When advertisers spend money on video marketing, one common metric of a video ad’s success is how many views it accumulates.
But a report released earlier this month suggests that nearly a quarter of the “people” watching online videos are actually robots manipulated by fraudsters.
“The survey confirms a deep, dark fear that people know is out there,” Bill Duggan, group executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, told The Guardian. “Digital is supposed to be this great new accountable thing, but if we know it’s not reaching the right people that money is wasted.”
The report, compiled for the ANA by online security company White Ops, says that bot fraudsters work by inserting malicious software (“malware”) into the computers of unsuspecting users. These programs can closely mimic the behavior of human consumers by pausing for ads, watching videos, placing items in online shopping carts and switching between websites.
White Ops conducted the survey by monitoring 181 digital campaigns from 36 companies, among them Anheuser-Busch InBev, Kellogg’s and Nestlé. This encompassed reviewing about 5.5 billion ad impressions on approximately three million sites over the course of two months.
Bot views varied widely across websites (between 0.3% and 63%), coming to a weighted average of 23%. The most fraudulent activity occurred between midnight and 7 a.m.
The Costs of Video Fraud
This kind of fraud can have big costs for advertisers paying by traffic volume. The study estimates that inflated traffic figures will cost advertisers $6.3 billion in the next year alone. Worse, these bots are often run by organized crime, and the profits fund criminal activity.
Users who have their computers infected with malware are also left more vulnerable to other attacks. Dan Kaminsky, co-founder of White Ops, explained to The Guardian that many computer hacking efforts have ad fraud as their ultimate goal. People might wonder, he said, “Why are people hacking grandma’s computer? How interesting can her email be?” The answer? “[H]ack grandma, click a billion ads, make a million dollars,” Kaminsky said. “The scope of ad fraud is the driver for compromising home PCs. This is the big money maker.”
Of course, the study doesn’t diminish the potential for video advertising in the current market.
On the same day the White Ops study was released, Lisa Gevelber, vice president of ads marketing at Google, wrote a piece for AdWeek noting that even though YouTube allows users to skip through ads, some ads are compelling enough that users choose not to. “[Advertisers are] making ads so good that people are choosing to watch and share them, and the best ads out there today are also some of the best content,” she writes.