Digital advertising has created an unprecedented way to target consumers. The rush online by advertisers has followed the algorithmic ability to reach a desired buyer at the time and location of your choosing. In total, U.S. digital ad spend has reached a record-busting $88 billion last year — marking the first time digital ad revenues overtook television.
However, at the same time as Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) have turned the taps on online spending, massive problems have emerged.
Ironically, despite a greater ability to reach buyers, lack of control has been the biggest challenge for advertisers. In the first place, they struggle to control who is viewing their ads. Up to 30% of all online ads are served to bots, rather than humans. Secondly, vast expensive ads, by brands such as Nike or Gillette, are in many cases served in unsavory contexts (most Fortune 500 brands serve their ads repeatedly alongside violent, graphics and offensive content, such as rape or terrorism). Dealing with these twin issues has become the number one priority for CMOs and are escalating to the CEO. This is not surprising with ad fraud costing $51 million a day in 2018, while consumers consider algorithmically-allocated ads placed in unsavory or disturbing contexts as an intentional endorsement by the brand.
In this daily fight, brands are increasingly turning to AI and cybersecurity, which may yet save the ad industry.
The use of cybersecurity and AI techniques is giving advertisers the ability to retake control. CHEQ, founded by Guy Tytunovich, a former military intelligence officer has upended this space. The use of AI and cyber techniques honed daily by the company against online ad aggressors (80% of the rapidly growing company are developers) is allowing real-time blocking of threats.
CHEQ recently hired legendary NBA shot-blocker Dikembe Mutombo as a simple way to show how it was blocking these threats in real time, not simply recognizing or reporting on threats as first generation ad verification incumbents have done.
How Cyber techniques and AI are used in ad verification
Turning its attention to the problem, CHEQ processes more than 700 unique parameters to block ad fraud in absolute real-time. This includes Dynamic Code Patching, OS and device fingerprinting, honeypots performed on every single impression, at huge scale and in absolute real-time (under 30mlliseconds), deterministically preventing advertisers from bidding on fraudulent impressions.
In addition, the company is looking beyond traditional “bot traffic” mitigation, by successfully tackling far more advanced sophisticated invalid traffic (SIVT) which is more difficult to detect because fraudsters are actively trying to avoid simple patterns that would raise a red flag.
The company also blocks domain-spoofing, zombie networks, and other threats. It is looking beyond the traditional online ad industry – by teaming up with native console gaming startup Anzu, to provide the first ever ad-fraud prevention solution for PlayStation and X-Box environments. The need for this is pressing —according to PwC, esports revenues totaled $805 million in 2018, with the largest portion coming from sponsorships media rights and streaming advertisements.
“For 20 years, advertisers thought that there was no way to control the placement and positioning of advertisements,” says Tytunovich. “As several thousand websites could not be manually reviewed to check the placement of advertisements and ensure that no negative associations are formed, AI becomes imperative to digital media. CHEQ replaces the manual approach used by traditional ad verification players of using blacklisted keywords, articles and websites reported by the client.”
Meanwhile, in the “brand safety’ sphere, image recognition (or “computer vision”) makes it possible for applications using deep learning algorithms to understand imagery, similarly to the way NLP (Natural Language Processing) allows a computer to understand text. This, for instance, spots (along with other measures) if a brand’s ad is being served on a page that has guns, military or prisoner uniforms. This is part of the proprietary technology the company is using to tackle the online ad problems and eliminate virtually all unsafe or fraudulent online views.
One further consequence of military-grade cybersecurity and AI trained on online adversaries is better data and transparency about the growing threats, and challenges. CHEQ is seeking to end to the “black-box” culture and reimagine the sector by providing unprecedented transparency and metrics, enabling clients to vet their decision-making with external third parties. CHEQ is the only platform to feature a real-time analytics dashboard, showing exactly how much fraud has been blocked, how much money has been saved, and clearly demonstrating the reasons behind the decision-making. CHEQ advises that anyone looking for a solution to this growing problem must move away from black box solutions that do not give any insight into the decision-making processes. In this way, the opaque online advertising world can become more transparent.
The shift to online technology has caused many challenges for advertisers, but technology also carries an answer. The new landscape of protection offered through AI and cybersecurity is belatedly heightening the transparency of the digital ad ecosystem so that advertisers, publishers, and agencies can be more confident about their marketing practices. Having uncovered criminal activity in the past, for instance, CHEQ is also providing tools to law enforcement officials so that miscreants can be stopped.
“Our goal is to restore advertiser confidence in online advertising by ensuring that ads are placed in the right environment and visible to the real, authentic human users,” concludes Tytunovich. “Advertisers deserve control, and the only way to achieve that, is by introducing AI-driven tech which can address the issues accurately, autonomously and at huge scale. “