Call it the resistance—advertisers against the machine. A new guarantee from WPP's Xaxis promises humans are viewing 95 percent of online ads, or your money back.
The ad trading technology platform is looking for signs that real people viewed online ads before billing clients. And checking for those vital signs behind billions of ads served was a technological challenge, according to Xaxis.
"All of the noise in the market around fraud and viewability and brand safety is a plague, if you will, on the ad industry," said Larry Allen, svp of business development at Xaxis. "From a buyer perspective, the agency has the ability to help control the problem."
Xaxis is using innovative detective work to weed out the bots. It is matching data with certain online activity that only a human could perform.
For instance, Xaxis can identify when a user has completed a CAPTCHA, a standard online humanity test when people are given a series of letters to type to prove they are real. If a certain Web ID has performed a CAPTCHA, Xaxis knows it's a person.
Also, it has data on mouse movements on the screen, and when the mouse behaves as if a person were on the other end, that's certified traffic, per the New York-based tech company.
While Xaxis is guaranteeing 95 percent fraud-free traffic, it also assures 90 percent viewability, which entails that ads appear within view on a computer screen. And it checks brand safety factors like when ads appear near content that an advertiser might find offensive.
"We're reporting in the end on all three measures and offering money back if we don't deliver," Allen said.
Bots are rampant in digital advertising, generating fake paid clicks and cutting into ad budgets. Conservative measures say about 30 percent of traffic is derived from bots, which can come from frauds or just inadvertent Internet activity that registers as real clicks.
The bots are shaking the confidence of the entire industry, a nagging doubt that weighs on the future of programmatic online advertising. Who will buy programmatically, automate their campaigns and let the ad exchanges take care of the rest, if the ultimate view was just a phantom and not a user?
Online publishers, like News Corp., are embracing any measures that weed out bot activity because fake traffic diverts ad dollars from legitimate traffic.
"If 30 percent of the inventory out there is fake, it makes it difficult for publishers with human traffic to compete," said Charlie Weiss, News Corp.'s vp of ad marketplaces.
News Corp. owns The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post; it also has a partnership and partly owns the Rubicon Project, an ad platform.
News Corp. has not used the new bot detection technology from Xaxis, Weiss said, but it's an issue they take seriously.
"The surge in fake inventory is taking dollars from publishers," he said.
Xaxis new anti-fraud program is called Xaxis Prime, and the platform works with dozens of the top digital publishers, according to comScore. Allen would not discuss specific brands and publishers, but Xaxis works with thousands of clients across industries from fast food to auto to consumer goods companies. For now, its Prime product will guarantee human viewed digital display ads, but they are working on mobile and video products, Allen said.