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Tackling ad fraud: 5 questions advertisers and brands should start asking

Though the terminology and methodology of ad fraud may shift and evolve over time, one fact remains constant: the scale of the problem will continue to grow. Fraudsters, who manage to siphon off more and more from advertising budgets every day, have hit a goldmine, with no signs of slowing down. After all, in many countries there are no real laws against this particular type of theft; fraudsters can make a quick buck (or rather, a lot of quick bucks), and once their money-siphoning gig is spotted, they slink out like a thief in the night. Nomadic in nature, the scammers move on elsewhere to create new windows of opportunity where they can skim ad budgets from their unsuspecting victims.

Growing momentum to tackle systemic fraud

The good news is there is growing momentum within the advertising ecosystem to tackle systemic fraud head-on. Some innovative anti-fraud initiatives have been introduced and are gaining traction. Collectively, these help to address technological vulnerabilities and seek to educate and prepare advertisers to prevent them from falling victim to a fraudster’s scam. It’s a great start, but the continued success of ad fraud suggests our industry needs more solid initiatives and participation across the ad chain landscape to really crack the problem.

The IAB’s ads.txt is a stellar example. It’s an initiative that gives guidance to business and operations teams that focus on in-app advertising. According to the IAB, Ads.txt is a simple, flexible, and secure method that publishers and distributors can use to publicly declare the companies they authorize to sell their digital inventory. Its purpose is making it easier for marketers, agencies, and platforms to eliminate fraudulent inventory sources and fight against domain misrepresentation.

Coalition Against Ad Fraud

Adjust’s own Coalition Against Ad Fraud, otherwise known as CAAF, is a group of industry leading ad companies that have pledged to tackle mobile ad fraud. The coalition is formed of key players in the advertising ecosystem, including major attribution vendors and ad networks.

We’re working closely together to develop advanced solutions that benefit advertisers who are affected by fraudulent traffic, with the goal of disincentivizing mobile ad fraud even further.

The crux of CAAF is to educate the industry about ad fraud problems and foster alignment around effective measures that are mission-critical when it comes to defeating ad fraud. Membership includes ad tech leaders such as Liftoff, IronSource, Jampp, Vungle, AdColony, and many others who are committed to fighting systemic fraud.

Despite the efforts of these initiatives, a considerable and costly knowledge gap still exists within the market. For this reason, we believe the ad industry as a whole needs to put a stake in the ground by committing to the development of strategies and tactics to stamp out fraud once and for all. We at Adjust believe on-going education is fundamental to the industry’s success with this challenge, which is why we continue to publish insights and data surrounding ad fraud, and help our clients deep dive into their datasets and advertising setup to weed out potential problems.

Time to re-evaluate your ad partners

One easy way to score a win against the fraudsters is to properly and thoroughly evaluate who you partner with to serve your ad campaigns. But doing so effectively isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Asking ad platforms what they are doing to combat fraud is an important step, (and don’t take “we don’t have any fraud on our network” for an answer!) but equally as important is understanding exactly what inventory you’re actually buying and how your ads actually exist out there in the wild.

A savvy marketer who understands how to both purchase mobile ads tactically and also demands transparency from their ad partners will prevent a significant amount of fraud before the campaigns have even launched. To help you achieve a similar result, here are five important questions that form some basic KPI metrics to measure against.

1. Where are my ads running? (site/app)

“Trust is good, control is better”—a simple statement that is 100% applicable to digital marketing. Knowing where ads are being displayed allows for objective benchmarking between verticals and platforms, which in turn enables deep insights into which type of campaign and audience can be reached best and through which channel. Ask the network to send examples (e.g. a screenshot) of where and how the advertisement was placed.

2. Where EXACTLY are my ads running? (placement)

Knowing the placement of your creative media is equally important as knowing the app/site running the advertisement. This way you get more transparency of how your ads are displayed and can better understand the data flowing in. Again, benchmarking different placements allow fine-tuning of cost vs. the actual performance achieved.

3. Which of my ads are running? (creative)

An absolute no-brainer from the early days of digital marketing, A/B testing and creative comparisons are still a popular tool used in branding campaigns, yet performance marketers seemed to have lost touch with this incredibly useful marketing instrument. Knowing which creative (style and format) is working best with which audience and  being able to maximize the conversion rates of specific “calls to action,” should be deciding factors in every single digital marketing campaign. There should be no exceptions.

4. Were the impressions of my ad media brand safe? (brand safety)

This is a lot harder to control than to demand; but it’s important to confirm where your creatives are being delivered to is indeed a safe environment. This is crucial to customer acceptance. Which level of transparency are supply side partners (networks, DSPs, etc.), giving you in regards to the performance driven e.g campaign, ad group, and creative level?

5. How innovative are the ad platforms? (innovative)

What makes the ad platforms different than other platforms? Check their creative capabilities—what ad formats are available (video, interactive, playable, carousel, feed ads, etc…) and how well do they fit your needs as an advertiser.? Understand if this is in line with what you are promoting.

Over the next year and beyond, Adjust is undertaking an ongoing commitment to promote education across the mobile apps industry landscape on crucial topics, including fraud protection, data management, data protection, mobile attribution and so on. We plan to do this with many shared best practices, ongoing quarterly reports, shared resources and retargeting tools, and online webinars or videos. We welcome our partners to join us and collaborate, and we also urge anyone who wants to contribute to our growing library on mobile to reach out and get involved as well.

Michael Paxman is Product Research Manager at Adjust.

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