Shortly before the 2016 holiday season, a new cyber attack rocked the advertising industry. White Ops found that Russian cyber forgers were tricking media placement algorithms across the internet with an army of bots simulating user views on as many as 300 million video ads per day. This happened at an unprecedented scale for cyber fraud, and the group’s efforts forced advertisers–unknowingly–into paying up to $5 million a day for video ads that no one was actually watching. The attack, dubbed the “Methbot scheme” by White Ops, carefully evaded the many anti-fraud mechanisms that advertisers put in place.
Now, fraud is serious business and not to be taken lightly, but at Eyeview, our client campaigns weren’t affected by the attack. Why? No, we weren’t just lucky and somehow avoided falling prey to the hackers, but because our campaigns focus on driving outcomes and not just engagement metrics, our campaigns were never at risk for this kind of attack. We focus on showing ads to real, known users as opposed to going for overall reach, and therefore, our client campaigns stayed safe.
Still, this attack calls into question the validity of digital media and measurement as a whole, which is a topic we’re very concerned about. Brands spend millions of dollars on digital advertising for optimum placement, and they’re now finding out that instead of paying to reach their target markets, they were actually putting money into the hands of criminals (and far from the intended audience…).
This attack is enormously prescient for the current state of digital video. Brands are forced to reckon with a problem they’ve known to be true for years related to their video marketing strategies: A video “view” doesn’t actually mean all that much. The video KPIs of the past–primarily impressions and reach–don’t equate to real sales outcomes for businesses. As nearly all advertising tactics become more digital, brands can measure every part of the consumer journey, but somehow, video has yet to catch up to our new digital advertising standards of measurement. It boils down to what brands are actually paying for–who cares if a million people view your ad if you can’t prove that they became paying customers?
When views and completions move to the backburner and advertisers focus on actual outcomes, performance becomes the cornerstone of the campaign and dramatically reduces the potential for fraud. Cyber attacks like Methbot aren’t the only concerns here either; miscalculated metrics, similar to the recent reports from Facebook, are part of the issue with focusing on engagement metrics. When brands hold media accountable for real business outcomes, they set the bar a bit higher for the entire industry.
The primary issue with engagement metrics is that they can easily be hacked, miscalculated or faked in some way. As the Methbot scheme proves, clicks, engagement, video views, etc., can all be simulated. But when you focus on outcome-based metrics, like ROI and ROAS, your brand is protected from phony reporting and measurement because you just can’t really defraud actual sales.
Eyeview wasn’t affected by this ad fraud scandal because we operate with a focus on outcome-based tactics; a large part of this is serving ads to known users who are likely to buy a product from a certain brand. We are accountable for the success of client campaigns, which means that we aren’t interested in anonymous demos or viewable impressions. Instead of showing ads to generic audiences on brand-name publishers (which leaves the advertiser susceptible to fraud), we focus on reaching users that we actually know with relevant ads.
Why is this an important tactic for measuring video metrics? It holds us accountable to our clients for driving real business outcomes and not just engagement and reach, which can be easily mimicked by industrious hackers. You can fake a lot in the digital advertising space, but you can’t fake sales.