This was first published in MarketingTech News

Advertising decisions are not made in a vacuum.

Every dollar and metric is carefully scrutinized by CMO’s to ensure that the company is receiving maximum return on its investment. If campaigns are ineffective, they will be quickly pulled and resources redirected to more lucrative channels. Digital advertisers are beginning to understand this reality.

Not because digital advertising isn’t as, or more effective than traditional means, but because of a phenomenon specific to the digital world: ad fraud.

Ad fraud has become somewhat of an epidemic in the digital advertising industry.  Forrester Research estimates that it led to an estimated $7.4 billion in losses in 2016 alone.

Forrester also estimates that this number will swell to nearly $11 billion by 2021 if immediate steps are not taken to root out fraudulent activity and create a secure online environment for advertisers.

Why is this our problem?
While on the surface this may seem more a problem for advertisers than publishers, this is a dangerous and short-sighted point of view. The viability of the digital advertising market depends on advertisers having confidence in our ability to effectively reach their target buyer.

If the data shows that our market is rife with fraud and large percentages of budget is being wasted, advertisers will not hesitate to pull away from digital and invest in other marketing channels.

Ad fraud is multi-dimensional and can impact advertisers on many fronts that affect their bottom line. Every fraudulent click or impression represents ad dollars wasted, and those dollars add up quickly. Our customers, which are the advertisers, expect and are demanding a platform they can trust. If we as an industry can’t reverse this trend and address these problems to advertiser’s satisfaction, a drop in revenue is almost certain to follow.  

What can be done?
To effectively fight back against ad fraud, publishers must make a significant investment in terms of both technology and manpower to monitor for and prevent fraudulent traffic and malware. In the 24/7 world of digital advertising, this is what is required to deliver a product that advertisers can trust.

For starters, standard operating procedure should be that all traffic is scanned by both internal and third-party MRC certified tools. It’s critical that they reside on all pages, tracking IP addresses and the quality of the traffic, so publishers can then validate site traffic and ensure ads are being seen by real people. This continuous monitoring ensures that any suspicious or malicious activity is quickly identified and mitigated, saving the advertiser from paying for fraudulent views.

How should advertisers protect themselves?
As the digital advertising market continues to evolve, brands need to take proactive measures to help ensure that their advertising dollars are delivering a solid return. As a starting point, they should only work with publishers that are transparent with in terms of their data.

Quality publishers offer real data and viewability into how ads are preforming and what audiences the ads are being placed in front of. If a publisher isn’t receiving this level of insight into their campaigns, there is an issue. Total transparency is key to running a successful campaign and should be demanded by all advertisers.

Additionally, brands should be putting the onus on their publishing partners to solve the ad fraud problem as part of earning their marketing dollars. At a minimum, publishers should be able to prove that they are taking tangible steps to fight ad fraud though industry accreditations and certifications such as TAG and MRC.

Quality publishers offer real data and viewability into how ads are preforming and what audiences the ads are being placed in front of. If a publisher isn’t receiving this level of insight into their campaigns, there is an issue. Total transparency is key to running a successful campaign and should be demanded by all advertisers.

Additionally, brands should be putting the onus on their publishing partners to solve the ad fraud problem as part of earning their marketing dollars. At a minimum, publishers should be able to prove that they are taking tangible steps to fight ad fraud though industry accreditations and certifications such as TAG and MRC.

Where do we go from here?
We are already seeing the pendulum swing in the direction of publishers needing to prove the quality of their offerings to advertisers before receiving an actual dollar commitment. Ad fraud has risen to a level where many leading brands are demanding greater transparency and effort from their publishing partners. For example, Procter & Gamble has recently stated that it will not work with any digital media partner that doesn’t take the necessary steps to become TAG certified.

As an industry, it is in all our best interests to fight against fraud and present a quality product to our advertising partners. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has implemented a mandatory requirement that all members register with TAG as a way of demonstrating the industries commitment to eliminating ad fraud.

We as publishers understand better than anyone that providing a quality product to our customers is not only our responsibility, but that our very survival as an industry depends on it.