Click fraud: Time for Asia to sit-up on verification

As called out in multiple articles, impression and click fraud is a major concern for all of us in the digital business. A larger concern is – many still choose to remain indifferent in order to capture the emerging digital dollar in Asia.

We have collectively called for an increase on digital spend in Asia, with the blessings of marketers, their management, and board who demand and deserve genuine business results from digital investments.

With fraudulent delivery, the industry – marketers, agencies and value-chain players included, risk losing the credibility and desired investments we all want to obtain – all to the greed of selfish players no different from the Wolf of Wall Street.

Brand safety and viewable technology have been around for some years, yet the path to adoption has been challenging. More worrying, ad-serving and site-tagging has been around for more than a decade and is staple to true programmatic buying. Yet, many are still unwilling to pay for this basic technology and for agency resources to manage it.

There are multiple reasons:

1) Digital industry practitioners don't want to expose past digital performance/successes after years of educating stakeholders or management whom for a long time, had no confidence that digital was an effective channel vs the traditional channels they were used to.

In the Confucian culture and backdrop, you give the boss what they want to see and if they don't like what they see, you don't challenge. Often, explanations on technological limitations (of the past) isn't something top management can grasp and more so for mid-management to articulate. In the straits culture and context, you'd want to avoid open complexity in handling business transactions, and deal through the closest relationships you have even if something was fishy. You cover-up for win-win within the exposed circle.

2) Suppliers including those not guilty of fabrication are in denial of losing "genuine" inventory to claim big numbers to media buyers. The accountability to make-up for contentious figures for a single campaign for example, would also take additional man hours for alignment and remedy, eating into bottom-line. As we move towards programmatic supply, how many trading desks and DSPs remain true to delivering verified, brand safe inventory while managing the promise of expansion within the pressures of a hot topic?

The push cannot be solely from the agencies and enlightened marketers. Publishers too should evolve legal contracts that accept viewability as a key metric and not just ad delivery.

3) Agencies, already squeezed with low remunerations, or expanding scope coverage from their fixed fees now have an additional responsibility to manage. Agency leaders will hire more, restructure teams and split the load, but there is a need to understand why we always go back to a discussion around remuneration. Can we ask more of a media planner/buyer who has to evaluate dozens of media owners regularly, jump into calls with marketers, take a brief, build the plans and multiple revisions, traffic the ads, tag the ads and sites, churn the reports... and now look to explaining whether the sweat from his effort was delivering genuine results?

We need to continue the collective education drive through the leadership of bodies like the IAB, focusing on the "green-house" or "super-size me" effect of this matter. Plans are already underway but all of us together need to start sitting up and questioning the subject matter.

There is strength in numbers.

If your child loves to drink orange juice, wouldn't you prefer to give him a glass of freshly squeezed even if it costs a little more compared to orange syrup? But you wouldn't have known why if not for education and the enforcement of nutrition-labels by the FDA of the United States, AVA of Singapore, or equivalent authorities in each country.

Likewise, we shouldn't ignore the question of authentic verification labels, to consume only what is healthy for our business. Verification must come to mind at the shelf, way before we pull out our wallets at the counter. If we keep paying for poor goods and encouraging its supply, we'll all end up too sick to visit the supermarket one day.

 The writer is Ian Loon, regional director, Digital Leadership Team, Southeast Asia, Starcom MediaVest Group.