Why Advertisers Must Make Brand Safety on Mobile Devices a Top Priority


To say that the advertising industry has been in the throes of transformation over the last few years, at this point, may actually be a little bit of an understatement.

In a lot of ways, the journey to get where we are today began in 2007 – when Steve Jobs first walked across a stage in Cupertino, California and introduced the first iPhone to the world.

“Smart” phones had existed prior to that point. But the iPhone was the first one that became a legitimate phenomenon.

Quickly, everyone had to have one of these powerful little devices – a phone that literally had millions of times more power than the technology that NASA used to send men to the moon in the 1960s.

The iPhone disrupted countless industries – from consumer electronics segments like digital cameras and GPS to online software distribution models and more.

But the one area that it had the most effect on – and the one that people still don’t understand nearly enough – is advertising.

The State of Digital Advertising in the Modern Era

Flash forward to today and 77 percent of people in the United States now own a smartphone of some kind — up from just 35 percent a few years earlier, in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center.

Based on that, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets quickly became one of the dominant advertising platforms on the planet.

But this digital revolution also exposed marketing professionals to a world of new challenges that their predecessors never had to deal with.

The average person was exposed to about 500 ads per day in the 1970s, according to CBS News.

Today, that number is as high as 5,000 by most estimates.

This means that your ad is competing with thousands upon thousands of additional ads for other brands, products, and services for the attention of those in your target audience.

The attention of consumers is already split in a million different directions between the Internet, gaming consoles, television sets, friends, family, and more.

Equally complicating things is the fact that 615 million devices now use some type of ad blocking software on a regular basis, according to PageFair. That number breaks down to about 11 percent of the total global Internet population.

Desktop ad blocking usage alone has grown to 236 million devices, but the ever-important mobile space — that “final frontier” of digital advertising — is actually seeing the most expansion.

In a single year, mobile ad blocking usage grew from just 108 million devices in 2016 to a massive 380 million devices in 2017 — a trend that shows absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

So what, exactly, does all this tell us?

  • Advertising is more prominent than ever — in a lot of ways. It’s literally become a ubiquitous part of our daily lives whether we like it or not.
  • The mobile space brings with it the possibility for a massive amount of success — but the users themselves are increasingly showing themselves unwilling to engage with your ads in most (but not all) situations. They say you can only make one first impression, so you’d better pull out all the stops to make it the best one that you possibly can.

That simple idea is why advertisers must make brand safety on mobile devices a top priority.

You’re already fighting an uphill battle. You can’t afford to let ad fraud get in the way.

Yet, at the same time, this is increasingly becoming one of the biggest problems that brands and advertisers now face – a climate where ads are being faked, spoofed, redirected, and otherwise hijacked during a time when you absolutely cannot afford it.

Why Brand Safety Matters: Breaking Things Down

According to a report recently released by the CMO Council, 72 percent of all CMOs say that they’re facing increased pressure to figure out how to generate more trust between not only brands and customers but also agencies, publishers and more.

Indeed, if you had to make a list of all the most valuable assets you have at your disposal as an advertiser, “trust” would be right at the top.

Trust is something that takes quite a bit of energy and sincerity to earn – and it’s something that can be gone in an instant thanks to the online ad fraud problem that is now running rampant.

To get a better idea of just how devastating this ad fraud problem has become, consider even just a few of the following statistics:

  • In 2017 alone, marketers all over the world lost $6.5 billion to digital ad fraud.
  • One out of every five websites that served ads were being visited exclusively by fraud bots.
  • On average, for every $3 that gets spent on digital advertising, about $1 is lost to fraud.
  • On average, 8.3 percent of all impressions for display ads in 2016 were fraudulent.
  • Mobile ad fraud is “surging” as the rate of fake app-installs, clicks, attributions and other mobile scams increased 100 percent in the past year.
  • Smartphone ad fraud alone increased by 30 percent in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the same time period in 2017.

Statistics like these paint a clear picture:

The essential trust that your advertising depends on between a brand and its consumers is under attack all day, every day. No exceptions.

At this point, it’s equally important to examine the value of brand trust in the first place.

Consider these statistics about consumer behavior that were compiled from various sources:

  • Brand trust creates brand loyalty – something that itself is intrinsically valuable. Increasing customer retention by just 5 percent, for example, can generate an increase in profits of between 25 percent and 95 percent in some cases.
  • Brand loyalty is also malleable – 46 percent of consumers who responded to one survey said that they were far more likely to switch brands today than they were just 10 years ago. This is a problem, because…
  • … another survey revealed that consumers are far more likely to remember a negative experience than a positive one. Only 55 percent of the people who responded to this survey said that they were actually able to remember a major positive experience with a particular brand during the last 10 years.

To that end, ad fraud is doing more than just harming your ability to effectively reach a target audience.

It’s permanently shattering your ability to establish trust with consumers, which itself is making it impossible for you to generate the level of loyalty you need to survive the increasing levels of competition you’re facing from nearly every angle at every waking moment of the day.

