Marketers have been dealing with ad fraud and brand safety challenges since the earliest days of digital advertising. But these issues have more recently bubbled up to the top of the priority list for marketing leaders responsible for advertising as they continue to dig for answers on the performance and efficacy of their efforts in leveraging a complex digital media ecosystem.

As digital ad spend eclipses traditional ad spend, it’s estimated that billions of dollars per year are lost to ad fraud—malicious activities performed to reroute revenue to a fraudulent actor. If that weren’t enough to worry about, 2017 is a year where brands are seriously reckoning with risks of running ads on platforms like YouTube and Facebook that heavily rely on user-generated content.

Here’s a small smattering of the stories about brands navigating these two issues throughout this year:

  • January: Procter & Gamble’s Chief Brand Officer, Marc Pritchard announced plan at the IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting to bring more transparency and uniformity to the media supply chain, telling the audience, “the days of giving digital a pass are over.”
  • February: Hundreds of brands paused their YouTube advertising after a report from The Times of London highlighted how their ads were showing up against extremist content posted on the video sharing site.
  • March: JPMorgan Chase conducted a manual audit of its digital media spending, finding no measureable difference in performance after reducing its outlays from 400,000 sites to 5,000.
  • October: After it experienced a highly-sophisticated fraud incident, Google decided to give bigger refunds to advertisers affected by ad fraud using its DoubleClick Bid Manager platform to buy ads.
  • November: Adtech firm Adform exposed a new ad fraud scheme dubbed “Hyphbot” that bilked publishers and advertisers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in media per day using fake websites generated by bots—a method known as domain spoofing.

Despite these challenges, two separate Gartner surveys conducted over the past few months suggest that marketers will continue to make significant investments in digital advertising in 2018.

Six in ten marketers told us in our latest multichannel marketing study that digital advertising was a top 2017 investment priority for them and was ranked among the top five most effective channels to drive activity across the customer journey.

Additionally, paid media grew from 22% of the total marketing budget in 2016 to 25% in 2017 according to our CMO Spend Survey. And two-thirds of marketers said they expected to boost digital advertising spend in 2018 as they continue to shift media dollars away from traditional channels.

A continued shift toward digital advertising in the face of these concerns means that marketing leaders must be vigilant and proactive. My colleague, Lizzy Foo Kune, outlines several practical steps that marketers can take to mitigate ad fraud and improve brand safety in her June 2017 research on the subject (Gartner subscription required):

  • Identify where your traffic is coming from: there are good bots on the internet—like crawlers that scrape the web to support search engines—and bad bots—like programs that mimic human behavior to inflate ad metrics. Ensure you have the proper technical mechanisms in place to be able to detect, classify and understand each kind.
  • Deploy ad verification services: Companies like Forensiq, White Ops, Integral Ad Science, Oracle Moat, comScore and Unbotify make it their jobs to actively track and quash ad fraud, while also providing adjacent capabilities to monitor brand safety and viewability. As of September 2016, only 39% of enterprises Gartner surveyed had fully deployed an ad verification service, though we anticipate an uptick based on planned implementations.
  • Deploy processes to identify and address fraud: Don’t rely solely on your external partners to combat ad fraud. Establish standards and be more selective about the types of media you’re willing to buy. Investigate industry initiatives likes ads.txt, which aims to curtail the domain spoofing tactic used in the Hyphbot example, as well as the Trustworthy Accountability Group, which administers certification for compliance with standards related to fraud, malware, piracy and transparency across the media supply chain.

Marketers continue to be excited about the prospect of reaching consumers where they’re spending more and more of their time and attention, but they need to more seriously weigh risk versus reward when it comes to fraud and brand safety. It’s not enough to play defense; offense is required when the reputation and value of your brand is at stake.

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