In the Threat Lab’s recent Fraud Trends Report, the team advised advertisers and publishers to be wary of ad fraud when it’s at its peak. In the Q4 2023 analysis, the Threat Lab defined October, November, and December as the holiday season — and predicted that these months are particularly dangerous from an ad fraud perspective. The team further anticipated that November, specifically its fourth week, would be the hardest hit by ad fraud.
Now that we can look at global data from the 2023 holiday season, the Threat Lab team wanted to analyze the accuracy of advising caution during this time and understand what this can teach marketers about protecting ad campaigns during particularly turbulent periods.
When is fraud at its highest?
The graph below maps out global ad fraud rates for each day in 2023. The period highlighted in dark green represents the dates between October 12 and December 4, which overlaps with our definition of the holiday season. With a median ad fraud rate 67% greater than the rest of the year, the holiday season stands out as a period of disproportionately high ad fraud activity — so much so that 2023’s highest ad fraud rates all fall within the highlighted period.
What’s the deal with Black Friday?
However, certain dates pop more than others. The graph below shows that ad fraud peaks during November 24, 25, and 26 — also known as 2023’s Black Friday weekend. The median ad fraud of these three days was 36% greater than other dates in the holiday season, and a whopping 122% greater than the rest of the year. The top three most hostile days of 2023 were the Saturday after Black Friday, the Sunday after Black Friday, and Black Friday itself.
What makes this trend even more peculiar is that November 27, which was the Monday after Black Friday, experienced a 28% decrease in ad fraud relative to the day prior — signaling the highest single day drop of the entire year. This drop suggests that the already disproportionately high holiday ad fraud climaxing on this specific weekend isn’t accidental.
How does fraudulent traffic compare to legitimate traffic?
To understand why the holiday season is so hostile, we compared fraudulent traffic with legitimate traffic.
Although legitimate traffic does increase gradually throughout the year with periodic dips, there aren’t major inconsistencies during the holiday season. Fraudulent traffic, on the other hand, increases dramatically. This comparison suggests that the spike in ad fraud during the holiday season isn’t due to a change in legitimate traffic behavior — it’s linked to fraudulent traffic becoming more active.
So why does this happen? It’s most likely that advertisers aggressively increase their ad spend in the weeks leading up to Black Friday. And once Black Friday ends, they use the remainder of their budget on the following weekend. The challenge with this is that there is a finite supply of high quality inventory available. The increased demand pressures advertisers to buy low quality inventory, exposing their campaigns to higher risk of ad fraud.
How IAS Can Help
When high quality inventory is limited, the risk of fraud infiltrating campaigns is much higher. This risk can be avoided by adopting ad fraud mitigation and protection, which helps keep advertisers from spending their ad dollars on low quality inventory that comes with a higher likelihood of ad fraud.
IAS ensures the most precise fraud detection possible with our three-pillar approach. Our fraud technology is based on a set of methodologies that detect the evolving threat of ad fraud with incredible accuracy. Our approach includes:
- Behavioral and Network analysis: our 10+ billion daily impressions provide a macro view of bot activity
- Browser and Device analysis: real-time signals at the ad call
- Targeted Reconnaissance: malware analysis, software disassembly, and the infiltration of hacker communities guides detection and identification of emerging threats
It’s never too late — or too early — to protect your campaigns from fraud. Be prepared for fraudsters whose activity changes with the seasons. Contact an IAS representative today to find out how to fight fraud and drive superior results.