Namah Chawla

Ad fraud: the eternal challenge grows in size

Tech giant Google tripled the number of ad suspensions between 2020 and 2021 due to spike in ad fraud cases.

While the digital ecosystem has been beneficial for the advertising community, it has also led to many complexities. Global tech giant Google, in its recent Ad Safety Report 2021, states that it tripled the number of ad suspensions between 2020 and 2021.

The report highlights Google’s efforts against those ads that went against its policies. It removed 3.4 billion ads (as compared to 968 million in 2020) and restricted more than 5.7 billion in 2021. Also, 5.6 million advertiser accounts were suspended from Google’s network in 2021.

Google's ad safety efforts
Google's ad safety efforts

The rise in ad fraud cases can be attributed to easy availability of devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops and affordable Internet access. Increasing digital spends, the rise of e-commerce and people spending more time online, have further led to this proliferation.

According to Moneka Khurana, country head and board member, MMA India, the above factors, coupled with the complexity of today’s digital ad ecosystem, have contributed to the rise in ad fraud cases.

“The major ad suspensions were initiated due to the current Ukraine-Russia crisis and COVID. Over eight million ads were related to the war in Ukraine, under Google’s Sensitive Event Policy. That’s the level of unwanted and incorrect ads, getting published,” highlights Sanjay Mehta, joint CEO, Mirum India.

Brand safety measures are at a nascent stage in India. There is limited awareness about the measures, and few brands take them seriously.

Marketers should never assume that there is no threat or harm to their brand, as per Khurana. “It has been found that nine out of 10 CMOs get astonished after getting a brand safety audit done through external partners. Brand safety issue isn’t an indicator of poor performance that the brand custodians should feel shy about. Rather, they should proactively check for any issue and makes the brand stronger in the digital landscape.”

Source: Google Ads Safety Report 2021
Source: Google Ads Safety Report 2021

A brand comes under scrutiny when its media placement is next to inappropriate content like fake news, terrorism, obscene/indecent content, etc. Such instances can put a brand in a negative light and hurt its reputation. As a result, its ROI is impacted over the long run.

A recent Nielsen analysis of a campaign found that only 25 per cent of its ads were reaching the right households. As much as 65 per cent of location-targeted ad spend was wasted.

Talking about this increase in ad fraud statistics, Neena Dasgupta, CEO & director, Zirca Digital Solutions, mentions, “If we think of the Internet as a company, then we humans can’t control it, as bots have occupied multiple spheres of the digital ecosystem. While fraudsters are forever developing ways to hijack the system, technology companies are perpetually devising new ways to stop them.”

Publishers’ caution advised

Brand safety is about actively working towards preventing associations with ads and content that are harmful to the brand’s reputation. It is not a one-time activity and should be continuously practiced throughout a brand’s existence. Publishers, brand custodians and third-party verification agencies play an important role in this.

Nachiket Deole, head of sales - India, DoubleVerify (a platform for digital media measurement, data and analytics), says that these days, fraudsters are constantly attacking new devices. They tend to gravitate towards where ad dollars get invested.

Deole asserts that brand safety begins with publishers and platforms. “They are the ones who own or aggregate digital advertising inventory for sale. Many of them have strong anti-fraud practices in place. Additionally, third-party verification helps to objectively check media quality and performance.”

Mehta of Mirum India feels that brands shouldn’t work with partner publishers, who don’t let them serve their ads. Instead, they should sign up with a third-party ad serving platform to ensure brand safety.

Combating ad fraud

mFilterIt, a global digital brand safety and prevention platform, predicts that ad fraud is estimated to cost advertisers and brands $44 billion to fraudulent activities by 2022. Marketers need to save this money and ensure that their ads are served to real consumers.

Khurana of MMA India says that brand safety is not just a reputation risk but an equally bigger financial risk. “The fact is that there isn’t much being done to proactively prevent it. Brands and marketers must make brand safety needs an integral part of their digital marketing strategy.”

However, Mehta informs that most of these suspensions happen on an ad account level - any account which is publishing content that incites violence, etc., will get blocked. “This puts a filter to stop opportunistic advertising. Hence, I feel few brands will get affected by this, because most do take enough care when they publish their ads”

Semantic Science - the artificial intelligence that allows one to read and understand content and context, has witnessed quite a growth in the recent past, mentions Deole of DoubleVerify.

As per Dasgupta of Zirca Digital Solutions, “The two common ways to combat ad fraud are detection software and data analytics. Most brands utilise ad fraud detection software to identify invalid clicks across their display advertising, as well as on paid search and social channels. The software can spot bot clicks on paid campaigns and remove them. This prevents them from siphoning money away from the campaign.”

To ensure protection, brands can employ such safety controls and leverage the latest technology, without compromising on the scale and effectiveness of their campaigns.

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