Credit: Illustration by Chris King
When it comes to how much marketers lose to ad fraud, no one has a bleaker assessment than Augustine Fou.
How bleak? “Between 1 percent and 100 percent. There are no 0 percent fraud campaigns, that just means you’re not seeing it,” says the former marketer turned ad fraud researcher.
“I indict the big holding companies,” Fou says. “They are there to maximize their own margins and profits, and those profits are driven by the volume of ads that go through their systems.
“The people who do work at the media agencies are conscientious but, when they bring something suspicious to their bosses, they are told to shut up,” he says.
Marketers are also part of the problem, says Fou. “A marketer’s job is to spend it all,” he says. “The term I use is ‘FOFO,’ or ‘fear of finding out.’ Marketers literally do not want to know where there is fraud, so they buy reports that tell them there isn’t fraud. That’s why they are helping perpetuate the problem.”
What is your background?
I’ve been a digital marketer for 23 years. In 2012, I left Omnicom to get back to my own consulting practice, and I did analytics for my clients and saw some really strange things.
What was strange?
Thirty percent click-through rates. Fifty percent click-through rates. I’ve been in the industry long enough to know those just aren’t real—humans just aren’t that interested in your banner ad. I asked why that was happening and, long story short, it’s caused by bots that click on stuff. It’s fraud.
What did you say to clients after uncovering fraud?
A lot of times they didn’t know it was happening. They get monthly rolled- up reports from their agencies saying everything was cool, or that there was “so much engagement” on their campaigns. There are other problems, especially with young marketers.
We’re seeing a lot of young marketers come out and they control a lot of budget. For them, their entire career all they’ve seen is 20, 30 or 40 percent click-through rates. They haven’t been doing digital marketing for 23 years. I can tell them that I’ve been doing digital marketing longer than they’ve been alive. Some of these young people will see 30 percent engagement and say, “Let’s shoot for 40 percent.”