TD takes a hard line on fraud with new publisher scorecard

Bank urges all advertisers to "begin demanding change in digital advertising"

TD is taking a stand against ad fraud, and encouraging other Canadian advertisers to do the same.

Working with media agency Starcom MediaVest, the bank has developed a policy to better address the problem of non-human ad traffic. The new strategy includes measures to root out publishers that are acting in bad faith, or aren’t doing enough to control fraud in their inventory.

Many large advertisers in Canada and the U.S. have developed similar internal policies, but TD is one of the first Canadian brands to publicize its anti-fraud tactics.

“We believe there is an opportunity for all advertisers to begin demanding change in digital advertising,” said Chris Stamper, senior vice-president of corporate marketing, community and environment, in an email to Marketing. “Agencies and media companies can help, however it is the advertiser – the client accountable to the dollars spent – that needs to demand a higher level of accountability of suppliers and providers.”

He added that fraud is an issue that the industry has to come together to address. “This isn’t about a competitive advantage, it’s about trusting in what you’re buying,” he said.

Stamper took aim at open programmatic marketplaces, saying that online ad fraud was not a problem before open exchanges became popular.

TD estimates that 90% of fraudulent traffic comes from open exchanges. Although other reports don’t paint so extreme a situation, they do reach consensus that open exchanges have a much higher fraud rate than inventory sold directly by publishers. In its most recent report on ad quality in the marketplace, verification provider Integral Ad Science found that 14.5% of U.S. exchange and network traffic was fraudulent, compared to 3.3% of publisher traffic.

Stamper said that because of the prevalence of fraud on open exchanges, TD spends little of its online ad budget on them, and focuses instead on private marketplaces.

Holding publishers to a stricter standard

TD’s anti-fraud policy has two components. The first is to institute a “supplier scorecard,” with minimum standards that every publisher must meet before being included in a digital media plan. TD won’t work with publishers that don’t meet their requirements for average viewability rate, non-human traffic, and domain transparency. Additionally, publishers will have to use an independent, MRC-accredited measurement provider like comScore or Moat to report on campaigns.

The second part is a shift away from click-through rates (CTR) to engagement-based performance indicators, which are harder for fraudsters to manipulate. Although advocates have long encouraged advertisers to abandon easily fake-able clicks as their standard of measurement, CTR still dominates most online advertisers’ digital media plans. TD will instead emphasize hard-to-fake interactions like engagement with on-site tools and application completions to judge the performance of its campaigns.

Joe Strolz, chair of the IAB Canada board of directors and general manager of AOL Canada, said TD’s anti-fraud policy aligns well with the IAB’s trustworthy digital supply chain initiatives.

The trade association has been pushing for greater publisher transparency and a shift to conversion metrics, but for the most part it’s been a conversation between agencies, media players and tech companies. Many Canadian advertisers are adopting policies with their agency partners to avoid low quality inventory, but they haven’t shown much interest in making digital media a safer environment overall.

“I think this is the most public stance a Canadian advertiser has taken,” Strolz said of the TD announcement. “We applaud TD’s announcement because at the end of the day it’s the marketer’s money. They have to make sure they’re getting the return for it, and that they’re spending it wisely.”

Although there’s been significant debate about whether fraud is a publisher-side or buyer-side problem, for Strolz it’s clear that brands have the most power to compel transparency and safer practices across the supply chain.

“If you look at any highly liquid marketplace that is exchange-traded, it doesn’t matter how mature the marketplace is. Look at the New York Stock Exchange; there is opportunity for bad actors in those spaces,” he said. “No amount of formal regulation will ever prevent all of that from existing… That’s why I think it’s important for companies like TD to come out and illustrate that marketers have a responsibility to demand transparency around what they’re purchasing.”

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