Be­ware of ad fraud on the In­ter­net

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - Praseed Prasad

Dig­i­tal advertising started some­time in the early 1990s and has come a long way. The Web busi­ness has evolved from purely dis­play advertising and email mar­ket­ing to the large search, so­cial and video busi­ness of to­day. Dig­i­tal advertising has seen the fastest growth among all media, in fact, re­defin­ing even print and tele­vi­sion busi­nesses. This growth has come at a price and mar­keters have been the big­gest vic­tims of the greed that drives fraud in the in­dus­try. There are var­i­ous lev­els of fraud that af­fect the dig­i­tal ad busi­ness. The most ba­sic level of fraud in­volves viewa­bil­ity of ads. A vast ma­jor­ity of ads are not even seen by users on the Web. In­ter­net gi­ant Google Inc. ad­mit­ted in a De­cem­ber 2014 re­port that 56.1% of its ad im­pres­sions were not ac­tu­ally seen.

A large part of media-buy­ing on the Net is based on so­called im­pres­sions. How­ever, an im­pres­sion has noth­ing to do with an online pub­lisher or an advertiser im­press­ing a user by ex­pos­ing an ad. An im­pres­sion is de­liv­ered or burnt the mo­ment an ad is served from an ad server to a user's browser, ir­re­spec­tive of whether the user is on the web­page or not, ir­re­spec­tive of whether a user has scrolled down the page to where the ad is ex­posed. Ba­si­cally, an im­pres­sion has noth­ing to do with hu­man eye­balls. If a dig­i­tal media plan states that there were one mil­lion im­pres­sions, it sim­ply means that mul­ti­ple ad servers served ads to an In­ter­net browser one mil­lion times. The ad was prob­a­bly served on an ad slot be­low the fold, where the user never scrolled, or it was served on a new tab or page, which the user never opened, or the user closed the page be­fore the ad was fully de­liv­ered onto the web­page, or any other rea­son.

While the above case il­lus­trates im­pres­sions served to hu­man be­ings, the big­ger fraud is when im­pres­sions are served to bot traf­fic, which does not even re­quire a hu­man us­ing a browser, as these are ar­ti­fi­cially cre­ated im­pres­sions, in the ab­sence of any gen­uine traf­fic. Click fraud is another big is­sue that af­fects the busi­ness. While most mar­keters and users agree that they rarely click on ads, a large part of In­ter­net media buy­ing is done on a cost per click cur­rency. Click-through rates (CTRs) are the most de­bated points in dis­cus­sions over media se­lec­tion. While ac­ci­den­tal clicks are fil­tered largely through an­a­lyt­ics, they still ac­count for a large part of paid clicks. In ad­di­tion to this, bots that dis­guise mul­ti­ple IPs (In­ter­net Pro­to­cols) are used to gen­er­ate mul­ti­ple clicks within media cam­paigns.

At present, video is the largest growth driver for the dig­i­tal medium. And some of the largest frauds also oc­cur in this space, also be­cause video ads com­mand a sig­nif­i­cant price pre­mium over reg­u­lar ban­ner ads. Good qual­ity video is lim­ited in sup­ply or is ex­pen­sive to ad­ver­tise on. Mar­keters driven by prof­itabil­ity and price ef­fi­ciency try var­i­ous ways to ad­ver­tise on cheaper so­lu­tions. This has forced var­i­ous forms of fraud­u­lent prac­tices within the online video space. The same brand ads run in loops along with movie trail­ers with­out any fre­quency caps. Ads, which are sup­posed to run as pre­roll ( which are sup­posed to pre­cede video con­tent on de­mand), ac­tu­ally run within ban­ners. Mar­keters do not mon­i­tor most of these and ad net­works make a killing out of these prac­tices. In a price pres­sure sce­nario, they have no other way of en­sur­ing that they do not make a loss.

In a media cam­paign worth Rs.1 crore, if only 50% of the ads have a chance to be seen by the user (not guar­an­teed as seen), then we are talk­ing of wastage of Rs.50 lakh per cam­paign. With the dig­i­tal ad in­dus­try grow­ing at 35-40% year-on-year, touch­ing Rs.5,000 crore, we are talk­ing of huge losses. The sad truth is most of the peo­ple in­volved are in de­nial and help­less. Many of the de­ci­sion mak­ers are aware of the ex­is­tence of such frauds but are ei­ther re­luc­tant to ac­cept them or not ready to in­vest ad­di­tional re­sources to iden­tify and cor­rect them. There are many tools avail­able in the mar­ket that can help iden­tify many of the frauds and ad­dress most of the con­cerns. Ad­ver­tis­ers can mon­i­tor viewa­bil­ity rates and buy ads on a view­able im­pres­sion ba­sis rather than by served im­pres­sions. They might have to pay a higher price to en­sure viewa­bil­ity, but at least, they have a guar­an­teed ex­po­sure to their au­di­ence, rather than a fer­vent hope that their po­ten­tial con­sumer has been ex­posed to the ad. In fact, a re­cent Coms­core re­port sug­gested Kel­logg Co. saw a 75% in­crease in sales lift by in­creas­ing viewa­bil­ity rates by 40%.

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