Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Points of View

Are interactive ads a viable antidote to ad fraud?

Bots replicate human behaviour, interactions make them unique and dilute trends.

The latest DAN Digital Advertising Report states that the digital medium is expected to grow at 27 per cent to reach Rs 17,377 crore by the end of 2020. Backed by cheap data, internet penetration and digital adoption by consumers, digital advertising has witnessed healthy growth over the years.

The report suggests that digital media is expected to grow at a CAGR of 27.42 per cent and is set to swell to Rs 58,550 crore by the end of 2025. The projections make it clear that advertisers are not shying away from investing in digital advertising. However, in the absence of a commonly agreed upon measurement metric, the barbs of ad fraud and transparency are digging deeper.

On the brighter side, the boom in digital led to the advent of newer platforms and formats of advertising. This has also led to the intersection of creative and technology alongside the convergence of formats like video, voice, games, AR-VR, among others. This has led to deeper human interactions with brands and their campaigns – something that would be rather difficult to replicate by processes and bots.

Also Read: "There is no silver bullet for ad fraud." - Shane Dewar, Essence

Advertisers pay for impressions, clicks, and calls to action, like app downloads and sales. Ad fraud targets these metrics by replicating human behaviour. In the light of such a situation, we ask if innovative digital campaigns that trigger unique human behaviour can be a potent solution.

Industry speak:

Hitali Makkar, business director, Vizeum India

Ad fraud has been prevalent in the digital advertising space and has grown into a perennial concern amongst the fraternity of professionals managing digital investments. This has been observed primarily for campaigns with KPIs that revolve around impressions and clicks.

Hitali Makkar
Hitali Makkar

Globally, ad fraud for 2019 was estimated at six billion dollars from advertisers, showing the growing issue. This growth shows no sign of slowing down and as we step into 2020, the amount of fraud will only increase. What is more alarming is that each year, we witness more complex fraud mechanisms.

A variety of different schemes like click spamming, SDK spoofing, incent abuse, bots/emulators and even cookie stuffing is growing rapidly, despite industry’s best defensive efforts. These fraudulent tactics still manage to slip past the technology specifically designed to circumvent these growing issues. Huge players in the Ad Tech ecosystem such as IAS (Integral Ad Science), DoubleVerify, White Ops and others are constantly working towards providing a major level of prevention to ad fraud, dramatically challenging the fraudsters to secure our marketer’s ad budgets.

This has also enabled the industry to evolve KPI metrics skewed towards engagement through interactive formats. This helps the buyers in two ways – high level of user engagements as well as decreased non-viewable impressions or bots. An ad interaction that works at an eye blink or an interactive unit that commands to scroll up build more complexities for fraudsters.

Having stated the above and what we have been experiencing, I have no hesitation in stating that as new types of digital advertising formats and targeted funnels come into existence, so will new kinds of ad frauds. It’s not easy to win the battle against ad fraud. One must be quick to choose the right strategies for tackling each issue. For instance, just as AI-powered tools like contextual image recognition and text analysis are used to combat brand safety threats, using techniques like supply path optimisation and relying less on open exchanges need to become a force of habit when tackling ad fraud. Thus, ad fraud prevention in 2020 will require a holistic approach by combining different metrics including viewability, IVT detection, install verification and even in-app bot detection.

Vishal Rupani, co-founder and chief executive officer, mCanvas (an engagement based mobile advertising platform)

Ad fraud is becoming alarmingly sophisticated and is one of the biggest problems plaguing the digital ad industry. No one is immune to it. Not even with Interactive Ads. However, if we start focusing on metrics beyond the standard ones like impressions and clicks, we’ll be better off. If our measure for good performance can extend to engagements within an ad (for example: actions completed inside interactive ads, time spent) then we were protecting ourselves from some ad fraud.

Vishal Rupani
Vishal Rupani

Most bots follow pre-defined patterns and thankfully all interactive ads vary. Ads that require users to physically interact with the campaign - either by jumping, walking, shaking, scratching, activating camera, talking, or tilting their phone to proceed with the ad – makes it extremely difficult for bots and crawlers to progress in their journey.

But we can’t turn a blind eye to what the future holds. While on one hand, marketers and technology vendors are creating innovative solutions to combat mobile ad fraud, the fraudsters, on the other hand, are also equally incentivised to develop new technology to bypass existing hurdles. So, it’s a matter of optimising firewalls and constant innovation to keep ad frauds at bay.

Prashant Dhar, vice president, marketing and e-commerce, Ariston Thermo Group, Indian Subcontinent

Typically, we use our social media platforms to not only communicate but also have meaningful conversation with consumers. For example, if an ad campaign is about a newly launched product, the creative is crafted in such a manner that it elicits some sort of a reaction from the viewer. It is aimed to generate some sort of UGC. Over the last year, we achieved an engagement rate of 5.5 per cent on both paid and organic campaigns, which is pretty high by industry standards. We try to ensure that users engage with the brand genuinely and then we record the responses in a manner that we can also reward the user. This year too, we will continue with such campaigns.

Prashant Dhar
Prashant Dhar

We are focused on interactions rather than just exposure, that's the tenet of our digital marketing philosophy. We are clearly focused on the end result, be it engagement, conversion or lead generation. My brief to my digital agency WatConsult is to craft a campaign keeping in mind the end result deliverable which is not limited to reach and impressions but also interactions, engagements, views, inquiries, visits. We have a clear KPI, these measurables also avoid false data generation for the campaign. Our creatives are self compelling so that users actually interact with them.

Niraj Ruparel, national head – Mobile, Mindshare India

With digital budgets at an all-time high in a brand's marketing strategy, it is imperative to understand the digital advertising model and to minimize the risk of ad fraud. Ad fraud is a challenge in digital space. One of the reasons why digital media has grown so fast is because it brings transparency and accountability in the form of strict KPIs versus any form of advertisement. Very often in the rush to achieving and maintaining these KPIs, marketers ignore a very important aspect of ad fraud. One must not take this for granted and always stay on top by deploying tech to pin down fraudsters.

Niraj Ruparel
Niraj Ruparel

The breakthrough in interactive ad campaigns has changed the dynamics of online advertising by turning traditional advertising into an engaging activity. An interactive ad campaign helps marketers to maximize engagement with the target audience, however, the fact cannot be ignored that it is not devoid of fraudsters lurking on the internet which causes losses to the marketers. Even though interactive ads might minimize the damage, there is still a long way to go for the industry to find the 'cure' to ad fraud.