Transparency in digital: a Q&A on ad fraud

05/16 By Dave Marquard

In our recent webinar, “Transparency in digital: how did your campaigns stack up?” we received a lot of great questions about the different aspects of media quality. In this blog post, we’re answering your questions about ad fraud.

What constitutes the difference between unethical advertising and true ad fraud?

The line between ad fraud and low quality inventory or unethical behavior is thin. A clear example of ad fraud is selling inventory automatically generated by bots. On the other hand, an advertiser might choose to buy the cheapest inventory out there, not knowing that this inventory might be placed amongst 10 other ads on the page (known as ad clutter), or placed at the bottom of a page full of content with little chance of coming into view. That’s why we define ad fraud as any deliberative activity that prevents the proper delivery of ads to the right people at the right time. When there’s willful deception of the advertiser, the line becomes clear.

What about human traffic but with poor ad exposure like ad carousels and ad stacking?

Ad carousels are not a form of ad fraud if the advertiser has knowingly purchased this inventory. Ad stacking is a form of ad fraud because by being stacked below another ad, the ad the advertiser paid for never has a chance to come into view. For more on what exactly counts as ad fraud, check out this infographic.

If a lot of sites don’t even realize that bots are running and creating false impressions, who gains in creating fraudulent traffic? Why do bots exist?

Botnet operators are smart… they know they can easily make money through ad fraud. There are ways of making money off 1) fake sites and 2) real sites.

Fake sites: the operators set up a site that they control, and sign up with a few ad networks to get ads displayed so they can get paid when “people” view or click on the ads. However, it’s not humans going to the site; they setup a botnet to load the site and interact with the ads.

Real sites: Botnet operators also have their bots visit legitimate sites to collect cookies and appear as high-value targets for programmatic buys. After visiting these legitimate sites, the bots will be able to visit the fake site and have expensive ads served to it.

That’s why legitimate publishers are victims of ad fraud, too. They run good sites and have no affiliation to bot operators. However, they have valuable readers, so bots will of course visit their sites to try and emulate these audiences. They’ll appear valuable and therefore make more money on their fake sites.

Are branding campaigns or performance/DR campaigns more susceptible to ad fraud?

In terms of the advertising itself, both branding campaigns and direct response campaigns are susceptible to ad fraud. Bots don’t discriminate. However, some KPIs are more susceptible to manipulation than others. For example, traditional branding KPIs such as impressions served, viewability rate, and click-through rates are easier to game than DR KPIs such as conversion rate. After all, bots won’t actually buy products.

What relationship do you usually see between viewability and ad fraud?

Fraudulent impressions are, by definition, never viewable. All ad fraud should be filtered out from viewability reporting, as per the MRC requirement.

Learn more about how IAS can protect you from ad fraud here.

Want to learn more about ad fraud? Check out our guide, Ad fraud: the essentials. And, if you missed the webinar, you can watch the recording here.