If you happened to be hanging around in San Francisco 25 years ago, you might have frequented the world’s first internet café, the SF Net Coffee House Network, which offered coin-operated terminals connected to the internet.
Such a concept seems unbelievable in today’s world where free Wi-Fi is ubiquitous and the mere thought of not being connected can make people turn pale with FOMO (fear of missing out). It is difficult to imagine a time when we were not connected all the time.
This has led to a phenomenal change in the way that people connect with brands and vice versa. We are undoubtedly marketing in a digital world, and that ecosystem brings with it a new set of challenges that marketers need to tackle. In areas such as view ability and verification we are making good progress, but there is more to be done.
However, one issue that is of increasing concern across our industry is ad fraud – where illegitimate impressions, clicks, actions or events are reported along with genuine ones, earning revenue for the criminals behind the fraud, or even reported for the purpose of deception or malice. Fraudulent traffic can be entirely mechanical, human or a mix of both.
Consumers should be central to this conversation. We want the wider industry to join us in tackling fraud to make sure that consumers are operating in a safe environment online. The industry needs to work together to tackle this problem. It is not just about inefficiencies – ad fraud is, by definition, illegal.
This is about protecting your brand, and spending your media budgets responsibly. If there is fraud in your media buy, all your metrics and KPIs are worthless. If some of your budget is going on robot ‘eyes’, the actual cost for your human eyes is much, much more. It is also making sure that we don’t look the other way when criminals target the computers of our consumers, endangering the relationships we are trying to build.
At Unilever, all our spending on digital is backed up by checks and quality definitions on media, which give us confidence that the ads we are buying are being seen by the right humans. But tackling this problem will be an industry-wide challenge. We have put together some simple watchwords for marketers to use when buying online inventory.
1. Knowledge is power
Familiarise yourself with ad fraud activities and how they are defined – and then ask questions. Don’t be scared by technical terms: keep asking for clarification until you understand. Your media agency can help educate you.
2. Don’t allow suppliers to ‘mark their own homework’
Use a third-party ad tech company to monitor and verify all digital activity. Ask publishers how they get their traffic and which third party they are working with. Push them to allow third-party tracking and verification to ensure their traffic is human and valid. Pay particular attention to types of buys that are typically highly fraudulent – audience extensions for example, where publishers use their data to find their consumers across the wider web, not just on their owned and operated websites.
3. Up the pressure
Make use of agency or industry-wide whitelists and blacklists to help avoid sites with high fraudulent activity. Typically, agencies have these – mobilising the entire industry to share these lists has been a challenge but it is possible. And push industry organisations to get publishers to take a pledge that they will not monetise or sell fraudulent impressions.
As advertisers, we have a responsibility to tackle ad fraud head on for the benefit of the consumers we serve, our companies (ensuring we are spending our media funds well) and the communications industry overall. It is important that we work together with our peers and industry partners to address the challenges we face and collaborate to change the way the current ecosystem operates. Watch out, play safe and keep consumers protected online.
Keith Weed will be speaking at the Festival of Marketing, which is running on the 5 and 6 October at Tobacco Dock, London. For more information about the event, including how to book tickets, click here.