Worried about bots, trickery and fake ads? Then you’re doing it wrong

04 Oct 2017

Programmatic advertising, and by association, the ad tech industry, has been assailed of late by controversy and confusion on the back of ads showing up on websites with negative, polarizing content such as terrorist sites.

Such incidents harm brand image, credibility and reputation, resulting in marketers becoming wary of programmatic and real-time bidding (RTB). Many industries – financial services being a stand-out example – have been through similar periods of controversy but time and time again these periods are followed by rehabilitation.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree that the problems marring programmatic are real, but too many discuss only the bleak side of programmatic. Shying away from using this powerful marketing approach isn’t the answer. I like to use the simple analogy of the computer. The fact that it is often plagued by viruses doesn’t deter us from using it. Rather, we work at combating and minimizing the threat while continuing to benefit from the technology.

Similarly programmatic brings value to both brands and consumers through automation and data. Brands reach consumers more effectively and consumers are served more relevant ads. What the market needs to know is that there are existing solutions to ‘bots, trickery and fake ads’ that are capable of largely resolving, if not completely eliminating, these issues. CtrlShift has consistently achieved average safety ratings of 98% for campaigns for a large global client. That means 98% of all ad impressions were served on brand safe inventory. I’d say most marketers would be comfortable with that!

The problem is a lack of awareness and understanding of the solutions offered by agencies and technology enablers in the digital advertising supply chain. More can be done to educate marketers on solutions that pare down ad fraud and help safeguard brands.

Brand safety and fraud detection solutions

Solutions that detect fraud and ensure brand safety use sophisticated algorithms to determine if a potential publication or publisher is suitable for individual campaigns.

Grapeshot for example offers contextual analysis to ensure that an ad does not appear next to ill-suited or improper content. It also can recommend content aligned with the brand message to deliver impactful campaigns. Integral Ad Science falls into the same category; it uses parameters to assess whether a potential publisher (website) is fake or unsuitable for the brand’s campaign.

Tracking and measurement services

Intelligence and analytics firms, like Moat, track and measure the effectiveness of ad placement – whether people see and interact with the online ads. This is done by checking if the ads have indeed been placed on bona fide sites and if they meet minimum standards for viewability. Like "auditors" for digital advertisers, their services augment brand safety and fraud detection.

Media management and buying platforms

Media management platforms are sophisticated tools that boost safety, monitor and measure. Using data science, these platforms can weed out sites that are fake, have offensive content or bot clicks without compromising campaign performance.

Drawing on vast volumes of historical campaign data these platforms can create whitelists of preferred and verified publishers, and blacklists of inappropriate publishers, based on combinations of brand guidelines and statistical analysis of ad clicks. Some agencies are already employing these tools to purchase large volumes of ads while successfully managing the risk of fraud (ads appearing sites subject to fake traffic) and low viewability. CtrlShift’s The Hub is one such platform that employs data-science to proactively suggest specific tactics to improve campaign performance – which websites to whitelist, which platforms to buy through, how to allocate budgets towards the various channels and more.

Premium programmatic marketplaces

Programmatic marketplace innovations in Southeast Asia offer curated, brand safe environments (where ads are guaranteed to appear in whitelisted websites) and enhanced data transparency. These come in two forms: 1) private marketplaces; and 2) publisher alliances. Private marketplaces, which feature a curated list of top publishers, include CtrlShift’s AMP (Asia’s Marketplace for Premium Inventory). Publisher alliances include the Online Premium Publisher Association in Thailand (OPPA) and the planned collaboration between MediaCorp and SPH.

Using a data-enriched private marketplace to target nuanced audience profiles – females, 20 to 30 years old, who like solo luxury travel – is the best way to combat ad fraud and enjoy efficient, effective ad buying. A private marketplace offers premium inventory from top publishers; advertisers bid on the inventory based on their specific target audience without worries for brand safety.

With the inexorable migration of consumers to digital platforms (social media, websites, video on-demand), the importance of programmatic in digital advertising is set to grow, not weaken. While current issues – ad fraud, fake sites, viewability – could lessen the impact of digital campaigns, there are proven solutions that can successfully address these problems. This will allow brands and agencies to enjoy the many benefits of programmatic – scalability, sharper audience targeting and the ability to directly drive business outcomes – with peace of mind. The industry is fighting back. And winning.

Originally published in The Drum on the 4th of October 2017

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