Advertisers Need to Buckle Down on These 3 Problem Areas or Risk Increased Mobile Ad Fraud

Without clear-cut boundaries and definitions, it'll keep occurring

Mobile advertising makes it way too easy for fraud to happen. Getty Images
Headshot of Brian Wong

Mobile ad fraud rates are skyrocketing, and that’s not terribly surprising. After all, scammers follow the money, and the money is going to mobile. Of course the shady underbelly of the digital world is going to try to cash in on that.

The good news: Although the mobile space is a unique one in many ways, it benefits from having observed the well-documented growing pains of the desktop space and its failure to get serious on fraud until things had already gotten out of hand. In the mobile space, fraud is already being tackled head-on by services, like Kochava, Tune, AppsFlyer and Adjust, and quickly followed by vendors that traditionally focused on the desktop and video space, such as Moat, IAS and DoubleVerify.

But our industry can’t simply lean back and be content that verification and analytics vendors are going to manage the mobile fraud problem for us. Here are three areas where the mobile industry needs to come together to do better when it comes to preventing mobile ad fraud.

Mobile advertising incentives are horribly misaligned

Although the mobile space is a unique one in many ways, it benefits from having observed the well-documented growing pains of the desktop space.

One of the most basic reasons for the rise in mobile fraud is this: We’re incentivizing it. Too many advertisers today are taking a “growth at all costs” mentality when it comes to their mobile campaigns, and parties all along the food chain are being rewarded according to results that are underpinned by fraudulent tactics.

The most egregious example of this are campaigns where the end goal is app install volume. If advertisers incentivize app installs without attaching quality parameters to those desired installs, they open the floodgates to fraudulent activity. Incentives and bonuses—not just for vendors, but also for brand- and agency-side marketers—need to be tied to real engagement and sales, not easily gamed numbers like app installs or views. Marketers must develop strategies and KPIs focused on re-engaging their users and nurturing relationships with the highest-value customers. Focus on metrics like time spent in app, frequency of app usage and in-app purchase volume to understand which users acquired through a campaign really matter.

No one can agree on how to define or account for fraud

At an even more basic level, the mobile industry also has yet to reach a common understanding of what constitutes mobile ad fraud. “Mobile ad fraud” as a blanket term isn’t terribly useful, as the phrase encompasses a number of types of fraud. A fraudulent mobile video view is quite a different beast than a fraudulent app install. In fact, they’re even tracked by different types of verification vendors. Even the phrase “app install fraud” can represent a range of fraudulent activities. When no one agrees on what exactly fraud looks like, it makes it impossible to stomp out.

As an industry, we must come together to better understand and define the various manifestations of mobile ad fraud. Guidance needs to come down from organizations of industry folks who live and breathe this on a daily basis, such as the IAB and Media Ratings Council, which can then secure buy-in from marketers and the companies that police fraudulent activity.

Ad formats are making it easy for fraudsters

Finally, the mobile ad industry is making it far too easy for bots to commit ad fraud. How? By defaulting to basic display ads that don’t even attempt to engage the user and that simply require a tap, intentional or otherwise.

Engaging ad experiences—ones that drive mutually beneficial interactions with brands—are the most surefire way to stave off mobile ad fraud. Ad units that feature quizzes, surveys and other interactive experiences require more than a simple robot to defraud. Brands and agencies must seek out these premium mobile advertising opportunities and curb their investments in low-rent, easily defrauded ad units. This is also good business from an ROI standpoint.

Agencies and brands should have zero tolerance for fraud on their contracts and their sites. After all, fraud is a serious crime in other industries. If you are found guilty of committing fraud while working on Wall Street, you go to jail. Why should the repercussions of fraud be any lighter in advertising? The money, after all, is just as real.


@brian_wong Brian Wong is the CEO and co-founder of Kiip and author of The Cheat Code.