Performance data and insights can make or break a brand’s long-term digital marketing success but this success is constantly undermined by the lack of transparency in data, says TrafficGuard’s Chadwick Kinlay.

Consumer trust in brands is sinking. Data transparency and privacy issues have contributed to consumers having 10% less trust in brands over the last year. This problem is further compounded when marketers cannot even trust their own brand data, thanks to unmitigated digital advertising fraud.

Over the past decade, bots and click farms have perforated online advertising, diverting streams of revenue into the pockets of fraudsters. This effectively spams advertising platforms with fraudulent traffic, clicks, impressions and conversions that prevent websites and apps from delivering content to real users. Thus, advertisers pay for ads that never reach the intended audience. Currently, up to 25% of marketing adspend is being lost due to invalid traffic (IVT) or bot-generated traffic. This is set to reach a whopping US$100 billion in global adspend by the end of this year.

However, diverted revenue isn’t the only major loss brands suffer from due to invalid traffic and ad fraud. Unchecked ad fraud can wreak havoc on a brand’s digital marketing campaign by skewing traffic numbers. This negatively impacts optimising and scaling activity with the best-performing sources.

How misattribution hinders marketing ROI and ad effectiveness

Inaccurate data means misattribution, whereby marketers cannot determine which tactics are contributing to sales or conversions. This can result in a domino effect on campaigns and dampens marketing ROI, which curbs advertising investment from the right channels that deliver genuine results. 

A lack of transparency in campaign numbers and attribution often results in advertisers frequently changing networks and traffic sources. In short, how can a marketer raise its consumer trust profile when it cannot rely on its own numbers?

This year has hit consumer spending hard as nations across Asia Pacific are slammed by high inflation. In light of this headwind, the consumer-brand trust dynamic is critical for ensuring bottom-line success.

Tackling ad fraud is no easy feat as fraudsters constantly remain one step ahead. Its sophistication makes it harder and harder to detect or identify manually. Indeed, today, some bots are able to mimic human behaviour.

Always on the money, fraudsters can now exploit emerging ad formats and platforms. They are also increasingly targeting mobile in-app and connected television (CTV) – basically places where advertisers shift their money. Tackling ad fraud may seem like a Sisyphean effort but with the right tactics and technology, it can be achieved.

A brand’s responsibility to arm up against ad fraud

Industry organisations have introduced several initiatives to tackle ad fraud. One notable example is ads.txt, an initiative by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), allowing companies to identify authorised sellers of their inventory. Another is from the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), which has established "Certified Against Fraud" guidelines aimed at combating fraudulent practices. While these are relatively useful guardrails in theory, they do not effectively address the broader issue indicated by the continued increase in cost lost to ad fraud.

In reality, it’s a brand’s individual responsibility to nip any infiltration of ad fraud in the bud. Failing to do so will only put their business performance at risk of underperformance and wasted spend. Something we’ve learnt from helping brands combat ad fraud is that it is often a laborious, manual process for marketing teams when it doesn’t need to be.

One client, an online marketplace running US$40,000 in Google ads every month across multiple accounts, used placement reporting and manually updated exclusion to filter out invalid traffic. This approach was neither fast nor comprehensive enough to offer adequate protection against ad fraud and invalid traffic (IVT). The good news is, today’s technology now allows marketers to be much faster and more sophisticated than that.

Proactive ad fraud prevention and unprecedented transparency

Dedicated advertising technology proactively blocks IVT before it hits campaigns, ensuring ad fraud never gets paid for. This means advertisers are not wasting time on manual invoice reconciliation and traffic sources don't get misattributed for IVT. Today, there are innovative tools marketers can use to gauge whether their campaigns are at risk of fraudulent activities.

Meanwhile, advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can help marketers detect IVT at a scale unmatched by humans. ML technology enables multi-level detection that feeds data back to algorithms and continuously improves detection. Now, marketers can tackle and mitigate IVT in real time.

Finally, anti-fraud technology can even “surgically” remove instances of IVT using 200 source indicators. This protects valid traffic volumes, ensuring marketers still have a complete picture of data to optimise and attribute. In the case of TrafficGuard, we use over three trillion data points a month to continuously improve our AI and ML learning models to enable customers to:

  1. Squeeze more potential from the same ad spend as before
  2. Protect themselves for programmatic advertising
  3. Mitigate fraud as early as possible
  4. Verify any type of digital advertising campaign on any channel
  5. Analyse traffic and determine validity in real time

Beyond technology, there is, of course, education. Marketers need to ensure both they and their teams are fully aware of ad fraud. Awareness should encompass fraudsters’ methods, clues to spot fraudulent traffic and ways to prevent it. In addition, all marketers should be fully conscious of the long-term devastation reaped by ad fraud.

Anti-ad fraud solutions are not just a good-to-have but a must-have in 2023. Marketers must ensure there is a long-term partner and strategy for ad fraud prevention across all advertising channels. This will bring much-needed transparency across agencies and publishers to advertisers. And with transparency comes trust, which is something we could all do with a bit more of.