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Exchangewire: The Burden of Ad Fraud falls on all of us

I am passionate about how we cannot let this scycle of ever decreasing cpms continue and I lay the blame at all our doors, agencies, advertisers and auditors. Exchangewire covers this topic with contributions from me. Original article here.

Click fraud has undoubtedly been one of the topics of conversation in the programmatic advertising sector in 2014, with Google’s purchase of UK-based security specialist Spider.io just one of a number of industry moves underlying its growing importance.

Last week Rocket Fuel was fingered in a FT article highlighting its prevalence in the industry (of course it was quick to rebuff the article’s assertions), but the entire advertising – from client-side marketer to third-party ad tech vendor – must accept their role to play in allowing it to continue.

This comes on the back of other articles in mainstream press – for instance a Wall Street Journal article claiming that up to a third of all web traffic is “bogus” – pressing the issue further for the online advertising sector to improve transparency over media buys taking place via automated channels.

Industry-wide measures
Moves to tackle the issue of click fraud (or bot traffic) began to gather pace last year when the IAB’s US chapter established the Traffic of Good Intent (TOGI) Task Force, in a move demonstrating that programmatic ‘media trading’ sector was maturing as braces itself to become a mainstream player, as opposed to an emergent force.

In fact during the last two weeks alone Dstillery announced it was received a patent for its fraud detection technology from the US Patent Office, this follows the news that the similarly named Distil Networks’ bagged $10m in Series A funding just last week.

More recently, the Alliance for Audited Media (formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations) announced it was absorbing fellow auditing service ImServices.

So while it is clear that there is a near universal intention to wipe out such practices, but it’s probable that the fraudsters will always be on step ahead of the industry’s security brigade byinventing new ways to game the system (some fraudster techniques are quite comprehensively discussed here).

How can individual parties minimise the impact of click fraud?
But that’s not to say that measures cannot be taken to minimise the impact of online ad fraud, and with this in mind, every tier of the industry has to take their share of the blame in letting this happen.

As discussed in previous articles in ExchangeWire everybody has their part to play in minimising the detrimental effects of elements of the ‘bad internet’, and if parties are proactively taking measures to improve things, then they’re part of the problem.

Speaking previously with ExchangeWire Dr. Thomas Servatius, IPONWEB, head of client services, identified that the rise of the programmatic industry had allowed fraudsters to thrive online, with the scale of web traffic allowing rogue players to put sites which generate traffic by non-human means on ad exchanges.

“The problem is that when an advertiser buys traffic on a fraud site, it usually comes very cheap – much cheaper than human built sites [thus opening the opportunity for arbitrage from third-party players and media agencies] – and it has good click through rates.

“So if you have fraud in your advertising mix, what you see as an advertiser is that for a small amount of money, you get a good number of clicks,” he explained.

Explore what will KPI’s look like in a post-click fraud market?
He went on to further relay anecdotal evidence of the internal dynamics that encourage brand-side marketers (the people who are ultimately being ripped off here), from concealing the issue.

Indeed Cameron Hulett, Undertone, executive director, EMEA, further explains that such is the scale of the problem that most campaign benchmarks after a “post click fraud market correction” would be largely redundant.

For instance, most marketing KPIs, such as reach and traffic are drastically inflated by bogus web traffic as it currently stands, causing problems for parties on both the buy- and sell-side alike, contends Hulett.

Hence, it is in the interests of a lot of parities to let this white elephant in the room to go unaddressed, according to some.

Prioritise quality over cost-cutting
Marco Bertozzi, President Audience On Demand EMEA and North American Client Services at VivaKi, argues that the entire industry is incentivised to prioritise lower CPMs (ergo poorer quality inventory, or even bot traffic through long-tail exchanges and networks) instead of quality content (where prices are higher).

“I think educating marketers on the importance of paying more for quality inventory will need to happen because the buy and the sell side are chasing KPIs determined by said client who may be calling for lower CPMs versus quality interactions,” he says.

