Digital ad fraud is a pervasive problem, and by 2022, it’s estimated that fraudsters will steal up to $87 billion a year from the industry. Having blazed through CTV/OTT, fraudsters have set their sights on digital audio as their latest conquest. David Zapletal, COO at Digital Remedy, recently spoke with The Drum to discuss how fraudsters are shifting their attention to the digital audio space, and what marketers need to do to be vigilant and protect their budgets. The silver lining? Reliable partners are on the front lines, working with brand safety advocates like Protected Media to uncover ad fraud to keep the digital media space safe. That being said, here’s what you need to know:
Digital audio is irresistible
Like CTV/OTT before it, there’s been a huge increase in audiences flocking to digital audio, especially during the pandemic. Podcasts, in particular, have accelerated, and seen a boost in ad spending, with revenues approaching $1 billion.
Finding fraud: what to look for
One of the ways marketers can fight back against digital audio fraud is to carefully review reports and look for these tells:
- Questionable traffic. The server between the content and the ad is a mystery box, where fraudsters can reroute traffic. You might see apps with massive ad-driven download volume but little traction on app stores—a sign the traffic has been rerouted.
- Poor quality. Not all fraudulent traffic is invalid—it is just poor quality. It might come from a public venue or a sports bar that has a revenue share agreement with a streaming app. They turn it on and the content plays, followed by an ad call. However, it might be playing 24/7, even when the venue is closed and no one’s there to listen. The ad played, but didn’t reach anyone.
- Impersonation. Spotify’s counterfeit podcast problem saw shady creators distributing dozens of shows with similar names as popular podcasts. In this scheme, copycats created the show, uploaded it to the platform, and then used Spotify’s ad injection to monetize. Other fraudsters spoof reputable broadcasting companies, using similar names to bait advertisers into buying seemingly legitimate inventory.
So, what’s a marketer to do?
Until the Media Ratings Council establishes a standard, or a big advertiser sounds the alarm, marketers must do their own fraud protection:
- Buy from brands you know. Quality inventory comes from the brands you recognize. If they have millions of impressions, but you have never heard of them, that’s a red flag.
- Examine the metrics. Look at these three key pieces of data:
- The IP address. If a single server reports huge impressions, that’s concerning. You’d never see that from a larger vendor or major streaming audio company.
- Pricing.You may pay half the price compared to the cost of a reputable source, but you get exactly what you pay for.
- Frequency. Incentivized listening schemes will pay people to keep a browser open all day, playing audio/ads in the background and driving up frequencies. Reputable platforms monitor user engagement to verify they’re actually listening.
- Find a partner with strong brand safety parameters. Monitoring fraud takes up resources, and when working with a media partner with existing processes in place to identify and combat fraud, you benefit from both clear reporting and expertise that can help mitigate the risk.
Ultimately, if marketers buy correctly and carefully, fraud won’t happen. But in the rush to capitalize on the audio boom, some brands value quantity over quality. That incentivizes fraudsters and hurts the entire industry.