Digital vendors are trying everything from money-back guarantees to third-party monitoring as ways to reassure clients that fraud won’t eat into the effectiveness of their online ad buys. But some consultants say firms should be educating candidates on the dangers of bot traffic and cyber criminals, not just pitching them on services or contract terms.
Digital ad spending is surging this cycle with as much as $1 out of every $10 spent by campaigns in 2016 going to online spots. But along with the some $1 billion in digital advertising spending being forecast, experts are warning that at least $50 million will be siphoned off by cyber criminals through ad fraud.
Ashleigh Grant, director of political accounts and strategy at IMGE, a Republican digital firm, said vendors need to be upfront with their clients about the risks associated with digital advertising.
"There's definitely fraud in this space and it's better for us to admit that up front so we can start working practically to fix it,” Grant told C&E.
Some firms, such as TubeMogul, have begun refunding portions of their client’s buys that are identified as having gone to bot traffic, according to Matthew Dybwad, the firm’s head of political and public affairs.
Meanwhile, Grant said her shop keeps a bot-traffic site “blacklist” and uses third-party verifiers to ensure their ads are seen by the targeted voters. That can create an additional expense for the client, but Grant says they work to educate them on why it’s worthwhile.
Part of the problem is that while digital advertising is exploding, the profile of candidates running for office still skews older. It’s up to vendors to bring these candidates up to speed, according to Grant.
“I think that’s the biggest thing right now,” she said. “Matching voter files is kind of like going to the moon for some candidates [from rural areas], so talking to them about foreign views and bot traffic is like going to Mars.
“We talk to them so they understand that we're doing everything in our power to make sure their ads are being seen by the right people, at the right time on the right device. We try and practically lead on that conversation so they know that's something we focus on."
Michael Tiffany, CEO of White Ops, a firm that helps detect ad fraud, said having a third-party verifier is better than trying to get the fraudulent portion of a buy refunded.
"I love the fact that we're starting to see competition on inventory quality in this space, but [the vendor agreements are] not all written the same.
When you poke at those guarantees, the way a lot of them work is actually ‘if you catch us defrauding you, then we'll give you the money back,’ which is hardly a guarantee,” he said.
In fact, clients need to press their digital consultants to be vigilant against ad fraud, Tiffany said. He suggested thoroughly going through a vendor’s contracts before signing on. “There's no way to upgrade the bots to beat your updated terms and conditions,” he said.
Moreover, Tiffany advised candidates to be weary of vendors’ claims on the effectiveness of programmatic ad buying and digital metrics.
"Advertising has been metrics driven with data scientists for years now," he said. "If that was truly effective, this problem would be gone already. Clearly data is not a magic bullet and there's no true set of metrics that optimizes the fraud away."