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Creating fraud-proof video ad campaigns

Video has quickly become a top format for digital advertising, engaging audiences with immersive content and driving over $200 billion in advertising spend this year alone. Programmatic technology has helped scale digital video advertising and drive the category to new heights, but as video has grown, and continues to command top dollar, it has inevitably also captured the attention of bad actors.

Japan boasts one of the world’s highest rates of consumers who watch video, with 32 per cent of Japanese internet users watching online videos daily, and with marketers willing to pay much higher CPMs to deliver a highly engaging ad experience to this growing audience, fraudsters have taken notice.

To overcome this market challenge and continue to efficiently leverage programmatic to execute high quality video campaigns, marketers need to understand where fraud occurs, what exactly to look for and how to protect their ad spend from being wasted.

How do fraudsters operate?
Demand for video inventory often outstrips supply, and bad actors see this mismatch as an opportunity to exploit marketers. This can happen in a number of ways. In one instance, bad actors can capitalize on the high demand by buying up low-quality display advertising inventory and reselling it as a premium video placement. The practice both defrauds marketers as they do not realize their “premium video” has been shoved into an ad unit meant for a much smaller display ad space. This also creates a poor experience for users as they are now being served a potentially disruptive video ad on a page where it was never intended.

Another way is through strictly fraudulent inventory. Video fraud is often hard to differentiate from the real thing at first glance, but the quality of the traffic it receives is vastly different. For instance, rather than actual advertising audiences, fraudulent inventory is often generated by botnets. Marketers must carefully monitor the performance of their campaigns, and work with their ad tech partners to identify suspicious behaviour and remove instances of fraud to ensure they’re getting the quality of advertising they are paying for.

4 Steps to combating fraud
To combat misrepresented video inventory, and other fraudulent activity, marketers can follow four key steps:

1. Prioritise accurate reporting
When choosing a demand-side platform (DSP), marketers need to ensure it provides thorough and accurate reporting in order to track performance against defined marketing goals. To determine whether views come from human sources rather than bots, marketers must keep an eye on key performance metrics like completion, in-view, and audible rates. For example, understanding exactly how long consumers spend watching the video ad and monitoring for changes may expose video completion rates that are unusually high or low, which could be a sign of fraud.

2. Maintain a transparent relationship with DSPs
To stand a better chance of spotting fraudulent activity before it impacts campaigns, marketers should also build relationships with transparent and trustworthy DSP partners. Marketers should insist that DSPs measure for fraud with an MRC accredited vendor and request incorporating a no-fraud guarantee in their contracts.

Leverage a DSP that has pledged to only buy ads.txt authorized inventory. This global initiative introduced by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has nearly eradicated the issue of domain spoofing by allowing publishers to easily and publicly list authorized sellers of their inventory. This means DSPs do not have to undertake the resource-intensive task of contacting individual publishers to receive verification.

3. Look beyond the DSP to the exchange
Exchanges are in a prime position to analyse, validate, and filter video ad traffic. This is because they place codes, known as tags, on publisher sites, allowing them to instantly see when video ad requests are submitted to gauge inventory suitability before offering it to buyers. Furthermore, they have access to large amounts of data that they can aggregate to detect bot activity. Make an active decision about the exchanges your DSP spends with. An exchange that prioritizes the quality of video inventory is essential, as is having a DSP that is open and transparent about where your ad spend is going.

It’s also important to consider whether exchanges guard against video-specific threats such as format fraud – where fraudsters insert video ad content into lower-value display ads and pocket the difference in cost. Not all exchanges actively detect and block this type of fraud, despite it being extremely common.

4. Verify and unite with industry authorities
Traditionally, the responsibility to improve quality standards has fallen to advertisers, but this is changing as the wider impact of ad fraud becomes evident. Concerns around video ad fraud in Japan has become an industry-wide challenge, and every stakeholder in the digital ecosystem has a role to play in the fight for better standards across the board.

Implementing third-party verification solutions from companies like Integral Ad Science or WhiteOps are some of the best tools to use to ensure campaigns remain fraud-proof. Leveraging these third party technologies will allow companies to gain a clear picture of its fraud problem – by providing visibility into all sources of non-human traffic – as well as block future fraudulent traffic using hotspot analysis.

Additionally, if using a global partner, check to see whether they have earned the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) ‘Certified Against Fraud’ seal. Only those who have met strict guidelines can gain these designations.

TAG also offers a series of other helpful tools to stay on top of fraud detection, such as a Domain Fraud Threat list, which identifies malicious domains; and a Data Centre IP list which shares information about the sources of bot activity. If an advertiser requires that their ad dollars only flow through TAG certified partners, it’s been shown that they can cut fraud by 80 percent.

Winning the video fraud battle
As an industry, efforts to reduce ad fraud are starting to pay off. Indeed, according to the ANA and WhiteOps, the global cost of ad fraud is on track to decrease by 10 per cent this year, and video-specific fraud is expected to also decline due to the aforementioned practices. But it’s not just advertisers who should be keen to see fraud decrease. Publishers should also see the benefit of addressing malicious activity as doing so has a positive impact on revenue and brand value. In turn, publishers will also notice an improvement in overall traffic quality as well as a boost to health of the video market.

To keep this positive momentum going, advertisers in every market – including Japan – must keep a close and constant watch on quality, and take a proactive role in eliminating fraud. By selecting technology with care, meticulously reviewing inventory, and staying one step ahead of the latest detection techniques, marketers can ensure video campaigns are fraud-free – giving them the confidence to invest in this format.

Keisuke Meguro

Keisuke Meguro is the Publisher Development Director at OpenX.