Ride-hailing company Uber was in the midst of crisis when it discovered colossal fraud to the tune of $100m, according to comments made recently by its former head of performance marketing and CRM.

It matters because even with those quantities of money, nobody seemed to know it was happening. While it’s not uncommon to turn off performance marketing and see little to no change in business outcomes.

In summary: Kevin Frisch appeared last week on the Marketing Today podcast to talk about some of the challenges he faced in the role, especially around the time of #DeleteUber controversy (there were a few, read an explainer here.)

During his time, he came across some breath-taking attribution fraud: “We turned off two thirds of our ad spend – $100m out of annual spend of $150m – and basically saw no change in our number of rider app installs.

“What we saw is a lot of installs we thought had come through paid channels suddenly came through organic.”

The background:

  • The brand was under significant political pressure, much of which would come to Frisch, when the pressure group Sleeping Giants pointed out that Uber ads were popping up on the far-right website Breitbart.
  • Superiors were unhappy with the public heat, so Frisch instructed his ad buying networks to stop showing ads on the site. When they continued to appear, he just cut the flow of money (10% of the budget roughly). Nothing happened.

What’s going on: Attribution fraud differs from impression fraud by claiming credit (and payment) for downloads that would have happened organically.

Uber launched a lawsuit in 2017 against its agency, Dentsu Fetch, until it was countersued the following year for unpaid invoices. By 2019, the company had re-targeted its complaint towards its ad networks, though that was, AdExchanger observed, almost more interesting for what it omitted than what it included. In the filing, the firm recognised around 100 unknown companies.

As the Ad Contrarian noted in an end-of-year wrap-up: “Perhaps the most deeply disturbing aspect of his story was his description of how nobody gave 1/10 of a flying sh*t how much money was being p**sed away.”  

The advice: Put in the hours (either by building a strong internal team or hiring in professionals) to check out the numbers. “You can never put it on autopilot,” Frisch now says.  

Ad fraud investigator Dr. Augustine Fou has argued in many places, including WARC, that behavioural targeting is rarely worth the premium, and it falls to marketers to be clear-eyed. Says Dr. Fou: “Run your own experiments to see what to cut.”

Sourced from Marketing Today, Vox, WARC, AdContrarian