Pixel Stuffing, Ad Stacking and Billion Dollar Losses

Posted by SMstudy® on May 27, 2016 | Digital Marketing (DM)

Keywords: fraud, online marketing, pixel, stuffing, ad, SMstudy

In an article earlier in the week by SMstudy, we began with this quote from Fortune, “A massive chunk of the advertising market is based on smoke and mirrors, or even outright fraud.”[1]

The article written by Matthew Ingram focused on bots, software creepy crawlers that mimic human activities making online ads appear to be creating more impressions that they actually are, and thereby stealing fees based on CPI (Cost-Per-Impression). In this article, we take a quick look at two other online advertising fraud techniques: pixel stuffing and ad stacking.

A Bit of Background

While some watching the advertising world continue to point to declining ad revenues—“not just for print, but for digital and video and pretty much everything,” others see growth in online ad revenues. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) reports online ad revenues achieving a 17 percent overall Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) from 2005 through 2015.[2]

But all can agree that what is definitely growing are revenue losses due to criminal activities, “The IAB said that a myriad of issues—from fraud to ad blocking to content piracy—is now costing online marketers around $8 billion annually.”[3]

As early as 2013, industry insiders had been saying that “Half or more of the paid online display advertisements that ad networks, media buyers, and ad agencies have knowingly been selling to clients over the years have never appeared in front of live human beings,” says Samuel Scott, writing in MOZ [4], citing a source from The Wall Street Journal.[5]

Ad Fraud Techniques

Bots account for almost half of fraudulent impressions. The rest come from a variety of techniques that include pixel stuffing and ad stacking.

Pixel stuffing is “where an ad designed to appear at 1,024 by 480 pixels is crammed into a one-by-one pixel square,” according to Ingram. Naomi Schwartz, writing for TechCrunch, describes this as “iFrame stuffing,” saying, “iFrame stuffing compresses an ad into a tiny one-by-one pixel size. The ad is served up on a site as a real ad and reported as a view, even though a real user would never be able to view such a tiny ad.” This might be similar to the use of “small print” to hide legalese in contracts: legally it’s there, but it’s not meant to be seen.

Ad stacking is “where multiple ads are programmed for a single slot,” according to Ingram. Schwartz explains it this way, “In this type of scam, multiple ads are placed on top of each other in a single ad placement. Only the top ad is in view, but all of the ads are reported as viewed.” The affect is much like the old cemetery swindle of selling a single burial plot to numerous customers.

Among six strategies to combat the effects of bots, pixel stuffing, ad stuffing and other fraudulent activities recommended by Samuel Scott, former journalist turned digital marcom professional, global marketing speaker and contributor to TechCrunch and Moz,  is that online marketers should “stop doing cost-per-impression (CPI or CPM) campaigns” and “revise advertising KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and metrics in human terms.”

What you, as an online advertiser, decide to do is the billion-dollar question.

For additional interesting and informative articles on sales and marketing, visit http://www.SMstudy.com.

[Jim Pruitt, SMstudy staff writer, contributed to this article.]

[1] Matthew Ingram. (July 1, 2015) “There’s a Ticking Time Bomb Inside the Online Advertising Market.” Fortune. Retrieved 5/25/16 from http://fortune.com/2015/07/01/online-advertising-fraud/

[2] From the IAB annual report “IAB internet advertising revenue report 2015 full year results April 2016” at http://www.iab.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/IAB-Internet-Advertising-Revenue-Report-FY-2015.pdf

[3] Christopher Heine. (January 19, 2016) “Bots Will Cost Digital Advertisers $7.2 Billion in @016, Says ANA Study.” AdWeek. Retrieved on 5/25/16 from http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/bots-will-cost-digital-advertisers-72-billion-2016-says-ana-study-169072

[4] Samuel Scott. (6/22/15) “The Alleged $7.5 Billion Fraud in Online Advertising.” MOZ. Retrieved on 5/26/16 from https://moz.com/blog/online-advertising-fraud

[5] Suzanne Vranica. (6/11/2013) “Web Display Ads Often Not Visible” The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on 5/27/16 from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324904004578537131312357490

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