“If the only metric focused on by auditors and advertisers is lower cpm, then that’s where everyone will focus – turning a blind eye to the lack of quality and transparency but being happy that a lower CPM was achieved.”

Auditing has not kept up with the pace of change in the Ad Tech space. The industry still clings to CPMs and not the value of the impression and what it can deliver, according to Bertozzi.

“If you look at Search, if standard auditing metrics had been applied to search advertisers would not use it and spend would be non existent as agencies would be told to suppress the CPC. The same now applies to display, it is an auction environment and yet still they want to drive down on cpm,” he adds.

Explore alternatives to CPM pricing and last-click attribution
Meanwhile, Julia Smith , a partner at consultancy firm 614 group, and acting MD of Evolve Media, argues that exploring alternative pricing models to selling media on a CPM basis, can make it easier for advertisers and their security partners to detect non-human generated traffic.

“A lot of people are all about the click, and in particular its a problem with the long-tail of sites [meaning non-premium ad networks and exchanges are a particular problem in this regard].

“We can start looking at alternative Using a cost-per-engagement [pricing] model could play an important role in combatting this. While it’s not perfect it can make it harder for click farms to replicate human behaviour.”

However, as mentioned earlier in this piece, fraudsters are just as industrious in their attempts to stay ahead of the security elements of the ad tech industry, with their techniques growing evermore sophisticated.

Sources consulted by ExchangeWire also argued that one fundamental flaw in the ad tech sector that lets poor quality traffic be traded on ad exchanges and networks is the prevalence of the last—click attribution model , which incentivises the entire industry to chase the last click.

Adit Abhyankar, Visual IQ, executive director, says: “Incentives drive behaviour. this is common sense. So if flawed attribution leads to flawed allocation of performance credit, which then leads to incorrect incentives, you can bank on the fact that, it will also lead to bad decisions.”

Meanwhile, Marco Ricci, Adloox CEO of content verification firm Adloox, argues that looking at at specific domains on ad exchanges and networks, for statistics such as CTR per domain and by publisher, is a more sophisticated method of detecting bot traffic.

AOD’s Bertozzi adds: “Attribution, econometrics, understanding business impact will all go a long way to removing an obsession on lowest cpm. It will also focus on the fact that advertisers should be challenging media partners to show where they are advertising line by line. If you have to be transparent about the media placement, you are less likely to buy the long tail.”

Employing sophisticated vetting techniques
Those ad tech players looking to perform blacklists [of sites that are known to have traffic generated by non-human traffic] should perform check such as clickthrough rate (CTR) per domain and by publisher, CTR vs conversions, and CTR vs IP addressees are all useful metrics, according to Ricci.

“We check clicks made in less than one or two seconds we can catch fraud – blink and you’ll miss it. Essentially our clients want a more granular level of transparency than the majority of the market offerings today.”

Bertozzi also argues that those players on the buy-side need to do more to improve the reputation of the sector. He adds: “We provide a rigorous vetting process called VivaKi Verified, which thoroughly evaluates media, data and tech partners to ensure that they meet our standards when it comes to brand safety, consumer privacy and client data protection.

“Rather than buy in the murky pool, we use means to avoid the problems, don’t buy in the murky pool at all.

“We have also a proprietary Quality Index that combines the [safety] signals from partners like comScore, Google, Integral Ad Science and Vindico to all the URLs we have in the AOD marketplace creating our own score.

“Metrics and standards aren’t there yet and adoption needs to happen on a larger scale, but the cost of viewable ad impressions will go up and we need to be prepared to pay them to ensure that better brand-to-consumer interactions are happening. If the only metric is cpm, we are opening up the business to gaming the system.”

So the fact is, regardless of which statistics parties in the ad tech industry subscribe to, as to the extent of the problems of bot traffic, it remains clear that more can be done to address the issues of click fraud.

Those that choose to ignore the problem (for whatever means), are helping to propagate it.

 

Digiday Post : The Ad Tech threat agencies need to take seriously

My piece on Digiday outlining the threat of Ad tech disintermediation. First posted here.

