How the Ad Ecosystem Is Morphing to Address Ad Fraud

In association with Dun & Bradstreet

The simple relationship between publishers and advertisers has become increasingly complex, with the introduction of sophisticated digital ad buying. The growth of the internet has also caused an ad oversupply that’s left massive amounts of inventory unsold. In this piece, Anudit Vikram (pictured below), SVP, audience solutions, Dun & Bradstreet, says that to combat the problem, the industry has introduced ad networks, DSPs, and SSPs between the buyer and seller, making the ecosystem more and more complex. What was originally created to help advertisers make the most of their advertising dollars, has actually been making it more difficult to track the success of that spend.  

The new frontier

Marketers and brands are under ever-increasing pressure to show return on advertising spend, but with the exposure of fraudulent ad schemes B2B advertisers have started to question the effectiveness of their ad dollars. How do we know if ads are being shown to the right audience and how can we identify if legitimate individuals are clicking on our ads?    

Due to the concerns over ad fraud, return on investment, and lack of perceived value provided by a complex ad supply chain, the past few years have seen an uptick in the number of companies that are cutting out agencies and deciding to bring programmatic in-house.  

Because programmatic methods allow much smaller teams to execute campaigns across a larger number of inventory sources, brands don’t necessarily need to invest in building large teams. By doing it themselves, they have greater control and can measure their ad spend with a deep level of granularity.   

Anudit Vikram, SVP, Audience Solutions, Dun & Bradstreet

However, bringing the process in-house is easier said than done. It remains to be seen how successful these companies will be and how much cost savings they will truly discover.  

It is important to understand that bringing media buying in-house is not as simple as setting up a single team. To be successful, the team requires a mix of skills that are unlikely to exist anywhere else in the company. The team will be working on something that is typically not 'core' business.

With that being the case, the key questions to ask are whether there is budget available to support this for a long run, and whether all stakeholders – e.g. finance, HR, sales – buy into this model and will support it over time.

What’s more, companies need to understand and establish their true goal for going in-house: Do they simply want to have greater control and influence on media buys? Do they want to leverage first-party data more effectively, or bring offline data to bear for online campaigns?

Being honest about the capabilities that exist in partner organisations, and their appetite to provide support, is also important. Bringing media buying in-house – if it will be executed efficiently – forces you into the big data game. You need to consider if your company has the right analytical skills to be successful.

There are many wrinkles to the in-housing process; and marketing leaders need to be fully appraised before making a decision.

Addressing fraud

If you are buying media, either through an agency or in-house, there are several things that you should be thinking about to ensure you are getting a good return on your investment and not paying for fraudulent clicks. Over USD$7.4bn (£5.63bn) was wasted on display ads alone in 2016, according to Forrester, and is expected to rise to over USD$10.9bn (£8.29bn) by 2021, if steps are not taken to mitigate the situation. To limit the impact of ad fraud on their ad spend, B2B organisations should look to:  

Understand who is actually viewing your ads: Making sure your ads are reaching the intended audience is paramount in tracking ad ROI. Through the use of deterministic data and precise audience targeting, you can be sure you are reaching the right audience on digital platforms, social media, and even television.  

Have the right underlying data to combat fraud (and make sure your suppliers do as well): It’s important to know that the companies you are doing business with are who they say they are. Having that data is crucial to the success of your programmatic ad programme. Organisations like the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) are working to certify ad tech supply chains by verifying the identity of participating companies. TAG provides an industry white list for advertisers, helping authenticate over 200 advertising companies across 20 countries. 

Validate at all checkpoints: Since there are so many touchpoints in an ad transaction, it’s important to validate at every single step. With an increased focus on authentication, those entities that can help you validate what is happening in the ad supply chain will become very important to your ad tech/martech system.  

Invest in new technologies: Some companies are testing blockchain and machine learning as ways of identifying fraudulent actors. Blockchains are essentially a ledger of sorts that are designed to be inherently secure and allow for transparent consensus without putting any central party in charge, leaving less room for nefarious actors. While blockchain-based solutions are still in early stages of development to help prevent ad fraud, machine learning-based methods are available today that can process data and make decisions in fractions of a second to help combat fraudulent situations. In addition, automatically filtering out fraudulent IP addresses using AI is also one of the best ways to prevent ad fraud.    

What’s next?

It seems in the recent past we have over-rotated by trying to use so many different vendors and platforms within a simple campaign execution workflow. Some of this will be taken care of by industry consolidation and also by the increased adoption of marketing clouds. It is also the responsibility of marketers to push for simplification of the media execution flow, thereby reducing the number of middlemen who come into play in each buy.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence give us the capability to prescreen and define channels that have a higher degree of success for given tactics. This will allow marketers to have dynamic systems that choose the most efficient and effective flow, rather than a complicated web of daisy-chained call-outs to all possible actors in the ecosystem.

Smart agencies are going to figure out a way to continue to leverage their relationships to bring about the economies of scale, but will do so in a manner that leverages technology and data to provide incremental value to the marketer. These smart agencies will become trusted advisors to marketers and will usher in an era of symbiotic relationships, where they are providing value –albeit in a model different from the one that exists today.