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Keeping it clean: what buyers can do to help prevent ad fraud

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Markus Spiske

For advertisers and demand-side platforms (DSPs), digital video ad buying is a process riddled with hidden bumps on the road. As hard as the industry works to clean up the ad ecosystem, fraud and other bad behaviour is a threat that needs to be constantly managed. Publishers and their ad tech vendors need to lead the charge in managing this threat, however, the buy-side also has a role to play. There are a number of practices that could be cleaned up to help prevent fraud from affecting ad buys -- here’s a cheat sheet for the buy-side on what to look out for.

Buying premium sites in open markets

If you’re buying premium placements for unbelievably low prices, you might want to evaluate the legitimacy of those placements. It’s possible to do so by operating from whitelists, or maintaining blacklists of URLs that should not be available in open markets. Consider only buying direct, or at least from verified resellers.

Use the bid parameters

Pay attention to signals passed in the bid request. Open real-time-bidding (RTB) is meant to increase the transparency between buyers and sellers. Key parameters such as player size, initiation type, domain and bundle are a few values that signal quality to buyers. Leveraging these signals in real-time can help buyers weed out unwanted supply. For instance, do you want to stop buying in-banner ads passed off as pre-roll? Then, be sure to leverage the player size dimensions and adjust campaign targeting parameters to omit small player sizes. Or Is it that you want to get rid of partners with large amounts of un-authorised inventory? Then, leverage the publisher ID in Open RTB and validate that it’s included within ads.txt files.

Require transparency from sellers

If you’re buying VAST inventory on desktop and mobile web, you’re exposing your buys to inventory that may not be verified and, at times, a flat-out misrepresentation of the actual site or placement. VPAID and direct, player-level integrations provide greater visibility into the actual placement to buy-side partners. With fraud and invalid traffic on the forefront of everyone’s minds, you should ensure your sell-side partners are passing verified data around the site, placement and player size, and when transacting in VAST environments ensure there is a high level of trust with the publisher.

Stop rewarding call volume

Many demand-side-platforms (DSPs) still reward call volume. If they’re asked once for a bid, there’s a smaller chance they will respond than if they’re asked 100 times. Unfortunately, most supply-side platforms (SSPs) don’t take steps to reduce this duplicative call volume. Why would they, when high call volumes are rewarded by buyers? It’s time that buyers stopped rewarding high call volume and instead focus buys on high-quality placements from premium publishers in private and curated marketplaces.

Eliminate arbitrage and adopt ads.txt

Buyers are increasingly asking that they only buy inventory from verified resellers of inventory, thereby reducing the amount of middlemen in the ecosystem. More dollars will flow into the pockets of media owners, publishers, and OTT providers if the entire industry adopts solutions to identify the inventory originator. Ask your suppliers if they actually own the inventory or if they have a contractual right to sell that inventory.

One way of verifying inventory ownership is through the IAB’s ads.txt initiative. Since it launched in Q2 2017, many DSPs have implemented decisioning based on ads.txt and rely on it as a means to eliminate fraud and unauthorised reselling.

Across SpotX globally, we are 100% ads.txt compliant for desktop and mobile web.

Shift budgets to private marketplaces

For transparency and control, it’s preferable for publishers and advertisers to set up invite-only marketplaces where premium publishers offer their video inventory to select groups of advertisers, using a Deal ID to transact. These one-to-one relationships give buyers transparency and controlled access to premium inventory in brand-safe environments. We saw across APAC, in the second quarter, 65% of deals transacted through SpotX’s platform were executed via private marketplaces, while the other 35% went through the open marketplace. Based on current pacing we expect private marketplaces to account for 70% by the end of the year.

For publishers and supply-side partners that are working hard to eliminate fraud, it can be demoralising, and highly damaging, when the buy-side rewards bad behaviour. With a little care and attention, buyers can avoid the ad buying process becoming a long and winding road of fraud and hidden fees. Eliminating sources of inefficiency in the buying process will reduce friction in the monetisation chain and ultimately help create more harmony in the digital ad ecosystem.

Add a human element

Review what you are purchasing and if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

Matt Steffenson is director of demand facilitation at SpotX

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