If you still think viewability is the key to optimising the performance of online brand campaigns, then you have got your head in the sand, says Marco Ricci, CEO of global audit verification firm, Adloox.
Ad verification has become a phrase on every marketer's lips. It’s been a talking point at many industry panel discussions over the past few months (since P&G’s Marc Pritchard made his speech challenging the industry to clean up its act), and has been front-page news everywhere from The Times to the BBC. Everyone wants to know what they need to do to ensure their digital media purchases are being seen by the right audiences.
As someone who runs an audit verification company, I'm obviously happy that Pritchard has thrown down the gauntlet and that marketers and their agencies are now paying increased attention to where their digital millions are being spent. But – and it's a big but – I'm concerned that the debate is currently being skewed towards just proving the viewability of campaigns.
Many in our industry still seem to think that ensuring an ad can be adequately accessed and seen for the appropriate duration is all that's needed to guarantee to an advertiser that their budgets are being well-used. The truth is much more complex, because if you're failing to think about ad fraud, your campaign and all its carefully-considered benchmarks of success are likely to be a waste of time.
Ad fraud is a huge and growing problem. It's estimated that advertisers are set to lose over $16bn in revenue due to the fraudsters– a sum that has more than doubled in the past two years, as greater proportion of media budgets are funneled online. Ironically, these criminals are probably more successful than the media campaigns that they are effectively fleecing.
How to ensure that your media budget doesn't get diverted towards these cyber-gangs is a tricky business as their methods can change quickly. But there is a lot that can be done which still often isn't being carried out – this is where I fear the focus on viewability alone is clouding the issue.
I have a couple of recommendations if you're a marketer who is new to this and wants to ask some questions of your buyers and adtech suppliers, especially if you're being led to believe that viewability is all you need to be concerned about.
Firstly, you need to understand that the problem is not so much about dodgy websites as dodgy traffic. It is the user traffic coming to the websites, not the websites per se, that is the ‘fraud’. Our research has shown that up to 80% of ad fraud is hiding at the (mostly) un-reported user level. Remove the bad user traffic, and you can reduce ad fraud to under 1-2%, not the 30-40% you find across the industry.
We are limiting ourselves by reporting only on website scores (from verification tools + the suppliers themselves) and trying to optimise campaigns on this ‘success’ metric. You might be seeing fantastic cost per view figures on your campaign using this approach, but how can you be sure that it isn't non-human traffic that is fuelling these numbers? Put another way, if you're only concerned with drumming up large amounts of clicks, then you shouldn't be surprised that the fraudsters have found ways to supply you with those clicks. It's just that there isn't a human finger behind it (or reading your ad and considering its contents).
How does this work? Forced mobile auto-refreshing, hi-jacked tags, domain spoofing and cookie stuffing fraud are all means by which systems can be tricked into recording user traffic that doesn't actually exist. There are over 30 classified categories of GIVT (general invalid traffic) and SIVT (sophisticated invalid traffic), yet the press is still talking about ‘Methbot’, which incidentally is just one example of domain spoofing.
What we need is to fundamentally shift the dial on how we define traffic quality measurement. It has taken the industry over 8 years to administer a Cost per View (CPV) metric, now it is about marketers pushing for adoption of a Cost per Human (CPH) benchmark - thus forcing suppliers to prove that their targeting is reaching humans rather than bots. I say this half in jest but let’s be clear, ad fraud is rising and marketers are wasting a lot of money. Adloox’s auditing service has reduced clients’ fraudulent traffic to <1%, and non-brand safe content to under 0.2%. The irony is the industry average viewability score sits between 40-45%, yet by administering more granular controls on bad traffic, our clients are seeing over 75% viewability. Taking this approach is successful for marketers because it raises the brand effectiveness of their human targeting, and thus the return on investment, but it also ensures confidence with quality traffic from more trusted suppliers.
So, we really need to open out the debate, increase the education on ad fraud, and understand (universally) that without more sophisticated verification, digital will remain damaged. At the moment, I fear too many advertisers are being sold a whitewashed version of this confidence, predicated on a prehistoric obsession with impressions and clicks.