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    Measuring Intent And The Many Faces Of Ad Fraud

    Advertisers sell more than just products; they sell alternate realities. But what if they take it too far and the intent behind the ad grows into more than just the graphic or video on the screen?

    There are millions of advertisements running through the lumascape at any given moment. Ads carve out ideal lifestyles, express points of view, and use influencers to create FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) mentality within consumers. Advertisers sell more than just products; they sell alternate realities. But what if they take it too far and the intent behind the ad grows into more than just the graphic or video on the screen?

    @jakobowens1 / Via unsplashed.com

    Platforms, like Facebook, are incentivized to auction and leverage social data with advertisers regardless of campaign intent. This lack of regulation for paid media results in higher levels of arbitrage within geo-targeted political campaigns and manipulates public perception. On the other end of the spectrum, as an advertiser, the potential end gain outweighs the cost of paid media campaigns, encouraging industry players to risk their money and integrity.

    @srd844 / Via unsplash.com

    This cycle of malicious intent leads to rampant ad fraud, which can take many forms. Bots imitate human views by mimicking the perfect consumer. Click farms emerge from remote warehouses. Ad injections occur without publishers’ knowledge, and misleading information pushes consumers to buy falsified products and services.

    Fyre Fest, currently receiving a lot of attention with documentaries on both Hulu and Netflix, is an example of ad fraud taking a less obvious form. Their marketing campaign immediately went global when 400 of the most significant influencers, such as Kendall Jenner, posted solid orange graphics on Instagram with links to the festival website and the hashtag #FyreFest. Within 24 hours, the hashtag received over 300 million impressions and Fyre Fest sold 95% of their available tickets. This advertising push alone hyped the festival to a larger-than life idea that in the end was unattainable by its creators. Attendees were advertised private jets, an exclusive island in the Bahamas, and performances from artists like Blink-182, but instead faced commercial airplanes, an inhabited beach, hurricane disaster tents, and no Major Lazer in sight.

    The initial intent of the festival was to create promotional material and revenue to support and enhance the Fyre app; however, motives shifted once festival plans spiraled out of control. Rather than producing a music festival, Fyre Fest advertised and sold false promises, hoping to profit enough to resolve company issues and please investors.

    gizmodo.com / Via giphy.com

    The Federal Trade Commission provides a Truth in Advertising resource that states, “...an ad must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.” In the Netflix documentary, Fyre Festival co-founder and rapper, Ja Rule, claims the failed festival was “not fraud...I would call that false advertising!” However, this directly conflicts with the above FTC statement. Ads for Fyre Fest ranging from influencer social media posts to promotional videos fall into the category of misleading. Consumers spent their energy, money, and time on a promised reality that the festival did not deliver.

    This scenario begs the question, should platforms, like Facebook, place greater concern on which ads are falling through the cracks? Whose responsibility is it? Does the industry’s moral compass point north?

    Intending to prevent scandals such as Fyre Fest, the IAB provides an in-depth look at digital advertising regulation, indicating that The Federal Trade Commission holds authority backed by their mission to “stop unfair, deceptive and fraudulent business practices.”

    It is not enough to turn a blind eye and let others take the blame. All players in the advertising industry need to take responsibility, consider advertiser intent, and actively look for ways to end ad fraud.

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