Postback 2018 Recap: Mitigating Ad Fraud (and Other Scribblings)

Postback 2018 Recap


For the sixth year in a row this July, Tune hosted the top minds in the digital marketing community for the annual mobile event of the summer in Seattle. TMGA’s own Kristina Congiusta attacked an industry-wide challenge head-on in the session entitled “Mobile Fraud: It Takes an Ecosystem” – a conversation on transparency, technology, and trusted relationships in combating advertising fraud – a highlight of day one’s agenda. Here is our summation of her session and our other top-ten takeaways from the show.


“Sadly, if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is too good to be true.”

This version of the time-tested maxim shared on the Postback 2018 stage by Kristina Congiusta, Head of Growth Operations at TMGA, certainly rings true in the mobile advertising ecosystem. Chances are slim to zilch that user just clicked and installed that app in 30 seconds, resulting in an immediate 5,000% ROI. That, my friend, was fraudulent.

Ad fraud is an inescapable hazard of the trade. In fact, TMGA data shows that 30%-40% of install activity is fraudulent. And for those of you scoring at home, that also means 30%-40% of marketing dollars are wasted on fraud – and that’s just the standard percentage. To really freak out app marketers, in a recent campaign, TMGA found that a partner’s traffic was 90% fraudulent.

And while that 90% is an outlier, it’s a terrifying number nonetheless.

A Funnel Full of Dirty Data


Aside from budget, ad fraud also costs app marketers their greatest currency – time.

If a strategist is forced to focus on identifying, removing, and recouping wasted fraud dollars, think of the opportunity costs that are lost for diving to deeper levels of analytics and understanding for how the true installs were acquired.

TMGA data shows that on average 30%-40% of install activity is fraudulent, wasting 30%-40% of the marketing spend. At the high end of the range, TMGA found that a partner’s traffic was 90% fraudulent in a recent campaign.

“With all of this fraud, it makes it difficult to actually put tests out there and then analyze what the results actually mean,” said Congiusta. “Unfortunately with a lot of our clients, because fraud is so prevalent, we actually have to set aside time to identify the fraud when collecting installs.”

The picture doesn’t get much cleaner down the funnel in re-engagement campaigns where it’s difficult for app marketers to always know if they are targeting the right users with the right device IDs.

“The data gets really muddy,” Congiusta said.

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomahto


TMGA has the benefit of observing ad fraud trends across a broad swath of clients, but even that benefit has its obstructions.
“Our challenge is that there is no standardization,” Congiusta said. “That’s a general mobile problem, especially for fraud. If we asked every single person in the room what they would define fraud as, all of their answers would be completely different.”

As an industry, mobile marketers must hone in on establishing and accepting consensus parameters to clean up the data and fortify fraud defenses, thereby improving quality conversions as a result.

We must also understand the differences in types of mobile app fraud and attribution, as well as incrementality.

“Our challenge is that there is no standardization… If we asked every single person in the room what they would define fraud as, all of their answers would be completely different.”
– Kristina Congiusta, TMGA

“The biggest thing that we’re concerned about is the app lift and incrementality,” said fellow panelist Paul Jeszenszky, VP of Growth Marketing at Rover, who works with Kochava to analyze its mobile app attribution. “At the end of the day, we accept that there’s going to be some amount of issues, whether it’s distinct fraud or whether it’s just lack of incrementality. So we want to make sure that our spend and our efforts are driving positive outcomes.”

Mitigating the Ad Fraud Epidemic


Despite the industry’s steps forward, the fraudsters seem to always be three steps ahead of the marketers.

Notoriously, the challenge for app marketers has been that fraudsters keep changing their game, including with recent bot-based SDK spoofing. From a tactical level, a lot of brands use their own MMPs and integrate their own fraud solutions which definitely helps to catch anything that feels fraudulent. Granted, every MMP as its own definition of fraud.

“It’s an early-stage catch-all,” Congiusta said. “It isn’t stopping the fraud, but it is helping. We use a lot of these tools to go and claim refunds for [clients]. And to take it one step further, if we encounter repeat offenders, or they keep coming up with the same type of fraud, TMGA as an agency will literally blacklist you.”

Change is Coming


Joined by Jonathan Lacoste from Jebbit, Paul Jeszenszky at Rover, and Brian Wong of Kiip, our own Kristina Congiusta tackled the industry-wide problem that is expected to cost marketers over $19 billion in 2018, up from the estimated $16.4 billion in 2017, which was double the hit taken in 2016. That trend is not sustainable. Clearly, something has to give.

“At the end of the day, we accept that there’s going to be some amount of issues… So we want to make sure that our spend and our efforts are driving positive outcomes.”
– Paul Jeszenszky, Rover

“The change is going to come from the marketers,” said Congiusta. “At some point, people are just going to say enough is enough. And I know fraud is not ever going to go away completely, but as marketers, we need to push for fraud to be in a 5% to 10% range. Why would we want to keep wasting our money?”

Even if app marketers get the refund, they’re stuck in this spend, get back, spend, get back, spend, get back cycle. And sadly, if that does not look too good to be true, that’s because it is.

How do you define mobile ad fraud?
Write to TMGA at


Our Top-Ten Takeaways

1. Ad tech is a $34 billion market in the United States.

2. Context, and not just content, is king in performance. App marketers can’t rely on any one hero metric, but must be flexible and able to pivot to multiple measures.

3. OTT devices are where mobile was a few years back, and they are the next step in reaching targeted audiences.

4. CTV and OTT devices deliver impactful ads to consumers, illustrating the need in mobile to deliver the right ads to the right audiences at the right times on the right devices.

5. Instead of focusing on installs, engagement marketing is more and more becoming an important focus for app marketers.

6. Keynote Speaker Dr. Tricia Wang, Co-Founder of Sudden Compass and Global Tech Ethnographer, says if you’re struggling with growth, it’s because you’re only using big data. You also need thick data. Ethnography + Big Data = Thick Data.

7. Performance and refined measurement are the primary drivers of mobile marketing ROI.

8. After marketers know that supply is available, the biggest thing they want to know is whether or not they can measure it.

9. When using data to map the customer journey, app marketers must pay attention to more than just the transaction in order to give customers what they want instead of trying to convince them of what they need.

10. The app store is ten years old, and the next hardware shift is not imminent, so marketers must innovate their existing ecosystems and find natural extensions.




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