Stewart Boutcher, founding CTO and data lead at Beacon, examines the danger that ad fraud poses, what is being done to combat it, as well as what marketers can do to protect their brand reputations
It is a common perception that digital ad fraud equates only to lost revenue but, in reality, the implications are far more complex.
Failure to monitor your online advertising could cause your brand to inadvertently help bankroll human traffickers or terrorists, or become associated with other forms of criminal activity that rely on ad fraud.
If you are not paying close enough attention to your online advertising, your brand may fall victim, so it is important that marketers are made aware of how problematic ad fraud can be and what can be done to protect their brands against it.
Why ad fraud is a problem
To determine the likelihood that your brand has fallen victim to ad fraud, it is important to establish the extent to which it is carried out, with the most robust figures available coming from the Crime Survey of England and Wales, according to the UK’s National Crime Agency [NCA].
Though statistics show that 3.4 million incidents of fraud were reported across all categories in 2016-17, the NCA believes that fewer than 20 per cent of all fraud incidents are actually notified to the authorities, making the task of identifying the true scale of the problem impossible.
Digital crime and ad fraud make up only a small percentage of overall fraud, but they often involve high amounts of money or valuable data information, which is then used to commit further offences – such as stealing databases or email addresses or carrying out ID fraud.
Ciaran Martin, CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre [NCSC], said that the organisation recorded 34 significant cyberattacks – meaning those that typically require a cross-Government response – between October 2016 and the end of 2017, thereby illustrating the scale of the threat.
What’s more, recent figures suggest that the problem is not going away any time soon, with the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau [NFIB] reporting that there were more than 22,812 reported incidents of cybercrime in 2020, costing marketers £7.5million in reported losses.
Also, back in 2017, desktop click fraud rose from 20% to 25%, a trend which continued in 2018 up to 27%, and economists at the University of Baltimore have found that, at present, one in 10 ad clicks across all eCommerce campaigns are fraudulent.
To make matters worse, click fraud across all paid and social media spend rose to a massive $23.7billion by the end of 2020, and this amount is expected to continue rising if the necessary action is not taken.
What’s being done to combat ad fraud?
The Data & Marketing Association [DMA] is working with the Digital Marketing Hub in Leeds and Manchester to help gain an understanding of the impact of Artificial Engagement on marketing professionals and their organisations.
Removing the human element has made ad buying more efficient, but it has also led to such issues as company’s adverts appearing alongside content that is offensive, or illegal, on YouTube and other platforms, thereby posing a risk to their brand reputations.
There’s also the other associated issue with programmatic advertising; namely, content reaching bot accounts instead of real people and having a detrimental impact on ROI as a result.
Blacklisting, whitelisting tools and other security solutions are evolving to help digital marketers with their ad campaigns, but as these get smarter, so do the bots and the criminal gangs that operate them.
How AI is evolving
Delivering targeted ads, while ensuring that they are placed in brand-safe environments and away from fraudsters, is a continuing struggle for marketers.
CEO and co-founder of Sqreem Technologies, Ian Chapman-Banks, has asserted his belief that a fully automated AI system would go a long way in empowering advertisers to examine different aspects of brand safety.
Being that AI systems enable marketers to look beyond using just the usual social media platforms, it is clear to see why Chapman-Banks believes this.
AI not only offers precision targeting of ads but can also perform real-time volume data processing to self adjust and optimise campaigns.
This ability to process huge amounts of data, including real-time reading and assessment of sites for content and context, can also provide a more enhanced safety net to the entire targeting and ad-buying process
What marketers can do to protect their brand reputations
While there is no single solution to preventing ad fraud from affecting your brand reputation, there are steps you can take to help mitigate against it.
Using the tools that are already available will cut down on potential risk, especially for those adverts that are placed through programmatic advertising.
Make sure to monitor where your adverts are being placed and use third-party brand safety blacklists that identify websites with problematic content.
You can also use web crawlers to monitor your programmatic ad spend to ensure ads remain within relevant categories and double-check any landing pages where an advert shows up.
For your digital marketing campaigns, use the built-in analytics on each platform in combination with both Google Analytics and other digital marketing tools to make sure your campaigns are being seen by real people rather than bots.
While a fully automated AI system would go a long way in empowering advertisers to examine brand safety and protect against ad fraud and brand risk, there are still steps you can take right now to defend your reputation.
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