|THE FAKE TRAFFIC SCHEMES THAT ARE ROTTING THE INTERNET|
Aruba, September 25, 2015 - How much of your audience is fake?
Ron Amram has been in the brand marketing business for about 20 years. In the 2000s he was media director for Sprint’s prepaid cellular group, mainly figuring out where the carrier should spend its ad dollars—print, outdoor, digital, or broadcast. TV was always at the top of the pyramid. A TV campaign was like “the Air Force,” Amram says. “You wanted to get your message out, you did carpet bombing.” But TV wasn’t cheap, nor did it solve “that age-old question: Half of my marketing is working, half of it is not, and I don’t know which half.”
About 10 years ago, not long after Google went public and Yahoo! was still worth upward of $50 billion, attitudes shifted. Digital search and display ads had the potential to reach TV-size audiences at a fraction of the price. “People thought it was going to change everything,” Amram says.
The euphoria escalated again around 2010 with the arrival of programmatic advertising, a typically banal industry term for what is, essentially, automation. The ideal programmatic transaction works like this: A user clicks on a website and suddenly her Internet address and browsing history are packaged and whisked off to an auction site, where software, on behalf of advertisers, scrutinizes her profile (or an anonymized version of it) and determines whether to bid to place an ad next to that article. Ford Motor could pay to put its ads on websites for car buffs, or, with the help of cookies, track car buffs wherever they may be online. Ford might want to target males age 25-40 for pickup-truck ads, or, better yet, anybody in that age group who’s even read about pickups in the past six months.
That’s a stunningly attractive proposition to advertisers: surgical strikes on a carpet bombing scale. Ominous for privacy advocates, sure, but nirvana for agencies, publishers, and advertisers. At long last, they’d know where every last dollar went and whether it did its job.
Increasingly, digital ad viewers aren’t human. A study done last year in conjunction with the Association of National Advertisers embedded billions of digital ads with code designed to determine who or what was seeing them. Eleven percent of display ads and almost a quarter of video ads were “viewed” by software, not people. According to the ANA study, which was conducted by the security firm White Ops and is titled The Bot Baseline: Fraud In Digital Advertising, fake traffic will cost advertisers $6.3 billion this year.
Fake traffic has become a commodity. There’s malware for generating it and brokers who sell it. Some companies pay for it intentionally, some accidentally, and some prefer not to ask where their traffic comes from.