Why Publishers Need to Bulk Up Their Brand Protection Measures

Cloaking and other fraud are far too common

A blue file folder is locked in chains; to the right of the file is a man leaning on the file, holding the key
Having a plan in place is the first step. Getty Images

The discussion about digital ad fraud in the programmatic ecosystem has traditionally centered around the impact on the advertisers. Fueled by consumer-facing brands with large digital ad budgets and enormous pressure on their agencies to comply, demand-side brand safety has been under a constant microscope for the better part of the last decade.

What has not received nearly as much attention is the harmful effect that these various attacks on inventory quality are having on the supply-side. Publisher brand equity is also at stake, but as evidenced by the lopsided industry attention over the years toward the demand-side, I would bet that many publishers aren’t as equipped to address these challenges as they perhaps should be. In many instances, publishers might not even be taking the harmful threat of cloaking seriously.

Cloaking is an all too common practice employed mostly by shady affiliate marketers looking to gain access to premium publisher ad inventory by disguising themselves as premium brands when they are actually peddling sketchy ads for adult content, gambling, malware and legally restricted products. They generate significant revenue and are highly skilled at keeping campaigns running for long periods of time. They get caught, shut down and penalized only to find their way back in under different credentials and with different creative.

A well-resourced, proactive approach ... can go a long way in minimizing the overall impact of nefarious cloaking techniques.

IP and GEO filtering are deceptive cloaking practices where fraudsters filter IPs out of the publishers’ principal places of business. In this manner, they are able to sneak in dubious ads that don’t meet the publisher’s standards and typical contractual stipulations. They get away with this by bypassing the publisher’s moderation team.

Then there is day parsing where different, noncompliant offers are served at odd hours of the night. For example, you may find “near-adult” ads on a premium site at 2 a.m.

The good news is that there is a bevy of tools in the marketplace in 2019 that publishers can employ to become more proactive about brand protection. While they aren’t perfect, they can help greatly minimize the number of flare-ups with dedicated vigilance. A well-resourced, proactive approach to ensuring as clean an ad stack as possible on the part of every publisher can go a long way in minimizing the overall impact of nefarious cloaking techniques.

Best practices to monitor with vigilance

Best practices in evaluating these new software tools to fight back against cloaking should be rooted in ensuring the product’s ability to do the following three things:

1) Does the tool effectively identify suspicious JavaScript activity that will tip you off that your system has been infiltrated by cloakers?
2) Does the tool identify offensive content and phony landing pages in a comprehensive manner?
3) Does the tool provide ad verification and immediate alert capabilities?

If you can check each of these three boxes, your publisher brand will be in pretty good shape. However, it would still be the height of complacency to take a set-and-forget mode with your tool. To truly maximize your protection against dishonest tricks, a publisher should also deploy increased manpower to improve its manual monitoring practices.

Cloaking is tricky, as it can sometimes visually look legit and fool moderation. A systematic check of inventory on an ongoing basis by eyes on screens and hands on keyboards will provide an added line of defense.

Publishers have a major role to play in this shift. Previously they have left it to advertisers and their agencies to vigorously pursue the fight, but publishers have as much, if not more, at stake here. The effort to defraud is equally as strong as the one to protect. By taking a more proactive approach with uncompromising dedication and vigilance along with a more realistic definition of brand protection success, the publisher can overcome these challenges.

@MikeKorsunsky Michael Korsunsky is CEO of MGID, Inc. N.A.