German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz has hit the headlines after reports emerged that the majority of hits on its latest advertising campaign were provided by robots rather than human beings.
According to the Financial Times, in a sample of 365,000 ad impressions from agency Rocket Fuel, UK-based ad fraud investigator Telemetry found that 57% of impressions were viewed by automated computer programs.
Mercedes said that the overall number was nearer 6% throughout the whole campaign, and had been remunerated for the suspect impressions, while the FT made it clear that the agency was not doing this deliberately.
According to the Telemetry sample, ‘virtually all’ of the dodgy traffic came from five small internet providers, and two people in the UK who directed the traffic to their sites – since deleted – and racked up the cash from the ad sales.
Andrew Goode is chief operating officer at Project Sunblock, a content verification ad tech firm who recently released research claiming that nearly four in five advertisers in the UK had no idea how many ad impressions generated were fraudulent.
Goode insisted this was not an isolated incident.
“This is an unfortunate case for Mercedes, but it is far from alone in its fight against the advertising botnets,” he said.
“The issue is that there is a real lack of visibility and transparency around where digital ads end up once they’re fed into industry ad exchanges
In a statement on the Rocket Fuel website, the agency has hit back at these claims.
“Rocket Fuel takes an aggressive posture to screen bots out of the ad space in the over 200 countries worldwide where we serve our customers’ ads,” the statement read. The agency claims
“There is an ongoing arms race between Rocket Fuel and scammers who create fake websites and bot traffic in an attempt to fool advertisers into spending money to ‘advertise’ to these bots who can appear human if not studied carefully,” the statement continued.
“We want to help advertisers make sure they’re getting real results from Rocket Fuel and their other partners, and to this end we have been providing free tools for years to help them run clean A/B tests to measure the incremental value Rocket Fuel adds to their advertising.
“As we help advertisers achieve new levels of success in digital marketing, they spend more with Rocket Fuel. This, in turn, has powered our growth as Deloitte’s #1 fastest-growing technology company in North America, and is further evidenced by our industry-leading success-story program which features 45 branded customer testimonials.”
Previous research from Project Sunblock has shown that more than one in three brands had no idea where their ads appeared, with adverts turning up on all kinds of nefarious areas from phishing to pornography.
For Goode, brands can’t sit back on this issue. “The onus is on the brands themselves to act, not their advertising agencies or ad exchanges,” he said.