand safety and quality executions.
“We’ve done a lot of testing on this and found that our whitelist within AoD, our programmatic platform, does a very good job of keeping us off this sort of inventory,” he says.
Similarly, OMD’s managing director Andrew Reinholds says that his agency has also introduced a strategy that helps to identify fraudulent activity.
“When using programmatic buying we utilise cost-per-click (CPC ) deals the majority of the time, which therefore sets
According to TubeMogul’s Q4 results, New Zealand’s programmatic video advertising market grew nearly three-fold the fourth quarter of 2014, with video ads available for real-time buying jumping 210 percent to 260 million auctions, from 90 million in the third quarter.
us up to a risk of being charged for clicks that a ‘non-human’ has generated,” says Reinholds. “The way we counter this is by tracking from click-through to session generated on the website and then through to the desired action for the campaign.”
Taking these systematic steps allows OMD to spot anomalous trends—such as an uncharacteristically high bounce rate— that are consistent with bot activity.
Although the approach is proving effective, Reinholds says that the fight against ad fraud isn’t easy due to the levels sophistication involved.
“It is always going to be difficult to categorically identify the volume of ad fraud,” he says. “It’s been going on for years with search and Google rightly, when they identify suspected fraudulent activity, reimburse their clients. That said, there could be so much more going on that we don’t know about.”
The greyest area
One area that is proving particularly difficult to track is video advertising and Boulstridge believes that this is largely because of the system currently employed.
“Video reporting lags behind due to limitations within the VAST [video ad serving template] standard,” he says.
Last year, in an article published on AdExchanger.com writer Ryan Joe explained that if a “video was integrated using only the video ad-serving template, then marketers might as well dump their video ads into a titanium box for all the visibility they’ll get.” He went on to say that VAST video placements “don’t allow thirdparty tech vendors or advertisers to apply viewability technologies,” making it difficult to tell if an ad was viewed by a person.
One way to get around this problem is by incorporating a video player ad-serving interface definition (VPAI D), which would support deeper analytics of the video ads running via a platform.
“Unfortunately in New Zealand, VPAI D inventory is quite limited due to the dominance of YouTube (Google has rejected the VPAI D standard),” says Boulstridge. “True viewability and verification is only really possible with VPAI D.”
A Google spokesperson disagrees with this statement: “Google’s ad exchange allows buyers to serve VPAI D ads to publishers that opt in.”
And while this might be true, the quick look at TrueView policies for ads served onto it explicitly states that “VPAI D is not allowed on YouTube.” And a spokesperson from programmatic ad-buying platform TubeMogul says: “Except in certain circumstances, YouTube generally does not accept the VPAI D format, which limits thirdparty reporting. Generally, [TubeMogul] supports publishers and supply-side platforms transitioning from VAST to the VPAI D standard as it allows for more robust measurability.”
What this means is that advertisers are more often than not reliant on the statistics provided through Google’s interface and do not have recourse to independent verification of statistics.
“Advertisers have full transparency on the number and duration of views on YouTube, as well as other metrics,” says the Google spokesperson. “And using TrueView, advertisers on YouTube only have to pay when a viewer watches their video for 30 seconds, or to the end if the video is shorter.”
But Boulstridge isn’t convinced by this argument. “It is very easy to say that TrueView has delivered and only charged for the completed view, but was it human? Without third party tracking you have to accept what is provided by Google.”
Time for standardisation?
“Having a media owner responsible for the tracking and measurement of campaign performance is unusual,” says Reinholds. “By default it can create a perception of nonimpartiality and conflict of interest. As with all other media, an independent third party means that these perceptions are removed and everyone is working on a level playing field.”
This is not to say that new media juggernauts such as Google and Facebook aren’t fighting the good fight against fraudulent online activities. Both organisations have invested heavily in technology that identifies ad fraud, and it is, after all, in their favour to have platforms that advertisers trust enough to spend money on. However, there is something icky about giving the publisher exclusive right to report on campaign performance.
So does this mean that it’s time to standardise the industry by incorporating third-party tracking facilitated by an independent third party?
Sam Smith, the Australia and New Zealand managing director of TubeMogul, believes that standardisation does have its merits but could also inadvertently slow down the battle against ad fraud.
“There are situations where standardisation by industry bodies is helpful,” says Smith. “The standards adopted for video viewability adopted around the world obviously helped advertisers have a single metric for whether a viewer had an opportunity to see an ad and what that means. That said, there is a wealth of data available to advertisers in digital advertising and we should not detract from the diversity of what is available by being too rigid as an industry.”
The very diversity of approaches currently being used by industry players means that fraudsters are fighting on myriad fronts—and this makes it more difficult for them to game the system.
However, there is also room for collaboration in this fragmented approach. As Smith explains: “We believe the best approach is to develop your own technology and also work with other leading players in the market.”
But even if the industry does collaborate and find ways to effectively mitigate the problem, there’s no guarantee that ad fraud will disappear. In much the same way that sweatshops are still producing fake products, there’ll always be unscrupulous characters who find ways to make illicit profits online.