I’m a great dinner party guest. That good ‘ol, “So, Lizzy, what do you actually do for a living?” question inevitably arises, and I typically take the opportunity to tell people about the general research topics I’ve been working on. For the past six months or so, my friends and family have had the pleasure of learning all about – you guessed it – advertising fraud!

(I keep telling them that these conversations will be essential once they end up on Jeopardy!, but they seem incredulous.)

If you’re like me, you launched back into work after a holiday break to discover you’d missed a big headline: Methbot, unmasked in late December. As we digested the news that it cost the industry $5 million each day, we commenced our schlep into 2017, ad fraud weighing heavy on our minds (and mine, too).

As it happened, we’d get little reprieve from conversations concerning bots, malvertising, and infringed content. It commenced in January, with Marc Pritchard declaring, “…Better advertising requires time and money, yet we’re wasting too much of it on a media supply chain with poor standardization, too many players grading their own homework, too many hidden touches and too many holes to allow criminals to rip us off.”

He went on to admonish the ad tech ecosystem, saying, “We have a media supply chain that is murky at best, and fraudulent at worst. We need to clean it up.”

By February, Digiday declared that pop-unders were popular again. Wounds from early 2000s re-opened as the industry debated whether such placements qualified as fraudulent or just “low-quality”. (Newsflash: both options are not that great.)

March came in like a lion with a sensational headline about $16.4 billion in revenue being wasted on fraudulent traffic in 2017. The month also found marketers debating whether viewability or fraud was a more important issue.

In April, yet another large-scale ad fraud scheme was uncovered, referred to as NoTrove, which brokered fake traffic. One of the domains used in the scheme generated so much traffic, it peaked at position #517 in the Alexa ranking. A reminder: those ads that promise you a free iPad are not going to deliver.

April showers brought a few May flowers, metaphorically speaking. WhiteOps and the ANA released the third iteration of its “Bot Baseline” study, with some good news: ad fraud declined 10% from 2016 to 2017! But, like a good backhanded compliment, this data point comes with a downside – while the decline is encouraging, the study anticipated that $6.5 billion would still be lost to fraud in 2017.

(Another high point in May was the annual Gartner Digital Marketing Conference, where my esteemed colleague, Andrew Frank, delivered a fantastic presentation, Crooked Scales: What Marketers Need to Know About Media Metrics, which provides a multitude of options for addressing some of these problems in advertising.)

By June, it was apparent that marketers were challenged by a few things:

  • Ad fraud opens up your programs to inaccurate measurement, as well as increased costs.
  • All digital advertisers are susceptible to fraud, even those employing state-of-the-art detection services.
  • Teams lack the skills internally to contend with all the manifestations of fraud, making it extremely challenging to close the gap between detection and prevention.

This motivated me to publish some new research, titled, “Understand and Mitigate Advertising Fraud.” There’s a great deal of sensationalism and hyperbole that surrounds ad fraud, and the goal of the research is to help you make sense of what’s important. It gives you information to curtail the effects of fraud.

Fraud is unlikely to go away, as bad actors will continue to take advantage of vulnerabilities in the ad ecosystem. However, with the right checks and balances in place, as well as an understanding of what ad fraud actually is, you’ll have the tools to address the problem of ad fraud head-on.

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