The Push Toward Reliable Programmatic Performance

Blog | 26 Jan, 2018

Over the past few years, marketing has been transformed by new technology and the flood of data that make it easier and more efficient to identify, reach, and convert potential customers and stakeholders. We can, with relative ease, find those individuals who might most benefit from our company or organisation’s products and services. From the comfort of our desk, and with just a few keystrokes, we can open up new markets and reach a global audience.


As with every advance, however, this progress has attracted some bad actors. These individuals have sought to take advantage of our rather messy rush to expand the digital advertising ecosystem creating some massive issues we need to avoid. There are still some in the community who worry a little too much about the trendy restaurants and high-profile events to which they’ll be invited as quid pro quo for your media dollars – more on that in a later article.

Right now, I seek to turn the spotlight on a particular challenge of the programmatic age. One of the most prominent issues of late has been the fraud associated with programmatic display buying and performance reporting. What makes this problem even more of a challenge is that the fraud is perpetrated using the tool we value most – Data.

It’s going to take a well-coordinated effort, from many players, to root out, surround, and put-an-end to dishonest practices that inflate impressions and artificially boost performance data.


It’s important to understand that we are the ones who left this door open for fraudsters. We created a tangle of scenarios, human and machine, that gave unique opportunities for dishonest brokers to misrepresent the impact they’re delivering and take advantage of us. Only when we start to address all of these will we start to make leaps forwards, not just steps, towards ending their threat to a healthy, thriving marketplace.

A place to start is the oft-used, but generally misunderstood, double-edged sword of transparency. A truly transparent marketplace- one in which there is no place to hide- should by its nature be trustworthy. However, the seeing of a thing doesn’t always lead to the comprehension of the thing. We have to be smarter.

To eliminate fraud, we need to step up our game and ask ourselves some tough questions about:

  • How we buy
  • From whom we buy
  • How we target
  • How we engage publishers
  • What metrics we use to buy and judge success
  • How much we pay for inventory
  • What tools we have at our disposal and how we utilise them
  • Hich intermediaries (if any) we should work with
  • Which intermediaries our agencies work with 

We need to make sure we understand the blind spots we’ve created where fraud can set root. The list goes on and unless we are critical of ourselves and our peers, and unless we can understand and address all the factors, the door will always be ajar.

Over the coming months, we will look at the state of fraud and brand safety concerns in the industry and highlight key steps that will protect you from being a target and help you identify the right questions to ask to reduce the chance of being the next victim.

One important first step is making sure that we and our clients feel safe investing in programmatic, both in their balance sheets and their brains. DoubleClick has recently announced they’ll be taking a big first step in the coordinated effort I think necessary to root fraud out from this important channel.

In a bold move, DoubleClick will start to automatically reimburse advertisers any funds that the media platform discovers come from non-human sources.

This is great news: There is no excuse for accepting fraudulent, machine-generated impressions that have done nothing to help us achieve our client’s business goals. We can no longer accept the wasting of these resources on spreadsheet magic. This simple change will allow us to better identify messages and channels that truly move the market.

There will be some who, on hearing this news, sigh some relief as they're now “covered.” They may go back to their clients or bosses and say, “We might have had some fraudulent impressions, but that’s ok, we will get reimbursed.” This approach, however, would not lead to the fulsome transformation the digital marketplace needs if we want to stop fraud from undermining the credibility of our field. In fact, that mindset represents the complete lack of accountability that is a huge factor in virtually all of digital’s ills. Don’t be that person. This is not the end, just the first step by one major player at the beginning of the fight against digital fraud.

Instead, I would suggest being the person who says, “That’s great. I still need to do more so I reduce my exposure to fraud.”

That would be especially wise as DoubleClick cannot yet say how much of reimbursement advertisers will receive, at what cadence and how much fraud they can actually see. In my experience, it has been the case that when one potential door of exploitation closes, disreputable players seek to open three more.

There will be many quick to criticise DoubleClick for the underlying problem and their recent announcement. I, however, have a much different perspective.

As mentioned, this is a great first step, one for which DoubleClick should be lauded. We need to encourage good companies to continue down this path of transparency and accountability. We, as users of their systems, must become tireless proponents of tools and insights that help us put an end to this cat-and-mouse game. We need insights to help us figure out what we do not know today that we might work out tomorrow. We need the ability to retro activate based on that knowledge and easily adjust to avoid these potential pitfalls in the future.

It is also the case that when fighting fraud, we cannot show too much of our hand, or we risk jeopardising future lines of detection and the protection we need. And this brings us to DoubleClick’s second big step forward – helping give some transparency and understanding to the situation, so the best marketers among us can start to build an understanding of what fraud is, where it occurred and build a roadmap we can follow in our own media buying to reduce that exposure.

Small steps? Giant leaps?

Whatever you feel they are they are at the start of a long journey. Look on the bright side: This is surmountable, it will take down a load of bad actors in the ecosystem on the way, and if nothing else we got the gift of a new TLA: Invalid Traffic (IVT) because we can never have enough of those!



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