The Tales of Attribution Theft
You can also find this comic in MarTech Advisor.
The concept of “attribution” in ad tech is very similar to the commision-based retail environment. It’s not unlike how things work in your favorite department store, where a coworker can also be a frenemy in the race for sales commissions, and competitors team up to overthrow their most powerful opponents. This cartoon showcases the analogous concept of retail commission and ad tech attribution fraud. Attribution fraud can be especially lucrative for fraudsters and frustrating for victims. Overall, it’s a dangerous game for the ad industry.
But let’s take a step back. Why is attribution fraud important, and why is it so universal?
There are three main reasons.
Many Industries are Full of Frenemies
First and foremost, companies look out for their own performance in an attempt to stand out as the market leader, but when the industry as a whole thrives - everyone benefits. Ad tech and retail are both industries with many symbiotic relationships where companies and individuals both need each other and also compete with one another. In a retail environment, sales peoples’ lunchmates are also their rivals when it comes to achieving their commission goals. On a larger scale, the changing retail landscape means relationships become even more symbiotic, where competitors form partnerships in order to stay afloat and compete with the larger controlling powers. In ad tech, exchanges and DSPs become one and the same for companies which offer both. Advertisers, who used to run their ads on external DSPs, now use their own technology. Client and service providers have been much more ambiguous and convoluted. The prevalence of frenemies is especially strong in the industries we’ve highlighted.
Performance Improvements and Status are Important
In any industry, it is important to measure and iterate on successes and challenges. Fraud and theft cause inaccuracy which hinders these efforts. In retail, sales people lose commission and credit for their efforts, making it difficult to accurately measure their progress, often costing them valuable recognition and compensation. In ad tech, fraud is an obstacle to knowing which ads are working and which aren’t. Wasted budgets and metric inaccuracies are not topics to take lightly. For the sake of accolades, iterating on your strategy, and and in the best interest of tracking and attributing incoming users, attribution fraud causes difficulties. For example, click injection could mean someone else is getting credit for 80% of the installs you drive. This means 80% of your revenue is lost! Advertisers’ budgets are diverted from reaching more people, and thus payoffs are given to fraudsters. Retail sales people lose their livelihood in an already tough environment.
Discussion and Action are Pivotal
If your business found a shady but easy way to make a lot of money with very little chance of being caught, would you do it? Do you expect your competitors would? Hopefully the answer to both of these questions is a vehement “no”! However, as illustrated by the cartoon, and the multi-billion dollar fraud issue, many companies are partaking in nefarious acts. Industry-wide discussion and action are important in handling fraud and theft. Industry security as a whole requires companies and individuals to act both independently and collectively to stamp out fraud. In retail, there should be discussions about commission integrity and ramifications for dishonesty. The same applies for fraudsters who should be punished for their efforts, with attribution reparations for the victims. Accountability should apply to each and every company and individual - in all industries.
In summary, in all industries, especially those where companies function symbiotically, it is important to keep your eyes open and protect yourself. Accountability is more than even a two way street. In an ecosystem of frenemies, high performance goals, and few ramifications for dishonesty, attribution fraud runs rampant. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. The cartoon below provides a look into the effects of attribution fraud analogously in two different scenarios.