Q/A with Marketing Magazine, Traffic of Good Intent guidelines

David Thomas over at Marketing Magazine challenged us with some questions about the release of the Traffic of Good Intent guidelines. We turned it around over night with thanks from the Programmatic Trading committee, Julia Casale gets special thanks for help.

Q: How much do you think the average Canadian advertiser worries about fraud? Who is it the biggest problem for?

A: No one wants to feel that they have been ripped off in a purchase. When media inventory, presented as legitimate, is exposed as illegitimate, everyone suffers except the source of the inflation. This has been a recurrent problem in media since the beginning of the industry and has been the genesis of an “arms war” when it comes to defining legitimate media exposure. Let’s be honest, defining media exposure, in all media, is an exercise in math, technology and statistical process with varying degrees of accuracy.

When numbers that are inflated for greed we all suffer, advertisers, publishers and agencies. Brands end up paying too much, publisher reputations are questioned and agencies are given the headache of sorting out good traffic from bad while online media’s reputation as whole gets varnished with the same brush. On the other hand, the media industry has innovated from the beginning mechanisms to deal with this problem.

As spending on digital continues to grow, accounting for a larger slice of the overall media budget, we see the beginnings of brand procurement departments requesting more transparency into where exactly those dollars are going. That is the role of Best Practice document – to facilitate a smart discussion among a wider group of stakeholders to support the industry’s efforts to eliminate these unscrupulous activities and help cement the legitimacy and value of the channel.

Q: How much of a challenge is it for all the industry stakeholders — not just on the buy and sell-side, but advertisers, exchanges and technology vendors who are competing with one another — to come together to address fraud?

A: IAB Canada has four type of members that are important to the discussion, advertisers, publishers, agencies and technologies. Our structure is for Councils to bring one type of member together (i.e. What is the publishers point of view) while committees rally around an issue (i.e. programmatic buying). In both cases competitors are sitting together to address problems and solutions. One of most successful committees is the Ad Ops committee and they have been reducing fraud and other craptacular problems in the market for years. Previous to the release of this Best Practice document we hosted a webinar with Steve Sullivan of IAB US for this committee to discuss the Traffic of Good Intent task force. Plus we operate a list server so that when one Ad Operations professional at one company spots something irregular, they post an email that immediately alerts everyone on the list. They are all competitive organizations that help each other protect the common good. They are unsung heroes of this industry.

Q: One of the suggestions in the report was to move away from superficial metrics like CTRs and video completion rates. Do you think Canadian advertisers are moving away from relying on these measures, or is there still a long way to go?

A: I hope they are. The click is still a widely used measuring stick, but advertisers are continuously evolving their approach to measurement and attribution – placing more emphasis on transactional performance and qualitative lift – measures that are far less vulnerable to fraud. Clickthrough rates can be highly misleading even the absence of problems generated by fraudulent traffic and clicks. As I pointed out in answering the first question there is an “arms war” where there is an escalating investment in providing new metrics and methodologies not only to reduce fraudulent traffic but also to provide more meaningful metrics than CTR. Look at what comScore has done with vCE, Neilsen’s OCR, Moat’s Brand Score and the investments made by ad servers with MRC accreditation. Anyone exclusively looking at CTR as their KPI is a prospect for one of our courses.

Q: One of the things I was surprised to see in the report was the suggestion that advertisers should budget for some inevitable losses to fraud. That seems like something a lot of advertisers are thinking, but no one really wants to come out and say: that fraud is an inevitable cost of doing business on the Internet. From a pure cost-efficiency standpoint, it may strike certain buyers as cheaper to accept that fraud is going to happen and buy a little extra inventory, than pay for fraud detection or premium inventory. What’s wrong with that kind of thinking? How can advertisers budget for fraud, without becoming complacent? 

 A: There are many actions the guide recommends and it is a working document inviting further submissions. It’s a very good idea for buyers and sellers to spend some time with their staff and partners review the document and do a gap analysis. The Insertion Order (IO) is critical to defining what is being bought at what price using what technology, how inventory will be delivered. How pricing and performance incentives are structured play a huge role in fraud generation or reduction. Banks and credit cards budget for fraud and of course they invest in reduction and prevention. No one is recommending that we give up banks and credit cards except for survivalists. If your only action is to accept that fraud exists and buy more inventory you will find that the fraudsters have ways to make their inventory just a little more appealing. The outcome will be to reward the fraudsters disproportionally.