The year 2020 has so far been defined by sudden and drastic change and the digital media industry is now clearly in a new phase of ad security and quality threats.
COVID has changed the business of media — 80% of brands plan to reduce spending for the rest of 2020, and 70% have already changed their spending plans for the year.
Reduced ad spend has sliced publisher CPMs by half, compared to this point last year and these changes that demand immediate action, for publishers’ survival.
What’s Behind That Mask? Security and Quality Risks
And yet, there’s another new challenge to publishers’ business: The digital media industry is now clearly in a new phase of ad security and quality threats. Navigating this phase will call for new ways of thinking, and an evolution in security and QA methods. We’ll explain shortly.
The COVID pandemic comes with many anxieties that drive audiences to content that can inform, advise, or entertain them. Sellers of relevant medical equipment are eager to reach these audiences in this mindset. But so are scammers and fraudsters. Since January, GeoEdge and our partners have seen a 200% increase in face mask ads. We have also seen an 85% increase in ad security risks in the same time period.
The phenomenon of “fake ads” is a familiar issue to publishers, and to GeoEdge.
During the COVID crisis, we’ve seen the emergence of fake ads in three main categories:
1) Ads that link to landing pages with content unrelated to the ad creative
2) Ads containing predatory surge prices, images that misrepresent the low-quality products the advertiser is selling, or descriptions of non-existent products like COVID treatments
3) Ads that link out to phishing scams or prompts to download malware.
Fake ads take advantage of users, and they make for bad user experience. This devalues the publisher’s site, and threatens the publisher’s good relationship with users over long periods of time.
Screenshot provided by GeoEdge’s Security Team
A New Wave Is Here
This brings us back to why this wave of bad ads is different and particularly challenging.
The bad actors behind these ads don’t ambush the user with redirect code. They prey on the user’s psychological state — their engagement with COVID-related content — to convince the user to click on the ad willingly.
Only a few years ago, publishers were flooded with auto-redirects — one distinct phase in ad security and QA. At one point, 30% of all digital ads contained auto-redirect code.
In the next, more sophisticated, phase, bad actors launched fewer auto-redirects overall, but targeted them at higher-value users. The current phase is characterized by “psychological redirects.”
The user is lured to a questionable landing page by ad creative that might look extremely relevant, bypassing the publisher’s security technology. These attacks rely less on coding than they do on human engineering.
Publishers Owe QA to Their Audiences, the Law, and Their Own Business
We can also break down publishers’ concerns around these bad ads into two distinct categories. One category is accountability and credibility — which comes from high-quality, relevant content. Audiences trust publishers to deliver quality and relevance, and when the publisher doesn’t do so, audiences will consider that trust to be broken.
The second category is legal liability. Whether we’re speaking about truth in advertising, intellectual property, or anything else, the publisher is legally accountable for the ads on their site and for the content of ads’ landing pages.
This new phase of attacks by bad actors — and heightened concerns over UX, credibility, and liability — have led publishers to scramble for solutions to this COVID-inspired onslaught of undesirable ads. In order to do something quickly, many publishers have taken up manual methods of monitoring and blocking ads.
But manual methods are not sustainable. It’s time for publishers to dig in and strategize for the long haul. Automating QA restores efficiencies to workflow and allows ops teams to focus on their most valuable skills.