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Digital Ad Fraud, Ad-Supported Piracy, Non-Viewability

Dave Morgan
Dave Morgan  |  Executive Chairman
Updated: Apr. 01, 2022
Published: May. 09, 2014

Originally posted on MediaPost

You can't read digital advertising news these days without running into stories about yet another problem with robotic traffic, ad fraud, non-viewable ads or ad-supported piracy. Unfortunately, it's no longer the trades that are running these stories.

This past Sunday, The New York Times ran a big spread about the fact that half of Web video ads are not even viewable, in spite of the fact that they are being counted, billed and paid for by unsuspecting advertisers. Today, The Wall Street Journal ran a story on the front of the Marketplace section exposing how websites with pirated movies and TV content are siphoning at least a hundred million dollars of ad support from unsuspecting major national marketers like Kraft and Merck. All of this on the heels of reports, month-in and month-out, that substantial portions of the entire display and Web video impression deliveries are caused by robots, not people.

If you're an executive of a major national advertiser, you can't be getting a lot of warm fuzzies from what you're reading and hearing about the digital advertising industry lately.

When will folks in our industry say enough is enough, and take real action to stop and reverse this conduct, which is polluting what so many have built over so many years? Maybe it's time for more dramatic steps. Here are some of my ideas:

Advertisers, impose real penalties. Advertisers and agencies should implement zero-tolerance policies and shut off services and networks completely for all future business opportunities when they have experienced fraud. Stop accepting that it's just a cat and mouse game that can't be solved. Demand full refunds on campaigns, not just for the fraudulent portions. Recover fees from agencies. If you stop the flow of money, you might be surprised how fast real solutions show up.

Remove artificial incentives that make folks look the other way. As has been reported in news stories over and over, one of the biggest drivers and enabling conditions of robotic traffic fraud is media buyers' desire to push overall costs-per-thousand down. As easy way to cut CPMs in half is to use robots to double a sites or networks traffic. We need to focus more on cost-per-business-objective, not just on cheapening intermediate metrics.

Remove automated site sign-ups and replace black lists with white lists. One of the reasons that bad actor sites, such as those with pirated content, are able to get ads and payments from big brands is that networks and exchanges make it easy and automated for almost anyone to sign up and get ad tags. Exclusions typically only happen if a site is put on a black list. How about insuring that there are real people behind sites, in jurisdictions where legal recourse can be brought? Maybe even require bonding or credit ratings?

Clearly, there are a lot of folks focused on solutions. By now, there must be dozens of companies in verification, fraud protection, robotic detection, etc. However, the incidents -- and the stories -- persist. Enough is enough. Let's get this stopped before the reputation of the digital ad industry takes even more hits. What do you think?