Big Brands to Pose As Unsuspecting Advertisers to Nab Bot Fraud, Study Will Serve As Industry Benchmark

July 14, 2014

by Joe Mandese

Some of the world’s biggest and best-known brands are going to act as bait in order to catch a thief, the digital kind. As part of an initiative being unveiled by the Association of National Advertisers, 30 brand marketers will participate in the sting operation, which will be conducted by online ad fraud detection company White Ops, which will measure precisely how much of their online advertising exposure is comprised of so-called “bot fraud,” or non-human traffic generated by machines posing as actual consumers.

“Bot fraud costs marketers billions of dollars annually,” says Bill Duggan, group executive vice president of the ANA, adding that the goal of the initiative is to benchmark exactly how much of the brands’ online, social and mobile traffic is going to bot fraud in order come up with strategies for eliminating bots and botnet that “target unsuspecting advertisers.”

Duggan said bot fraud is prevalent in all areas of digital publishing, including  on premium publishers, retargeting campaigns (the most sophisticated kind is there), behavioral campaigns and programmatic buys. Bots skew ad metrics and affect virtually every ad campaign.”

The 30 brands participating in the study cover the spectrum of consumer marketing, including automotive, consumer products, financial, hospitality, pharmaceutical, retail, spirits, technology and travel industries. The study, which kicks off in August, will tag each brand’s ads with code capable of identifying bot fraud. Results will be revealed to the industry in October.

The findings should help shed light on a the precise role bot fraud is playing in the digital advertising marketplace. A variety of recent studies and reports have estimated it could account for as much as 50% of digital ad impressions, and recently media-buying giant GroupM cited it as one of the reasons it wants to pull out of the open RTB marketplace by the end of the year.

“We need to break everyone out of thinking about the problem as a bare percentage,” says White Ops CEO Michael J. J. Tiffany. “If a bunch of gangs were getting away with muggings with impunity, and no one could tell which streets were safe, it would be really weird to start the story by averaging all the robberies out and reporting that 20% of the money in everyone's wallets is missing. But that's the question we get all the time.”

Tiffany says it’s not just the long-tail, or even just the programmatic marketplace that are being impacted by bot fraud and that “sophisticated bots affect premium ad buying previously thought to be immune.

“The whole point of this study is to put some hard metrics on the problem, real metrics like where, when, and how much, so we can then do something about it,” he explains, adding, “And we can definitely do something, because it's not X percent  of every dollar that's lost, it's 100% of particular dollars.”


"Big Brands to Pose As Unsuspecting Advertisers to Nab Bot Fraud, Study Will Serve As Industry Benchmark." MediaPost, 07/14/14.

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