Monday, November 7, 2016

Trouble in Paradise: Digital Advertising and its Pitfalls

Lucas Macce-Feiler

Digital ad fraud is big business. Photo courtesy of

While a great deal of conversation regarding digital advertising focuses on how media companies will make a profit, marketers themselves have several challenges to face in operating in a digital environment.

One significant challenge directly deals with advances in technology--specifically ad-blocking technology.

As Steve Rubel points out in his article for Advertising Age, the inception of iOS9 and Android's ad-blocking browser have propelled ad-blocking into the mainstream. Consumers can block out virtually any ad from banner ads to roll-over videos.

Consequently, advertisers have to look elsewhere to reach consumers exceedingly averse to exposure to ads. Social media apps like Facebook and Instagram are becoming increasingly viable because they remain unaffected by ad-blocking software.

Rubel also suggests utilizing earned media, or unpaid content, as a means of advertising.

Another concern for digital marketers is the increasing, persistent threat of digital ad fraud. While these cases are easy to discern for some, they inevitably drive traffic to sites, inflating their page views.

In his article for Advertising Age, Alex Kantrowitz lays out four distinct types of digital fraud. First, there is conventional bot traffic, which is basically fake page views. Second, there is ad insertion, which involves a browser extension placing ads on a website without publisher consent. A third form of digital ad fraud is robot retargeting. This technique simulates the actions of a prospective customer that clicks on certain ads, further inflating traffic. The fourth and final tactic is CMS hacking, which involves hacking publisher websites and setting up legitimate domain names.

With so many ways to commit digital ad fraud, one would think that digital marketers would work diligently to quell such behavior. However, as Kantrowitz points out, the solutions are not so simple. Fraud protection and prevention is very expensive and difficult to achieve.

Moreover, publishers can benefit from ad fraud because it boosts traffic. Why would a media company try to combat this practice if it gives the illusion of more page views, or in essence, higher readership?

Along similar lines, publishers--in particular social media outlets--need to be wary of self-serve advertisements created by smaller, often sketchy, companies. These outlets can utilize individual's public photos to further their ad campaign.

This advertising strategy calls into question the legal and ethical implications of using an individual's photo without consent for promotional purposes. Marketers for these upstart companies would argue fair use of public content, and that's a decent argument.

But when there's a situation like that of, in which a deceased girl was used for a dating website, it makes everyone from Facebook to the company look really, really bad.

Despite all of these dangers to advertising in the digital age, technology gives marketers more power than ever before to reach their audiences. Innovative strategies such as sponsored content continue to further the possibilities to market in an era of unprecedented technological advancement.

It is a double-edged sword, and savvy marketers will figure out how to mitigate the negatives and seize on the opportunities that digital marketing has to offer.

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