Put simply: in terms of online advertising, brand trust is the thing that you must protect at all costs.

Prioritizing brand safety is how you do it.

Understanding the Situation You Now Face

But understanding that there’s a problem is one thing. Doing something about it is another conversation entirely.

To truly put yourself in a better position to do something about this as an advertiser, you must naturally learn as much about the current ad fraud climate as possible.

While it’s certainly true that some of the problems rest with the mobile devices themselves – meaning that their operating systems are naturally insecure or that users simply aren’t updating their phones on a regular, reliable basis – that isn’t something that advertisers themselves can control.

For the best results, you need to focus on what you can control – that which can lead to action.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that, in a race to the bottom in terms of PPC costs an in an effort to increase ROI and combat already thin profit margins, advertisers are paying less attention to the actual ad networks that they’re partnering with.

A lot of the trends that we’re now seeing stem from this idea —  that all ad networks are created equally.

In truth, compromised networks can serve users ads that can be easily redirected, spoofed, hijacked, and manipulated in ways that people don’t expect and that they aren’t prepared for.

This not only harms the brands in all the ways outlined above, but it can put individuals at risk, too.

If a user clicks on an ad and is redirected to irrelevant content, that’s a problem.

If they click on an ad and their phone is immediately hit with a virus, they’re not going to make an effort to understand the finer points of ad fraud. They’re going to think “Brand X just served me a virus” and they’ll never, ever do business with that company again.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

In terms of actually fighting these types of issues and protecting your valuable brand identity at all times, there are certainly a few key things you’ll need to keep in mind.

Be Proactive

The first is that this is a problem that you, as an advertiser, must be as proactive about as possible. Gone are the days where you can wait for something to happen and then take steps to fix it.

You need to act today to reduce the possibility that these events will even have a chance to occur in the first place.

If an ad is hijacked and a user’s device ends up compromised, the damage is already done – irreparable damage to a brand’s reputation has already been caused. The key is to try to anticipate these issues and avoid them altogether.

Use Ad Verification Providers

According to the experts at Forbes, one of the major steps that you can take to protect yourself throughout all of this comes through the use of ad verification providers —  those companies that are dedicated to providing protection against both general and more sophisticated types of ad fraud.

A wide range of different companies fall into this category, including but not limited to ones like Integral Ad Sciences, WhiteOps, and Forensiq.

Armed with real-time analytics about the ad campaigns and traffic of clients, these types of providers can quickly identify situations where ad fraud is taking place and put a stop to it before it has a chance to do any type of permanent damage.

In fact, it’s actually recommended that you enlist the services of two (or even more) of these providers to help guarantee that any gaps in detection that are present are minimized as much as possible.

Use Documented Internal Policies & Procedures

Another critical step to take to protect against ad fraud and to emphasize brand safety involves the use of documented internal policies and procedures about not only ad creation and publication but also anti-fraud efforts.

In the event that some type of previously undetected ad fraud is able to slip through the cracks, you’ll have a clear policy in place that you can refer to identify:

  • How it was able to happen in the first place.
  • What steps you need to take to close that gap and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

Your own internal teams will also have a proven, repeatable process to follow to help mitigate ad fraud moving forward.

Switch to More Actionable Metrics

Fellow SEJ contributor Kris Jones says that one way to identify situations where ad fraud is likely involved is by switching your bidding proposition to more actionable metrics – like conversions or lead forms.

The problem is that click-based goals are very, very easy to trick with bot traffic – meaning that they’re more likely to be taken advantage of by way of fraudulent activity.

Switching to more actionable metrics not only gives you better insight into the effectiveness of your campaigns, but it can also help fend off fraud as much as possible.

Human Review

Perhaps the most important step for you to take throughout all of this involves acknowledging that human beings still have an important role to play in advertising – even in an era that is already heavily digitized.

Yes, automation can help streamline and simplify everything from the bidding to the creation processes, saving valuable time and extending your ROI as much as possible.

But when ads go live having never been reviewed by a human being, or when humans don’t properly vet or communicate with partners in the first place, this is precisely how these types of mistakes are made.

Nobody is saying that you shouldn’t automate what you can – far from it. It’s just that there are a few things that computers will never be able to outperform humans at and detecting (and stopping) ad fraud very much appears to be one of them.

In the End

At this point, it should be clear that ad fraud is one of the most pressing threats facing your business, your brand, and your audience today.

Not only does it stand to undo everything that you’ve already worked so hard to build, but it’s also powerful enough to derail your brand moving forward, often in a way that even strong companies are never able to recover from.

But it certainly doesn’t have to be this way.

Not anymore.

In truth, combating ad fraud is going to require an “all hands on deck” approach – it requires the participation not only of brands and advertisers but also ad networks, agency partners, and even consumers.

But in terms of your own efforts, things must begin by making brand safety on mobile devices in particular a top priority. Only then will you find yourself in the position you need to be in to mitigate risk from advertising fraud as much as possible.

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