Ad Blocking and Ad Fraud has spurred fear in the industry: Fraudulent impressions, infringed content will cost brands US$7.2 billion in 2016, and the Association of National Advertisers claims between 25 to 50 per cent of digital spend could be wasted on ads that are never viewed by humans.

On May 5 2016, IAB Singapore’s industry leaders gathered for a frank discussion on whether the hysteria around adblocking was real, or whether it was media hype driven by the profiteers of the crisis. Across the industry, advertisers are increasingly finding non-human traffic or bots registering false impressions on adverts – a problem with costly ramifications.

Presentations outlining the extent of the problem and solutions were kicked off by Shane Mitchell, Chief Digital Officer of Mediacorp and closed by Amobee APAC Vice President Krishan Patel. The Amobee VP set up the clear definitions:

What is Ad Fraud?

  1. Non-human traffic
  2. Zero chance of being seen
  3. Intentionally misrepresented

Fraudsters are capitalising on the growing programmatic marketplace with the help of programmes that impersonate real websites, impressions, and human behaviour. These bots are able to surf the internet, click on links, and visit a number of sites, muddying the engagement metrics of authentic traffic, and in turn de-valuing legitimate publisher inventory.

Shane Mitchell, Chief Digital Officer, Mediacorp

How did this happen?

Put simply, through our pursuit of further automation and maximization of margins, we built advertising technology to optimise publishers’ yield of marketing budgets. We were so clever and so good at it that we over-engineered the capabilities of the system that sustains it – the public internet.

The public is far ahead of us on this issue.  They have made up their collective mind that change is needed to preserve privacy, utility, reduce data costs and yes, to protect their sense of freedom.

What’s an Ad Blocker?

An Ad Blocker is simply a browser extension that scrutinises  the JavaScript layer of websites in order to detect and block scripts, usually from  a list, from making requests from certain servers, preventing the browser from downloading content and storing cookies. That’s it. They’ve been around a long time but have experienced a surge in popularity due to a range of circumstances, some of which I will explore more later on.

Who’s using it?

The majority of US Ad Blocker installers are 18-24 year old men use ad blockers, they are also the highest torrent users.

Don’t believe in everything you hear

Are we facing a total meltdown of the internet advertising ecosystem as we know it, or is there more than a little sensationalism and self servicing going on?

The truth is somewhere in the middle but Ad Blocking as an issue for the industry to deal with and will be costly, and it will get worse before it gets better. There is also a very real possibility that some of the businesses riding this wonderful gravy train we call digital advertising are going to fall painfully off.

If your business relies heavily on a combination of millennials, retargeting,  arbitrage, ad networks and exchanges you have a very real problem to deal with. For the rest of us even simple things like measurement and web analytics are getting to become difficult.

What’s going on in South-East Asia (SEA)?

Currently there are no reliable stats for SEA about how many users are actively using Ad Blockers. Ad Blocking reports vary widely with small sample sizes, in fact there’s a survey out from Hubspot, the ‘Global Interruptive Ads Survey, The Effectiveness of Advertising in Asia Pacific’ which suggests Adblock Plus is at around 300 million downloads and 46 per cent of 18-24 year olds have installed an Ad Blocker.

Buried in the methodology is the fact that the survey was conducted from Q4 2015 to Q1 2016 and was based on 224 consumer responses from Asia Pacific and 580 global responses.

Furthermore, a study by Adobe estimates that worldwide Ad Blocking cost publishers US$21.8 billion in 2015. This was a forecast set to almost double to US$41.4 billion in 2016. The numbers are big. But dig into the data and you’ll find it knee deep in assumptions, the biggest of which is that all the inventory it has assumed was blocked would actually have been sold, at an assumed rate.

What can we do?


Despite this, the industry is still losing money. Even if it was only US$1 Billion, it’s still a huge chunk out of publisher and brand’s pockets. The IAB UK has put out a new set of principles and guidelines for ads:

These are principles that will help guide the next phases of advertising technical standards for the global digital advertising supply chain. This includes really obvious stuff like File Size, Ad Load Time, Encryption (HTTPS) becuase Firefox, Chrome, and IE all block active mixed content by default. There will be consultation throughout 2016 on the detail.

What can you do?

Talk to your customer. 



Use an Ad Blocking primer to find out who the users are. Most simply, once ad blocking is detected, present a message to the site visitor. This message may occur as a page header, overlay, or landing page at the start of the site visit, or be delayed until the visitor has interacted with the site for a certain amount of time, across a certain number of pages, or other engagement criteria, where it also may appear as an interstitial. Click here for more information.


Matt Sutton, Chief Executive Officer, Adknowledge Asia Pacific

What would Internet be like without Ads?

Looking back at online advertising’s sharp rise to world domination, it’s no surprise that the digital audience is fed up. We took the interruptive advertising model – slapping an ad in the middle of content – that we use on radio, television and newspapers, and brought it online.  By 2015 the global digital advertising spend was S$11 billion and is continuing to grow 16% year-on-year. We grew it and grew it and grew it until it became a monster.

With all the visual clutter, auto-play videos, and non-stop pre-roll, the IAB UK reports that we’re losing S$16 billion a year globally to Ad Blocking. So clearly we’ve exploited this opportunity a little too much. The online audience has grown up, they know we have their data, so why are we still sending them irrelevant, interruptive ads? We need to create better canvases for our consumers, and turn ads into rich data-driven content that’s a part of their news feeds.

A life without ads

To get out of this hot mess, let’s look at how we got into it. The amount of information and tools we have at our fingertips today: Wikipedia, Google products, millions of apps, the iPhone, the hundreds of billions of websites,  and the ability to take that data and travel around the world with it is incredible.

