Brands Will Lose Billions to Bots in 2015 [Study]

Advertisers around the world will lose $6.3 billion to bots next year, according to a new study from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and online fraud detection firm White Ops.

Bots originate from sites with phony ad traffic, allowing the cyber criminals behind them to collect money from advertisers for the fraudulent impressions. Throughout August and September, the ANA and White Ops looked at 5.5 million impressions from 181 digital campaigns from 36 brands, measuring them against industry spending patterns, and found that bots account for 11 percent of display ad impressions and 23 percent of video ad impressions.

Additionally, “The Bot Baseline: Fraud in Digital Advertising” study reported that when publishers bought sourced traffic from a third party, as a way to drive additional unique visitors, 52 percent of that traffic was fraudulent.


Though not powered by bots, adware – software automatically installed on user devices to boost ad consumption – affected study participants in a similar manner. Within the first week of the study, a single adware trafficker delivered 10 million impressions to one company’s video ad campaign. Only 7 percent of that campaign’s clicks came from actual human beings.

“Research like this is critical in building a program that will excise this type of criminal activity out of the supply chain,” says Linda Woolley, president and chief executive (CEO) of Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG).

TAG is a group formed by the ANA, Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) to eradicate ad fraud, which Woolley calls “an obstacle to the growth of the digital economy.”

Because botnet controllers hijack consumers’ computers, they are able to move mice, click ads, and put items in shopping carts. Two-thirds of bots come from residential IP addresses, most active when consumers are not: between midnight and 7 a.m. Bots are also particularly prevalent in programmatic (17 percent) and retargeted (19 percent) ads, as well as on older Web browsers. Internet Explorer 6 and 7 were found to have fraud levels of 58 and 46 percent, respectively.

To best combat bots, the ANA and White Ops recommend advertising during the day, demanding transparency for sourced traffic, including language on non-human traffic in terms and conditions, and announcing anti-fraud policies to all external partners.

“[The study is] about stopping outright criminal theft. Ad fraud is hugely profitable and is one of the major sources of funding for a global underground responsible for a broad spectrum of cybercrime,” says Michael Tiffany, CEO of White Ops. “The results of this study should not be about building better mousetraps, but about driving substantive change in the industry to alter the economics for criminals, and ultimately drive them out of the business.”

Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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