Opinion

iProspect APAC boss Ruth Stubbs on the battle against the bots

StubbsiProspect boss Ruth Stubbs has been at the helm of Dentsu Aegis’s search and SEM business for more than three and half years. In this Q&A with Mumbrella she talks about her concerns about the growth of click fraud and botting. 

What is keeping you up at night?

Data consistency.

I think the main reason we worry about data consistency is that we are a performance marketing company and we differentiate ourselves by delivering optimal digital performance.

Compromised data is an issue, inaccurate data or inaccurate reporting of events etc create challenges for us in providing the best outcomes that cam be replicated and optimised for continuous improvement. 

Do you think there is enough focus on these issues of click fraud and botting?

No, I think as an industry we need to be doing more to understand the challenges our clients are facing.

It is a highly complex issue fraught with difficulties. It seems that only when a client is particularly impacted by fraud does anyone take an interest (and then, it’s ring fenced so as not to scare the other clients).

Most agencies want to just factor it into the cost of doing business – an internet tax, if you will – rather than tackle it proactively.

This is going to be a such key focus for us moving forward, earlier this year we launched our regional data validation consultancy which is experiencing huge interest from our clients.

How potentially damaging do you think it can be to the industry and in particular the growth of digital?

There will be clients that panic and use it as an excuse to dial back activity, but others will embrace new technologies and a shift to actual performance measures (rather than low cost CPM and CPC) to invest in activity that takes their actual business results to a new level.

How challenging is it to have the conversation with clients around these issues?

It is really only a challenge for clients with a limited grip on ROI KPIs that are hooked on low costs.

For example, if our client is being KPI’d internally on maximising traffic or impressions for their budget, they are going to have the most problems taking the conversation to their bosses, to explain why cheap is not best.

Is the industry as a whole across the region doing enough on this issue? What about key players like Google?

Google finally took a positive step with the acquisition of a smart specialist in bot net detection, spider.io, but no one has any idea when, or if, their technology will be rolled out.

Doubleclick, by removing IP addresses and user agents from reporting, have removed some key functionality for analysing and detecting fraud.

There are various other viewability specialists who are trying to add fraud capabilities at the moment, but there’s still a wide gap.

What steps should the industry be taking to combat these issues? What questions should clients be asking agencies and agencies asking publishers?

We still have some markets with publishers who don’t allow third party ad servers, and Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) that won’t allow viewability/fraud detection tags to be deployed, so we have to approach each market considering its own particular circumstances.

Clients should be asking their agencies – what processes/technologies do you have to mitigate advertising fraud? How do you work with publishers when suspect activity is detected?

Agencies should be asking publishers – what about make-goods/refunds/traffic quality and sources, and what they are doing to mitigate exposure.

Publishers should be asking themselves – where do these amazingly cheap eyeballs come from? Why do we not offer full transparency? Why don’t we pay attention to ad viewability metrics and just get rid of the dross that delivers all those millions of impressions that will never be seen by a human?

How big a problem do you think botting is in an Australian context? Should developed markets like Australia and Singapore be as worried as developing markets?

Our experience shows this is not an emerging market problem only – it comes down to markets being less exposed as long they are not focussed on cheap inventory.

For example, developed markets such as Australia are less likely to have significant botnet problems as marketers there are far less focussed on lowest cost CPMs.

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