Some of the UK’s biggest advertisers are coming together to establish a common definition for ad fraud

Click fraud is now the “number one issue” for brand-side marketers eager to ensure ad tech companies are able to live-up to their claims of cleaning up digital advertising, with trade bodies representing their interests exploring the possibility of building a robust verification tool which can vet such vendors’ claims.

Efforts are being led by blue-chip brands including Nationwide, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, which aim to grapple with the thorny issue collectively through a specialist ISBA working group that is currently in the process of devising a commonly held definition of what actually constitutes ad fraud – as opposed to poor practice. Nationwide, Procter & Gamble and Unilever all declined to comment on the cross-industry group.

The brands then intend to work with JICWEBS – a cross-industry trade body that also constitutes the IAB and IPA – to go about recommending ad tech companies through an accreditation system involving their preferred verification partner ABC.

This process, which industry insiders describe as a huge technical undertaking, is set to include the verification initiative working with the trade bodies to build software that can ape the behavior of fraudulent traffic – which is commonly referred to as “bots” within the industry – in order to verify anti-fraud vendors’ claims.

Such moves are being made as earlier joint efforts to clean-up the digital advertising industry – and therefore firmly implant the discipline at the main table of the industry - because previous attempts were deemed too ‘light-touch’, as companies were self-audited. A process which many industry sources described as ineffective.

David Ellison, marketing services manager at ISBA, told The Drum the trade body’s working group would soon agree upon the commonly held definition of bot traffic, and then go about working with its fellow trade bodies to build the verification tools – a process that would likely come to fruition in the first quarter of next year.

Ad tech vendors close to this initiative include Integral Ad Science and Forensiq, among others eager to gain the trust of marketers.

Niall Hogan, Integral Ad Science, managing director, UK, said: “The JICWEBs members are looking to build upon the best practice guidelines published a few months by really being able to make sure companies can do what they say they can do.

“It’s similar to what they are trying to do with viewability, but with fraud, it’s just not that straight forward. Validating around viewability, is more about looking at a company’s methodology.”

However, with click fraud, the accreditation bodies have to be able to build technology that can assure ad tech vendors can detect the different kind of bots they claims to be able to spot, he added.

Julia Smith, a consultant at Forensiq, and former head of IASH (a trade body responsible for regulating ad networks), told The Drum the verification process “needed teeth” to effectively make an impact upon the problem.

These efforts build upon JICWEBs’ recently published best practice guidelines in tackling with bot traffic, which aimed to initially curb the risk of brands paying for invalid traffic.

Speaking at the time, Daniel Creed, Santander's marketing strategy and planning manager, said: “Tackling digital ad fraud is one of the most complex challenges currently facing advertisers. Gaining a better understanding of the issue is vital.”

The scale of the problem was displayed in a recent study by Integral Ad Science, claiming bot traffic cost advertisers as much as £277m a year in the UK alone, with 12.2 per cent of all ad impressions there found to be fraudulent between April and June.

Click fraud, or bot traffic, is increasingly a concern for brands given the emergence of automated trading of digital media across ad networks and ad exchanges – as opposed to direct deals between media buyer, and media owner - which process vast amounts of traffic, making it difficult for responsible parties to spot bad actors.

Integral Ad Science’s study claimed that up to 13.6 per cent of UK traffic on ad networks and exchanges was fraudulent, compared to 6.6 per cent on UK publishers’ websites. This is compared to the US, where 14.1 per cent of traffic from ad networks and exchanges was deemed fraudulent, whereas 3.7 per cent of publisher traffic was generated by bots.

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