Back on February 10th I wrote a post from the floor of the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting all about "The F Word." That F Word, of course, being "Fraud." Seemingly out of nowhere, the topic came to dominate the conversation. We stopped using polite-sounding code words like "transparency" and "openness" and finally started calling our shared addiction by its real name. But that was just one industry insider conference, right? Not much could come of that.
Until this week. Now Fraud is the new black.
On Sunday, Suzanne Vranica's article ("A Crisis in Online Ads: One Third of Traffic is Bogus") hit the pages of The Wall Street Journal. And just yesterday, Ad Age published "Digital Ad Fraud is Rampant. Here's Why So Little Has Been Done About It" by Alex Kantrowitz. Can a spirited debate on The View be far off?
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But lest we think this is just a bad news cycle or a problem we can conveniently blame on Russian mobsters (Seriously: they're in the mix. Really!) it's time we all grew up and admitted to the gravity of the problem and what got us here in the first place. Sure, one could argue that this little Internet of ours has done pretty well. $50 billion is nothing to sneeze at. But it's an empire built at least in part on drug money. We may not be in the dacha with Ivan and Dmitri, but we're the ones who have turned a blind eye to the situation; the ones who politely avoided the hard questions.
And our collective margin call couldn't come at a worse time. With brand advertisers, things are just starting to tip, and the future of video advertising is very much a jump ball. At just this moment we give every one of those marketers a reason to hold back a few years longer - or maybe forever.
What to do? Read the articles. Educate yourself. Have an opinion. And realize that a line is being drawn between those who are the problem and those who are the solution. If you buy from thieves - wittingly or not - then you are on the wrong side of that line. We've met the Wolf of Madison Avenue, and too often he is us.