I remember sitting with a founder of a well-known demand-side platform a few years back (feels like a lifetime), and he was warning me how the evil Google would disintermediate us all and destroy the agency trading desk business if we were not careful.

The irony now is that the worst culprits of all are the new, up-and-coming tech vendors who are chasing the direct-to-advertiser relationship at any cost.

As an agency, allowing a DSP or real-time bidding ad network to control all the programmatic spend may seem the same as giving an insertion order to an ad network, but it is far from that. The rules have changed with the rise of ad tech. Our whole business is based more and more on data. We need to manage, explore, test and learn with data, and the data needs to be held at the hands of the agency running the wider business, or remain in the advertiser’s hands should they choose to take the process in-house.

To release tens of millions of dollars to a managed service DSP is to release all of your intellectual capital to an external company where the same rules expected of an agency may or may not apply. We see clear benefits when we are able to apply the agency learnings to all the programmatic opportunities. Whether we are looking at cross-channel attribution, econometric modeling or online and offline synchronization of media spend, we can make activity work so much harder in that context — and tie it back to the advertiser’s own data whether on or offline. A third party, or siloed business, simply cannot do the same.

Agencies take heed: This is no longer just a question of outsourcing some digital buying but rather the outsourcing of your agency role and intellect to a third party. You may not recognize the danger, given the modest level of programmatic spend relative to massive TV budgets. But when this spend drifts away, a little bit of control goes with it. Not a good situation given the projected growth of programmatic.

Take a lesson from search. Two things happened in search that made it one of the biggest battle grounds of the agency world through the mid-2000s. The first was that the agencies ignored it when it launched, and the second was they fought tooth and nail to get it pulled back into the agency when it had grown into the mammoth beast that it is today. Today’s DSPs are yesterdays search villains.

An agency digital lead should fight to keep the programmatic business close. Yes, I am biased toward a relationship with an agency trading desk — not just because data-driven, programmatic buying will be the lifeblood of the future media agencies but also because the right agency/trading desk relationship is better for clients.

An advertiser might be attracted to cheaper options. A siloed, third-party provider might “feel” unbiased. But what happens when the market moves (which is does every day), and that marketer is tied to a single provider. They move at the the speed of the provider. Or they pay the significant switching cost. Yes, DSP technology evolves. But their lack of access to the ideal marketplaces may leave an advertiser handicapped. And how will the marketer know? It’s hard to measure performance without any comparison or opportunity to swap (short of making an extensive investment).

The agency relationship should give clients cross-platform, open access to all opportunities — and objectivity. Trading desks should deliver the benefits of relationships, learnings and experience with all of the best DSPs, plus perpetual evaluations of new and evolving partners. They must be able to provide the brand safety, starting with basics like full disclosure on where ads are appearing and how much of your budget was spent on media. It is fascinating to me that Rocketfuel discloses 60 percent margins and there are no concerned glances from advertisers. Really? 60 percent?

I have been warned all my life that Google is the bad guy, but it is becoming clear that as the story unfolds, we are seeing a very different picture. The VC-fueled pressure cooker we are in at the moment is creating disintermediation on a grand scale or at least the potential of it. And agencies and advertisers should both see that there is a major role for their partners in helping them steer through this time so that we don’t walk blindly into a repeat of 2001-2008, an era that both agencies and advertisers regretted longer term.

 

Beet.TV interview talking video retargeting, Ad fraud, value vs price

Beet.TV interview talking video retargeting, Ad fraud, value vs price

Discussion of some big issues of the day around video. The role of auditors, advertisers and agencies in Ad fraud / quality issues, how programmatic video can now be a creative way to continue dialogue through re-marketing and publishers ultimately will benefit from the fact tech is starting to reveal how poor many Ad network sells are to clients.

This time it is a one way ticket

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As anyone who is crazy enough to regularly read this blog will know, every so often I intersperse the world of digital media with some of my own personal experiences. Well today personal and professional collide as I contemplate for the first time in my career getting a one way ticket to the US and taking my family with me. Many people have done it before and many will do again but to me this is a big deal and one that brings equal quantities of nerves and excitement. 
 
