MRC to Issue Guidelines for Non-Human Traffic

As the digital advertising industry becomes increasingly dependent on automation, marketers are more and more likely to confront a painful issue: non-human traffic.

To solve the problem, the Media Rating Council, or MRC, the industry association that audits and accredits media measurement services, has launched a project to strengthen benchmarks for the filtration and disclosure of invalid non-human traffic.

“The digital advertising environment is becoming more and more complicated,” says George Ivie, executive director and chief executive officer (CEO) of the MRC, explaining that it’s more difficult today for brands and marketers to remove different types of fraudulent traffic, especially “bots.” These computer-generated visitors can fool advertisers into paying for phony traffic while their ads are not actually seen by human eyes.

“Fundamentally, we want to educate and help reduce the risk of counting invalid non-human traffic, as well as provide greater clarity and transparency in the digital advertising industry,” Ivie notes.

Digital marketers largely welcome this initiative, as nearly billions of ad dollars are wasted on fraudulent traffic every year.

“Non-human traffic affects everyone in the online advertising industry,” says James Green, chief executive officer (CEO) of ad tech company Magnetic.

He explains that ad exchanges may get a bad name because of this and publishers may get hurt, too, because these so-called bots make ad inventory look larger than it really is and artificially depress prices.

Currently there are a number of products on the market to tackle such fraud.

For example, on August 4, comScore acquired anti-bot firm MdotLabs to augment its fraudulent traffic detection methods. And, in February, Google purchased London-based fraud prevention startup Spider.io to protect its ad network from fradulent ad activity.

However, Green notes, “No one explains to marketers that this is a right measure or that is a right measure.”

Josh Engroff, chief digital officer of media planning and buying agency the Media Kitchen, agrees that standardized guidelines are necessary.

“The MRC is in a position to bring clarity to the non-human traffic issue, which is not always well understood by the industry,” Engroff says. “And a third-party accreditation program will help digital marketers choose an accredited vendor or platform to work with.”

Additionally, industry insiders consider this initiative an extension of the MRC’s recent viewability guidelines, which require 50 percent of an ad’s pixels to be viewable for a minimum of one second in order to be deemed viewable.

“If an ad is seen by bots, it should not be treated as viewed anyway,” Green adds.

The MRC says it has been working on this project informally for the past few months with tech vendors, accredited auditing firms and digital agencies. The MRC also says it will continue to revise existing measurement guidelines, as well as draft new guidlines specifically for this initiative.

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