Low-quality Ads

Every publisher and ad network has had the unfortunate experience of dealing with low-quality ads. Within the mobile ecosystem, it's an issue that keeps surfacing due to the evolution of programmatic advertising and how inventories are bought and sold.

What concerns all publishers is how these ads are served in the first place, what's done to prevent them, and most importantly, how they should be treated when encountered.

Types of low-quality ads

The types of ads that routinely plague publishers and could be considered malvertisements can be grouped into the following 4 categories:

1 - Redirects

In these cases, the reader lands on a publisher's page and the page automatically redirects to a different site. 

This is purely malware that takes advantage of different JavaScript dysfunctionalities and sandbox holes. 

In the past, Marfeel has reported several JavaScript related vulnerabilities to browser vendors that malvertisers were abusing. This specific kind of abuse is adverse for several reasons like the bounce suffered from the redirect and the impact on SEO.

2 - Distasteful ads

These include ads that the publisher or their audience might find in poor taste either through the image or the text of the creative. A good example might be ads promoting snail slime for skin care.

3 - Dishonest ads

A common case reported is a creative that looks exactly like a video player with a fake play button to encourage unintended clicks.

4 - Ads from competitors

This involves publishers who find competing brands displaying a banner on their mobile site. 

What's done to prevent low-quality ads

Marfeel always acts proactively to ensure that their partners are displaying content and brand-safe ads. To limit the threat of unwanted ads in the ad spaces they manage, Marfeel only works with the most trusted and top-performing demand providers (ad servers and Supply-side Platforms or SSPs). By using multiple demand providers, the risk of involuntarily running low-quality ads is firmly reduced because of the following two reasons:

  1. When an ad setup has multiple demand providers and an unwanted ad is identified, the effort to remove it is facilitated because the entire network can be blocked until the issue is resolved. This doesn't endanger or raise the need to turn off a publisher's entire ad setup.
  2. Each different provider has their own strategies and tactics to detect and prevent low-quality ads from being served. For example, one of Marfeel's biggest partners, Google Ad Exchange has proprietary technology and malware detection tools to check creatives that are served through their marketplace, and also has a dedicated Anti-Malvertising team

How low-quality ads slip through the cracks  

Within the mobile advertising ecosystem, there are repeated industry cases where ads with malware are served. They can be difficult to detect and prevent because of the sheer volume of transactions that take place in the digital ad market. Also, in programmatic advertising, SSPs might sell inventory to a third party which is usually a DSP (display-side platform). The DSP might then sell it to another third-party which may be the culprit providing a creative with malicious JavaScript code within it or that may include malicious iframes that go to bad URLs.

In many cases however, reported instances of malvertising are in fact malfunctioning ads due to an extensive number of interactions between ad servers that can crash a mobile page, even if the creative is clean.

How to treat low-quality ads

Marfeel detected cases

When Marfeel detects a low-quality ad, they automatically ban the advertiser and buyer accounts on Marfeel's demand-side. After the buyer and advertiser have been fully banned, Marfeel contacts and reports the issue to the demand provider. 

Reported cases

If a publisher detects an unwanted ad on their mobile site, they should send an email to success@marfeel.com with the the advertiser destination URL and a screenshot. 

With both the destination URL and a screenshot, Marfeel can block the advertiser and buyer on the demand-side. Once both have been fully blocked, Marfeel reports the issue to the corresponding advertising partner so they can find the source of the creative and work on blocking the buyer from the market.