I am moving to the US, the Big Apple no less to help shape a new chapter for Audience On Demand with a focus on client relationships and delivery. The crucial relationships we hold with our large agency partners and their customers as well as our direct customers. I am retaining my management of EMEA at the same time. I leave that business in incredibly safe hands and the management team of Geoff, Danny, Jean Baptiste, Anke, Sara, Lothar and Cesar who I know will continue to work as always in a collaborative and market leading fashion.
 
The US market is a behemoth that I think us Europeans take some time to understand and just as Europe is often over simplified by Americans,  I believe we have the same capacity in return. I stand in awe of the scale and complexity but the complexity I can handle, Europe with its multiple markets, currencies, characteristics, politics and all is hard to rival, you just need to spend time and effort getting to understand it all, and above all listen.
 
I join a great team in the US, my colleagues are a group of experts second to none and I know that we have a winning formula, I am excited to learn from all of them and I hope in return I will add value to the people who I will work alongside.  I have read headlines recently about consistency of leadership and a teams that have been in it from the early days as regards other agency groups well we have that in spades. The people I am working with have in the main been together for 5 years and more with leaders such as Frank from the very start of VivaKi so we have a strong bench. We live in times where mobility and global capabilities and sensibilities are central. When I started my career we were all living and working in our own domains now we are a single connected globe with advertisers looking for global insights and a joined up approach. I am excited that my amazing European adventure has now expanded into a US one, it makes sense and to any global advertiser I hope will be additive having someone who can discuss their business across the globe and for that reason I am grateful to VivaKi for giving me this opportunity.
 
Interestingly, when you look at different organisations I am proud of what VivaKi has allowed me to do and I have to also comment on my wife’s company Unilever who have allowed her to move to the US with me, with out missing a beat, it was truly impressive to see how empowering an organisation can be when it makes these moves possible. Just in a few short months we have moved people from US to UK, UK to US (not including me), US to Singapore, and many more before that, this is the new world we inhabit, and it is exciting to be part of it.
 
Now perhaps the hardest part will be navigating New York streets on my motorbike, or getting used to a new culture but I can’t wait, from memory there are very few motorbikes in NY so you will spot me around Hudson street! This is not just a work move but an adventure, our four year old son does not get it yet, but he will and he will love it, I need to keep my eyes focused keenly on him to try and soak up his wide eyed wonder and not get blinded by work stress and strain, it is vital for us all to enjoy our time here. I fully intend to do that, and can’t wait to get my feet under the desk and get stuck in, so New York, here we come.

Ad Fraud: Advertisers and Auditors have only themselves to blame

Its Official! There is fraud in the Ad network business and it is big. The New York Times has written about it, see article here and so now at last it must be real. Why has it taken so long for people to take notice on the subject? VivaKi have been pushing this agenda for so long now and it is not being grasped or maybe more importantly valued by many. I will come back to what we are doing in this space, but lets get back to the ad fraud.

The media industry has always been pressured by constantly reducing pricing, every contract, every agency, every buy cheaper than the next. The advertiser is looking to reduce the costs and the ‘pitch consultants’ or rather auditors have done nothing to help that situation by creating a vicious circle of ever decreasing cpms, one agency bidding against the next. On and on it has gone, with those consultants taking their nice fees while the agencies get squeezed and squeezed. So where does this all take us? Well lets put aside agency fees and just focus on buying cpms and hope the agency gets to charge for it’s value in other ways.

The buying cpm is being reduced year on year on year and so agencies are turning to networks and other avenues to be able to hit the cpms that advertisers want. To be able to do that the only option at a certain point is to buy low cpm network inventory that is blind and very very long tail, all wrapped up in a glossy $35m marketing budget by the Ad network.  And with a nudge and wink everyone rolls over, the agency, the advertiser turn a blind eye. Years later, surprise surprise when the relevant technology becomes available and we discover that there is a lot of unsavoury, poor quality inventory being bought, there is uproar. Well come on – how did you think these companies made money?

