Click-fraud “Crisis” Creates New Challenges for Brands, Agencies


As cybercrime syndicates dig further into the Web for money-making opportunities, brands are being forced to confront the possibility that the “consumer” on the other end of their marketing message isn’t human at all, but is rather a string of malware helping its creator profit.

That reality was on display last week in Seville, Spain, during an I-Com panel that brought brands and agencies together to talk about the emerging challenge of data verification.

Amaya Garbayo, associate director of insights and planning at Kellogg Co., shared her concern that companies like the multinational food manufacturer are not always getting what they paid for, and called on agencies and publishers to do their part in ensuring the integrity of the digital advertising market.

But, as Dean McRobie, chief technology officer for Annalect, pointed out, 100% verification in the age of digital anonymity, programmatic buying and shared cookies is impossible to achieve. Brands need to accept that some amount of click-fraud is “part of the ecosystem.”

Still, judging from the data, in terms of scope, click-fraud isn’t just a piece of the ecosystem – it’s a big part.

Last month, The Wall Street Journal called click fraud “a crisis in online advertising,” citing data that estimates 36% of all online traffic is fraudulent and generated by non-human entities known as botnets. A recent study from security firm White Ops estimates that advertisers have lost $6 billion to fraudulent clicks, with as many as one-in-six U.S. computers infected.

“The mere mention of the word [affects] whether we should move dollars from channel to another,” McRobie said. “The discussion gets derailed completely.”

To combat the fraud, the Journal reports that many large brands are turning to third-party ad-auditing firms, and demanding compensation when the numbers don’t add up. This has the potential to create adversarial relationship between brands and agencies. Meanwhile, as the illegal proceeds from click-fraud climb, consumers are facing the prospect of having their machines co-opted into expanding zombie networks.

To ensure industry credibility and prevent fragmentation between the primary stakeholders in online advertising, agencies and brands will ultimately need to work together, accepting that if click fraud can’t be stopped, it can at least be monitored, measured, and mitigated as much as possible with the might of agencies and their combined advertisers.

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