How Performance Marketing Industry Leaders Are Taking On Fraud

Becky Doles

performance marketing fraud

To dial down fraud successfully, it takes a village — and everyone must come together to understand the ground rules, align incentives, and operate with a high level of transparency in order to successfully combat ad fraud. At Affiliate Summit West 2018, we brought some of the best minds in the industry on stage to discuss how they align with partners and the  technology they leverage to identify, act on, and eliminate fraud.

Below are key takeaways from the ASW panel with Vivian Chang, Director of Digital Marketing at RetailMeNot, John Toskey, Director of Global Partnerships at eBay, Brian Fox, CEO of AdAction Interactive, and Brian Marcus, VP of Global Marketing at TUNE.

Vivian, Brian Fox, John, and Brian Marcus each brought a unique and valuable perspective to how the industry identifies and combats fraud. As an advertiser, Vivian was able to share why RetailMeNot values great partnerships and data transparency to ensure they are only paying for high quality users. Running large networks, Brian Fox and John were able to shed light on the challenges in the ecosystem that are inhibiting all players from fighting fraud as well as share strategies that have been successful for their teams. Brian Marcus, coming from a wealth of experience in the performance marketing industry, led the conversation about how data, relationships, and technology all matter when it comes to combating fraud.   

Align on Fraud: Work With Partners to Share Expectations Upfront

It is crucial to get on the same page before any campaigns are running so there is no confusion down the line.

Many conversations between advertisers, ad networks, and ad partners must take place before even flagging for fraud. Our panelists emphasized that ad networks must have open and transparent communication with advertisers and partners to agree on what fraud means to each party and how everyone expects to act once it is discovered. Fraud could mean click spamming and bot traffic, but from the advertiser perspective, it could also mean the partner counting conversions that are not aligned with the terms of their insertion order (IO). It is crucial to get on the same page before any campaigns are running so there is no confusion down the line.

Vivian and Brian Fox have an open line of communication about what falls under fraudulent activity. They have agreed on these guidelines and understand what is not commissionable in their IO. Both work together in real time to dive into potentially fraudulent activity. This method enables them to determine better benchmarks and reaction plans together, and has helped build mutual trust. Vivian feels confident that Brian and AdAction have her best interests in mind.

Identify Fraud: Pinpoint Suspicious Activity With Deep Granularity

Detecting and fighting fraud is a full time job. It requires a combination of data transparency and people dedicating time to digging through the data to catch it.

Both eBay and AdAction have teams that spend every day utilizing a combination of internal data and third-party tools to proactively figure out which fraud trends could be coming next and reactively going through the data looking for patterns that indicate fraudulent activity. According to Brian Fox, identifying fraud is a blend of using your gut, and then digging deeper into the data in order to to tell a story around fraudulent activity.

The team at RetailMeNot also relies heavily on data from their internal systems, third-party tools, and network partners to try to piece the data points together and gain transparency. This helps the team verify if there is a real user or if there is fraudulent activity. Understanding cross-device and customer journeys really helps Vivian identify fraudulent activity, and she pushes her partners to send her team this type of data so they can bake it in with RetailMeNot’s other data sources. This process allows them to fully understand if the behavior they are observing is normal or not.

Set benchmarks: 

Having established and agreed-upon benchmarks and thresholds in place can help advertisers and ad networks quickly take note of abnormal activity and catch fraud early on.

Setting benchmarks is more of an art than a science, according to John from eBay. Setting the thresholds themselves is the easy part. What is difficult is having the capabilities and time to investigate the  data further to determine whether there is fraud taking place, and having the confidence to pause spending when something seems off.

Vivian noted that industry benchmarks are not particularly helpful when identifying fraud. What is key is keeping a close eye on your own data and metrics, tracking your performance over time, and listening to your gut when activities are off your internal benchmarks. These signals show you when to dig in deeper to truly understand if the activity is fraudulent or not.

Key challenges to identifying fraud: 

In Brian Fox’s opinion, time and a lack of discussion across the industry is the biggest challenge to eliminating fraud. Everyone is trying to grow their business, clients need to scale and might not want to discuss fraud, and publishers are demanding more and more from networks. He stated, “There is a real conflict of interest in performance marketing, but in the long term, you have to drive value to the ecosystem. So it’s OK to stop. It’s OK to stop spending and dig deeper when you think there might be fraud.”

Aside from having the time, the team, and the tools needed  to correctly identify fraud, our panelists agreed that programmatic advertising is one of the biggest pain points due to a loss of control and transparency.

Act: Take Appropriate Action on Fraud

How our panelists deal with bad actors ranges from remediation to a zero sum policy, depending on the level of existing partnership, perceived intention, and frequency of fraudulent behavior. Their first step is to have a conversation with the partner involved with the fraud, and the quality of the response from the partner is a large indicator of how to move forward.

When fraud is identified, RetailMeNot first makes the call on whether or not they perceive it to be a genuine mistake or intentional activity. When it comes to partners who are intentionally or frequently driving fraudulent traffic, RetailMeNot has a zero tolerance policy and will shut down those sources.

Brian Fox says they’ve internally coined the term “qualume” — the balance between quality and volume — when it comes to partners. If partners in question are continually driving more of a headache than “qualume,” it is not worth AdAction’s time to maintain the relationship. Another tactic that has been successful for AdAction to tackle fraud is having a third party compliancy team that does not directly report to the network, which leadership champions and celebrates every time they find and act on fraud. This helps them avoid any conflict of interest and create a better culture internally around fighting fraud.

As fraud becomes an industry in itself, with scripts created and sold and technology developed to produce fraud, there is always the possibility of needing to take legal action against major players. In eBay’s case, if a smaller partner continually drives fraudulent traffic, their first step is to end the partnership while paying out anything owed. If it is a particularly ugly instance of fraud, they may hold money back. In the worst-case scenarios they are willing to go to court.

Automate: Leverage New Technologies to Combat Fraud in Real Time

There are many external tools available offering a wide range of fraud detection and prevention tools. However, while tools and technology are critical for interpreting and flagging data points that indicate fraud, our panelists all emphasized the importance of working with people whom you trust and are also working hard to do the right thing.

A Final Word

At the end of the day, technology alone cannot keep up with tricky fraudsters who have made a career out of learning to get around fraud indicators and thresholds. Brian Marcus, VP of Global Marketing at TUNE, put it perfectly:

If you have questions about identifying and addressing fraud, reach out to your HasOffers account manager or email us at [email protected].


Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she handled content strategy and marketing communications at several tech startups in the Bay Area. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned home to Charleston, SC, where you can find her strolling through Hampton Park with her pup and enjoying the simple things between adventures with friends and family.

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