Rahul Vengalil
Guest Article

Understand what you are fighting against before investing in 'ad tech'

First, identify the enemy, then attack, says the author.

Ever since Mr Marc Pritchard spoke about cleaning the media supply side ecosystem, earlier this year at IAB, there has been a lot of interest from the advertising fraternity in fighting ad fraud. It is fine to hop on the bandwagon to combat ad fraud, but the challenge is to first understand who the actual enemy is before finding a solution.

Understand what you are fighting against before investing in 'ad tech'

Rahul Vengalil

My interaction with various businesses over the last few months has made me realise that most of the ad fraud setup that businesses talk about are almost always partially implemented. It is true that there are ad tech solutions that are available in the market to help you, but without truly setting up your guidelines to fighting ad fraud, businesses will end up on the losing side more often than not.

It was not surprising then, when I read the report in WARC last month stating that 81 percent of advertisers globally, do not understand ad tech solutions and feel that they are being under-utilised in their digital media investment.

The understanding of the triad of Brand Safety (B), Ad fraud (A) and Viewability (V), popularly known as BAV, should be the starting point for any business in their fight against fraud. There are many other challenges which they should be aware of as well. To people untrained in the art of ad tech lingo, let us define the challenges that need to be fought.

Brand Safety

Showing the ad of an airline when a consumer is reading about the crash of another airline, can be considered brand-unsafe. Every brand should first define what brand safety means to them. A condom brand may consider porn sites an important platform, whereas that becomes an unsafe environment for a biscuit brand. In other words, ensuring that ads are placed in relevant context is brand safety. "A remarkable 66 percent of consumers say their respect for brands decreases when they encounter ads near hateful, inappropriate or distressing content," says the 'Brand Protection from Content Infection' study.


Viewability can be compared to the 'Delivered' and 'Read' notifications on WhatsApp. An impression served is like the delivered notification and the impression viewed is akin to the read notification. The same way we do not expect a response from a recipient who has received a message, we shouldn't harp on served impressions alone without knowing the viewability rate. There was a 2017 report which stated that an increase of 15 percent in viewability leads to a 10 percent positive impact on business.

Ad Fraud

Everything we are talking about technically falls under the purview of fraud. When it comes to the fight against ad fraud, it is primarily bots (non-human traffic) and click farms. It is estimated that the losses due to ad fraud in India are anywhere between 30-40 percent depending on the devices, ad format, etc.

The combined losses due to BAV alone, amount to a large percentage of the investment. However, businesses are fighting one menace at a time rather than looking at a holistic solution.


For a medium that is high on targeting, the spillover of the actual ads served is quite high in India. Most of the best planned and executed campaigns that I have seen and analysed have a spillover of over 30 percent. Given this, imagine the spillover for campaigns that aren't tracked at all, which is the majority today.


The largest challenge that advertisers are facing while buying through Programmatic platforms is that of transparency. Over 25 percent of the media buys in India would be on programmatic platforms, as per the DAN digital report of 2017. While programmatic gives businesses an opportunity to improve the efficiency of their spends, a majority of the businesses move to it considering it to be a cheaper option. What businesses overlook is the fact that a large chunk of the investment goes in as the servicing cost of technology rather than actual media spends. In other words, there is a huge possibility for the businesses to be taken for a ride by the vendor/partner.

What does the ad tech stack look like?

The fight against inefficiency has to go hand-in-hand and not in silos, which is the reality of today. The ideal ad tech implementation looks like the representation above. This needs to be customised as per the requirement of the business.

Understand what you are fighting against before investing in 'ad tech'

The ad tech stack

How should businesses start ad tech implementation?

A business shouldn't decide one day that it will start using tools to fight fraud. In most cases, that becomes an additional investment instead of improving efficiency.

It should start by creating guidelines for each of the challenges that it is facing today. This needs to be done by an expert and not by an in-house team unless they know all the implications, vulnerabilities and risks involved. The guidelines should ideally define:-

1. The preferred ad tech setup that suits the requirement of the business basis the budget, device preferences, ad format preferences etc.

2. The tolerance levels across all the challenges that the business is willing to accept keeping the market, device preferences, ad format preference etc.

3. Linking the payout to the tolerance level to ensure that there is an improvement in the efficiency rather an additional investment.

(The author is founder and chief executive officer, What Clicks, a digital media audit and strategy firm)

Have news to share? Write to us atnewsteam@afaqs.com