As Gaming Grows During Pandemic, Protection of Ad Spend is More Vital Than Ever

25 August, 2020 | By CHEQ

The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing have caused video game spending in the United States to reach new heights. Revenues hit a record $11.6 billion between April and June 2020, an increase of 30% when compared to the same time period last year.

Overall global gaming revenues are set to hit $160 billion this year — overtaking books, music or movies. It is no wonder that Anzu’s in-game advertising revolution has such a captive audience among brands. Companies are approaching in-game advertising at greater scale to take advantage of the fact that gaming is now displacing such other traditional forms of entertainment.

The only sticking point in this ultimate adventure between brands and gamers has been the verifying of ads. Brands require ongoing reassurance that ads served are measurable, seen, brand safe, and not affected by fraud. These challenges have sucked up advertising dollars in every new digital technology launched programmatically, with global ad fraud costing $23 billion across the global digital advertising ecosystem. We have seen that in another relatively new advertising playground, OTT spending (home viewing also seeing an uptick during social distancing), marketers will lose $4 billion in 2020 due to fraud across programmatically bought ad-supported streaming platforms.

When CHEQ launched the world’s first ad verification solution for gaming with Anzu,  we brought our cybersecurity credentials to protect ad spend in a revolutionary way. Anzu and CHEQ sought to remove the legacy minimal expectations that existed in digital ad verification, providing a cybersecurity-based approach to fighting online ad challenges.

Up until now, old school ad verification techniques or “AdTech” techniques were used across the industry, but more recently, a cybersecurity approach has been taken. This approach has been used to protect ad spend across gaming, display, mobile, OTT, and click fraud. The legacy ‘ad verification’ approach is making way for a more dynamic (and more honest) ‘cybersecurity’ approach.  This has created a sophisticated way to ensure brand safety, viewability, and anti-fraud detection. In the world of mobile apps (gaming apps account for 33% of installs), attribution and install fraud has created a constant need for cybersecurity prevention. For app install fraud, bot attacks continue to dominate. Currently, about 62% of fraudulent app installs are a result of bot attacks. Install hijacking – particularly for gaming apps – and click flooding, are on the rise, with click flooding up.

Differences between old school and next generation ad verification

The first difference between ad verification and “ad security” lies in the filtration approach. Ad verification typically relies on IP blacklisting to filter out bad traffic. Now, while this methodology can be effective to some degree, it is problematic in the sense that these IP lists age quickly. Within the time it takes to drink a coffee, bad guys can change all IP addresses, so they keep earning money. Such lists also tend to miss a great deal of invalid traffic. Even worse, many of these lists, procured from third-party IP vendors are unvetted, resulting in over-blocking of real users who very often, unintentionally, appear on these blocklists.

Cybersecurity ad fraud replaces the reliance on blocklists with real-time user analysis whereby JavaScript challenges are used to determine you are exactly who you say you are, not least if you are human or really a bot, or coming from a data center, or present credentials saying you are coming from the United States but really live in an irrelevant location for the brand advertiser. Nevertheless, this can be verified by cybersecurity-based protocols (even if your user agent or IP or user agent says one thing, the truth is often different). Another difference is the scope of the “inspection.” Ad verification typically takes the sampling approach, by which they would only inspect a small portion of the traffic and make assumptions based on what is found. The ad security approach analyzes every single impression and is deterministic (rather than probabilistic). Finally, the cybersecurity approach also brings transparency. Genuine cybersecurity players provide advertisers with detailed reasoning behind every decision and access to log-level data (user agent, IP addresses, and time stamps). Tackling these challenges brings almost instant results for conversions. 

Since taking this approach, we have been able to show the results of campaigns for big brands in a transparent way. 

Gaming vs Display: ad verification 

The above approach has been the underpinning for the incredible results seen so far in the world of in-game advertising verification. In our first major pilot Anzu and CHEQ delivered the first-ever ad-verification solution in gaming for a multinational consumer brand. We found a 23% increase in viewability of ads for in-game advertising — compared to traditional digital advertising. 

On average, CHEQ found that during the campaign (for the same multinational consumer brand, on both display and in-game advertising), 80.2% of game players achieved a level of viewability in which they saw 95% of ads for at least two seconds. This is compared to only 65% viewability for at least two seconds when the same brand served banner ads using traditional online display advertising channels.

The brand ads were served seamlessly throughout 20 games across genres, racing, simulation, and adventure games, including Jurassic Park VR, Final Kick and HAJWALA (Drift). 

Since then, on a weekly basis, new pilots are announced by Anzu as more brands come to the table, with Anzu’s partnerships with Ubisoft (PC racing game Trackmania), with Vodafone ads; Unfinished Pixel’s Super Soccer Blast (averaging of 1.5 hours of playtime per gamer per day); and Vivid Games (on their premium titles, Real Boxing 2 and Gravity Rider Zero, for both iOS and Android).

Through this approach, any advertisers who serve dynamic in-game ads programmatically reaching gamers playing top titles can now utilize real-time in-game verifiable tracking and measurement of ad performance. They receive metrics including whether ads were viewed head-on, or from a hard-to-view angle, and where ads were obscured by any surrounding objects. 

Blended in game advertising is rapidly attracting brands and dynamic and exciting new campaigns. Advances in cybersecurity-based ad verification have arrived to meet this challenge.

CHEQ is the leading cybersecurity company in digital media, protecting the world’s top advertisers from ad-fraud, click-fraud, and other forms of invalid, non-human traffic. With offices in New-York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Tel-Aviv, and Sydney, the company's mission is to provide security for online advertisers and restore trust in the digital ecosystem. The company has been named one of the 100 hottest tech startups in the world by CNBC (2019), has won The Drum’s Best Anti-Fraud Solution 2 years running (2019 / 2020) and has been voted best Search Software in the World at The Drum’s Global Search Awards (2020) for its click fraud prevention solution.