In the last few months, I’ve been investigating fraud of all sorts. However, video fraud has come to the forefront recently as fraudsters can make huge amounts of money very fast. Video sites have popped up recently claiming potential reach often beyond that of the largest video networks. Unfortunately, it seems that many agency media buyers are somewhat clueless in what to look for, and worse, just ignore signs of fraud. In the hope that a little education can assist media buyers, I’ve compiled five things that they need to know about video.
- From Tod Sacerdoti, of BrightRoll: “Understand that click-through rates are a bad metric. Publishers with fraudulent traffic tend to have high CTRs.” Fraudsters are smart. If they can commit impression fraud, they can commit click-through fraud. This is especially true if they know that this is your only method of gauging effectiveness of the advertising.
- It’s too good to be true: you get what you pay for. If networks are bidding $15 CPM for your media buy and everyone is telling you that inventory is very tight, please be very suspicious of the $7 CPM bids. The part of you that is suspicious of the e-mails from some supposed ambassador who has $1.2 million in a bank account set aside just for you, is the same part that should be tingling when you hear prices like these.
- “Can’t use third-party verification tags.” If anyone tells you that they can’t use DoubleVerify or some other third-party verification service, you need to turn around and run really fast. The excuses often range from “Doesn’t work with our system” or “No idea what that is” to “My mother checks placement of the ads, why do you need another system?” The technology behind all the third-party verification systems is simple, and if a company can figure how to call pre-roll advertising, there is no reason they can’t integrate these systems. Any excuse is just a reason to hide their traffic sources.
- Severe up and down traffic. Any video provider that has Web traffic that goes up and down on a weekly basis is doing something to increase their numbers, often through pop-ups, 1×1 pixels, and other methods to increase the video plays. I recently caught a video site doing this, and after their partners stopped buying media, their site decreased to almost no traffic. Despite this, I am finding some media buyers still buying media directly, even though as one network told me, “Everyone knows this site is bad.”
- Network partners. I heard this one recently in an excuse, and it really made me wonder if the person really believed what they were saying. If you are buying on a specific site or network, be wary if they are contracting with other networks for the services. If they have the reach they claim, why do they need to go to another network? If you aren’t buying on that network, why would you want them to put your ads on that network for you? In one case, I found that the “network partners” meant that they were taking the video advertisement, changing the coding, and putting 300×250 ads on an advertising exchange. Almost always these “network partners” are companies you wouldn’t go to directly (or you would be already).
Use common sense. Video advertising, because of the high CPMs generated, is going to be a huge target of scammers. That being said, the amount of quality inventory available is still very limited, so fraudsters are using this supply and demand difference to prey on agencies and networks. Because the price can be so high, media buyers should demand high compliance and transparency – and anything that seems strange and not standard should be left alone.
This column was originally published Oct. 4, 2010. Pace is off today.