All this would not have happened without ads. As of 2015, Google’s total advertising revenue alone is S$93 billion, 89 percent of which is made up of interruptive advertising.

Facebook and Alibaba are completely driven by advertising, and whilst Uber and Airbnb are not, in my opinion, those companies would never have existed without the potential of the internet advertising industry.

The end of good journalism

The publishing industry runs on advertising too, and Ad Blocking is ruining it. How else will we get all the good quality content? Ad Blocking will cost us billions next year, that’s a massive chunk of money that publishers are not going to have access to.

Facebook paves the way

The day Facebook removed advertising from their left margin and made advertising a part of the newsfeed, was the day we saw how the future of online advertising should look. Ads should be actually part of the content, not instead of the content. It’s from advertising, it’s from brands that you have already liked and you have already sponsored.

Mass media is dead. The most successful, interruptive advertising media of all time is television – and television is dead.  We’re still pedaling an ad format which actually television invented in the 60’s and is not relevant with the amount of data we have today.

We believe the advertising industry is going to continue to grow because of a seismic change right now. The future of video consumption is online, it’s programmatic, it’s on demand. Using publisher’s data that’s been collected, every single ad should be relevant to the content it’s delivered in.


Grace Liau, General Manager APAC, Vivaki

What is it really and how big of a problem is this in SEA?

Around 75 per cent of companies around the world experience some type of fraud. Click fraud in particular, is a real problem in SEA. Publishers and brands are losing money but it costs just as much to police it. Forensics are expensive, there is a huge investment just to figure out where your fraud is happening.

Without having to invest in seeing if you’re being affected, assume it’s happening, because it is. Then use the tools available to you to reduce it:

  1. Focus on viewability. Test your inventory with a third party verification company like comScore to strip out fake clicks, that is the first step you should be taking. There is no way for us to totally eliminate non-human traffic. Criminals will always stay one step ahead of us, most of us are not technology companies. Most of us are mega traditional publishers that kind of fell into digital because everyone is going digital. Use your third party end server and use your verification vendors that are out there. Understand your limitations – You don’t have the right infrastructure in place, or you have legacy infrastructure in place that you have to rip out – it’s an expensive arms race.
  2. Hold your agency accountable: Brands should be looking to their agencies for solutions, the agency has to bring forth the technology and the recommendations for the client.
  3.  Look to your DSPs and Ad Exchange: Advertising is not just about making money. Every part of the ecosystem is responsible for ad fraud. If you’re seeing a particular data set that doesn’t look right you have to raise that. As for the inventory source, the ad exchangers and DSPs that are boarding these sources, they need to be gatekeepers and not just let everybody in.

Look at all your KPIs:

  1. Move away from impressions and clicks. In Asia, clients are so focused on clicks. Clicks drive tremendous fraud traffic. So look at other metrics like return visits, conversions, and time spent on site.
  2. Look at your traffic patterns. Are they matching what is happening on your website? For example let’s say you’re getting 20,000 clicks a day, yet no one is buying anything on your website – figure out what’s going on.
  3. Don’t just create a blacklist. Create a white-list. Don’t just look at what’s not working. Make a list of where you want your ads to run, and check that they’re there.

The landscape is changing very quickly, and it sounds like it’s so doom and gloom with ad blocking, but at the end of the day follow your consumers not just the metrics. If the numbers don’t add up, then something is wrong.
Krishan Patel, VP Strategy & Business Development

What can be done and how do we, as an industry, deal with it?

Many ad tech providers have only recently begun to recognise the issue of traffic quality and as a result are working on their first generation systems for detecting fraudulent traffic.

Changing behaviours

Along with anti-fraud solutions, marketers need to be educated on the importance of quality inventory to better understand programmatic. Ad fraud will continue to thrive if the only metric of importance to auditors and advertisers is lower CPMs.

The challenge

While advertisers prepare to combat the issue, it is the industry’s responsibility as whole to actively maintain a clean and trustworthy marketplace for advertisers and publishers alike.

How bad is it?

So if we look at everything from bank robberies, tax fraud, Somalian pirates and the US credit card fraud, it’s kind of pretty big, right?

Is whose fault is it?

It’s endemic with anything that we do as industry there’s a problem, because we’re all pointing fingers. There’s lots of causes, the competition between brands, the bad use of metrics, the lack of transparency.

So whose fault is it? Is it the brand or is it the publisher? Is it the SSP or is it the DSP? Actually it’s everyone’s problem.

If all of the industry groups worked together in a seamless way – we can all to mitigate our risk about fraud and take that billion-dollar number down. There will always be fraud in the industry. This is how we mitigate that and stay one step ahead fraudsters:

It’s very important that we now understand that measurement of KPIs beyond CTR need to be introduced to ensure that they go from passive into an active ad fraud and ad fraud freely buying.

DSP (Demand Side Platform) accountability

Looking at DSPs in the market, we need to set parameters to actually make sure that we’re blocking ads before the ads are actually coming through to the DSP.

That platform should also have money-back-guarantees to advertisers, if an advertiser is using a content verification or viewability tool and they found that fraud is coming through a particular DSP. The DSP should provide some sort of money back to the advertiser.

There are many DSPS that don’t focus on integrations with verification and viewability tools because they have a different problem, revenue commitments and focus on their big clients.

SSP (Sale side platform) accountability

Your SSP should be using technology to get 100 per cent of their inventory from the publisher. From a publisher perspective, (PMP) private marketplaces are a huge deal and is something that publishers should be encouraging.

It’s an industry-wide effort

As an industry we need:

  • Clarity of education
  • To educate the consumer and brands
  • There needs to be an industry driven, auditing-driven initiative around fraud.
  • Consistent and significant accountability, and this will come through stabilisation.

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