I have no sympathy with the wailing and thrashing of bare backs about the state of the inventory because those same advertisers and auditors are the same that would not accept that if you take appropriate brand safety metrics including proper verification of inventory, whitelists, viewability tech and tracking to make sure the buy is quality and safe that there came a cost and a higher cpm. VivaKi Verified, the protection part of the Audience On Demand offering have been focused on all of these areas working with Adtricity and many others as well as having our own in house team that determine the best, safest inventory, but often times the cpm is deemed too high. Well there is a reason for that, because we are not buying click fraud, long tail, non viewed ads. 

So part of me wants to throw my arms up when an advertiser questions the well worn path of Agency Trading Desk transparency – we have the safest most robust approaches to brand safety and ability to show where every one of our ads appears – for that we have to invest. So for all the wailers out there currently, here are my final thoughts.

  • When considering the media purchase, when the glossy Ad Net is offering you a rock bottom price – you might want to ask how they get it? 
  • If you care about brand safety and every advertiser says they do – you cant accept a blind buy, I say it again – if they don’t tell you where every ad appears – you are fuelling the business that NY Times has picked up on. 
  • A challenge to auditors; seek value not price, it is in all your brochures, live it out and have the strength to tell a client they should pay more for better inventory, change your own business model away from ‘savings’ 

These headlines will become louder and let us see what happens, I will tell you, CPMs are going to rise, they have to because all those that have not been playing fair, who have been playing fast and lose with your brand, will have to improve because technology is going to find them out. When they are found out and they have to act more appropriately, their cpm will rise and then advertisers and auditors will have a dilemma – accept higher cpms for quality or continue to bury their heads in the sand and hope all this goes away.

Either way this is a good omen for those who have been banging this drum for some time and of course for genuinely premium inventory providers and for the rest I hope they suffer a lingering demise.

 

Content that you want to share : An advertiser gets it right.

Over the last few years the consistent hot topics of media and marketing have been around social media and content. Our world has been shaped by three words. Paid, Owned and Earned. The magic ingredient has been how social media channels have allow advertisers to super charge each of these areas of focus. That said this is not entirely new, or not as new as some may think.

Having worked in digital for many years, going back to the rise of viral videos in the early 2000′s we used to urge advertisers to create content for digital and not just repurposing their TV Ads. We explained that online users were looking for something extra, to be able to engage on their small screens with content other than TV Ads. Normally we did not succeed.

Years later and now every advertising initiative includes content and social and advertisers have realised they have to add value to earn the attention of their consumers. The bar has been raised as to what adding value means. Only the best work will cut through and so it was with a smile that I watched the recent work by nestle #ShareYourGoodness in India. This work has generated the highest viewed FMCG video,in India at 7million views and counting.

Grab

The campaign focuses on the fact we all have kindness and capacity for goodness that has come from family and friends and the world around us. The crux though is the sharing of that, passing it to others and making the world around us a better, happier place.

The campaign mirrors that by encouraging people to share goodness amongst their friends and colleagues. To me what stands out is the amazing quality of the story telling and execution. YouTube, Twitter have all been used extensively and powerfully with an amazing response on Twitter – the best sharing mechanism of all. The impressive part of this campaign was that it started online – an advertiser realising that TV does not have to come first and from an FMCG advertiser that is even more significant. The TV followed of course but allowing the content speak for itself and the physical sharing of the content mirroring the message itself was a clever strategic decision.

SYG Cake

Nestle created two fantastic films to inspire viewers to #ShareYourGoodness, take a look below. The first was about two siblings and their insecurities, and how they bond with each. The second a heart warming film shows the life of Dabba-walas of Mumbai and how Nestlé India showed its gratitude to these precious people who deliver hot home-made food to Mumbaikars every-day, and thanked them for their values of dedication, punctuality and commitment.

I posted one of them, the second can be found by searching ShareYourGoodness

Enjoy the films and in the spirit of the work, why not share it!