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Unintended Consequences for Publishers using Adtech


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Publishers applied all sorts of ad tech to their sites and experimented with everything in an attempt to increase ad revenue. But some things didn't turn out the way they expected. In fact, some of these actions led to counterintuitive results - loss of revenue, loss of audience, lower CPMs, ad fraud, and other ills. Have you experienced any of these?

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Unintended Consequences for Publishers using Adtech

  1. 1. Unintended Consequences for Publishers Using “Badtech” January 2018 Augustine Fou, PhD. acfou [at] 212. 203 .7239
  2. 2. “For years, publishers have been convinced by badtech – aka “ad tech” – that there were vast new riches to me made with their tech … … but the reality is publishers have seen revenue decline, lower CPMs, audience dilution, and new risks like ad fraud.”
  3. 3. “What follows are examples of actions publishers took, thinking they would lead to more revenue… But in reality the opposite happened – unintended consequences and other bad stuff.”
  4. 4. January 2019 / Page 3marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. All parties are harmed by badtech Good Publishers (lower revenue, CPMs) Consumers (privacy violations) Advertisers (ad fraud, no outcomes) Badtech Industrial ComplexBadtech Industrial Complex
  5. 5. Publishers started to sell on exchanges
  6. 6. January 2019 / Page 5marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Badtech extracts 40-60% Source: WFA, April 2017 Source: ANA, May 2017
  7. 7. January 2019 / Page 6marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Case examples of this … Publisher only gets 30-60c on the dollar after middlemen fees money-go-guardian-buys-its-own-ad-inventory 2016 The Guardian “for every pound an advertiser spends programmatically on the Guardian only 30 pence actually goes to the publisher.” 2017 BusinessInsider “$40,000 worth of ad inventory through the open exchanges, the publication only saw $97.” shed-details-ad-industry-s-biggest-problem/311081/
  8. 8. January 2019 / Page 7marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Lower CPMs, MORE unsold “How can you maintain $10 CPMs on your site when buyers know they can get ads on your site by buying it on exchanges for $1 CPMs? They will wait till it goes remnant, and then buy it. You are CAUSING more inventory to go unsold.
  9. 9. January 2019 / Page 8marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. New risk of ad fraud - spoofing Because… “Bad guys must pretend to be good sites (by passing domain into bid request) in order to get bids.” What portion of the inventory is real? vs spoofed If you sell on exchanges, bad guys can pretend to be your domain and steal ad dollars from you.
  10. 10. January 2019 / Page 9marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Unique audience given away Journal of Clinical Oncology “cookie matching” Unique audience of oncologists – 100% share of voice every month Buyers think they can target oncologists elsewhere for much cheaper; don’t buy from you any more.
  11. 11. January 2019 / Page 10marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Users’ privacy being violated Source: “Exfiltration of personal data by session-replay scripts; and recording of user actions on the site.”
  12. 12. Other risks
  13. 13. January 2019 / Page 12marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Selling on viewable impressions Hypothesis: Make more money selling viewable impressions Reality: • Sellers cut their own sellable inventory significantly • Buyers are using viewability rates to get refunds, rarely paid more to publishers in reality • Viewability measurement may be wrong and not verifiable or transparent • Only bad guys have 100% viewability all the time; buyers shift dollars to them Bad guys have higher viewability AD Bad guys stack ads above the fold to fake 100% viewability Good guys have to array ads on the page – e.g. lower sitewide average viewability. Dec 2017, Digiday: Publishers are underwhelmed by the payoff from hitting viewability standards
  14. 14. January 2019 / Page 13marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Malware ads hijack users Malicious javascript can break out of ad iframe -- take over the page, redirect user Source: problem-website-redirects-keep-plaguing-publishers/ Source: attack-of-the-cyber-turkey-7a57a1ed498f
  15. 15. January 2019 / Page 14marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Pubs wrongly accused of IVT Good publishers are blacklisted while bad guys continue fraud Domain (spoofed) % SIVT 77% 76% 76% 74% 72% 71% bid request passes blacklist passes whitelist ✅ ✅ declared 1. has to pretend to be to get bids; 2. fraud measurement shows high IVT b/c it is measuring the fake site with fake traffic 3. Fake gets mixed with real so average fraud rates appear high. 4. Real gets backlisted; bad guy moves on to another domain.
  16. 16. January 2019 / Page 15marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. High risk content-reco widgets “They came with check in hand – let’s take the check and stick the widgets on our site” Unforeseen risks: • Brand safety risk – countless examples of click bait, tasteless content, malware ads, and fake news/fake sites on your site • Malware risk - loading large quantities of suspect ads from unknown advertisers. • Revenue risk - users diverted away from your site • Reputation risk - auto-clicked ads, using your domain as referrer (trading on your brand)
  17. 17. January 2019 / Page 16marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Malvertising spreads via Taboola Ads containing malicious code delivered into publishers’ sites ain-expands-programmatic-appnexus-marketplace Outbrain expands programmatic to AppNexus Marketplace offer-single-interface-native-ads-video-ads-210086 Taboola & The Trade Desk now offer a single interface for native ads
  18. 18. Actions Taken by Good Publishers
  19. 19. January 2019 / Page 18marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Good publishers act to reduce bots Publisher 1 – stopped buying traffic Publisher 2 – filtered data center traffic
  20. 20. January 2019 / Page 19marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Good publisher, progressively cleaning 10% red 3% red “Filter GIVT and data centers; don’t call ads” 27% red 17% red -7% -10% On-Site measurement In-Ad measurement Filter applied Stopped buying traffic
  21. 21. January 2019 / Page 20marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Good publishers protect users 42 trackers 24.3s load time 8 trackers 1.3s load time “minimize 3rd party javascript trackers on pages”
  22. 22. January 2019 / Page 21marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Pubs have good business practices “good business practices lead to good looking data” Good Publishers “sites that carry ads” • source traffic • audience extension • auto-refresh • traffic laundering • don‘t source traffic • protect advertisers • protect consumers
  23. 23. January 2018 / Page 22marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. About the Author January 2018 Augustine Fou, PhD. acfou @ mktsci. com 212. 203 .7239
  24. 24. January 2019 / Page 23marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Dr. Augustine Fou – Independent Ad Fraud Researcher 2013 2014 Published slide decks and posts: 2016 2015 2017
  25. 25. January 2019 / Page 24marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc. Harvard Business Review – October 2015 Excerpt: Hunting the Bots Fou, a prodigy who earned a Ph.D. from MIT at 23, belongs to the generation that witnessed the rise of digital marketers, having crafted his trade at American Express, one of the most successful American consumer brands, and at Omnicom, one of the largest global advertising agencies. Eventually stepping away from corporate life, Fou started his own practice, focusing on digital marketing fraud investigation. Fou’s experiment proved that fake traffic is unproductive traffic. The fake visitors inflated the traffic statistics but contributed nothing to conversions, which stayed steady even after the traffic plummeted (bottom chart). Fake traffic is generated by “bad-guy bots.” A bot is computer code that runs automated tasks.