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STOP LYING: No One Wants Made-for-Advertising Sites in their Media Buys

Where every pixel holds a promise of profit, a sinister underworld thrives – Made for Advertising (MFA) sites. These digital charlatans operate in the shadows, exploiting the vulnerabilities of the advertising industry for their illicit gain. 

There is no ambiguity, no room for doubt – MFA sites are unequivocally fraudulent enterprises that deceive marketers, steal their resources, and undermine the integrity of the entire ecosystem.

It’s a staggering revelation that a Digiday writer recently contended that the industry lacks a clear consensus on what exactly constitutes an MFA site. Such assertions are not only misguided but also dismissive of the unequivocal truth: Made for Advertising sites are nothing more than dens of deception, existing solely to perpetrate fraud. They are the wolves in sheep’s clothing of the digital realm. Let’s stop lying here: they are fraud, and need no definition besides that.

Matt Prohaska, a voice of reason in the chaotic digital din, astutely captured the essence of the issue: “How lazy & shameful” it is to accept MFA sites as part of doing business. These sites exploit the intricacies of online advertising metrics, masking their malicious intent beneath a veneer of legitimacy. They adopt different personas depending on the traffic they attract, sowing confusion and evading the watchful eyes of advertising partners. The consequences are dire – advertisers’ resources are squandered on hollow impressions, while the reputation of legitimate sites takes a hit.

MFA sites exhibit shapeshifting behaviors – an eerie dance between the legitimate and the deceitful. When direct traffic arrives, the facade holds, presenting a veneer of normalcy. However, when the site detects paid traffic, a darker side emerges. Aggressive, monetized ads flood the screens, ensnaring unwitting users in their web of deception. This dynamic performance conceals their true nature from scrutiny, enabling them to dance past compliance checks unscathed.

Shedding light on this murky world, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) unveiled disturbing findings: MFA sites accounted for 21% of impressions and a staggering 15% of advertising spend. These numbers are not merely statistical abstractions; they represent the siphoning of billions of dollars from marketers’ pockets into the coffers of the fraudsters.

The ANA’s programmatic media supply chain transparency study casts a harsh spotlight on the alarming waste rampant in online ad spend. Beyond the financial hemorrhage, the study exposes another grim truth – the average campaign sprawls across a staggering 44,000 websites. This overindulgence in quantity over quality reeks of a lack of discernment, a sin that resonates throughout the industry. Sensationalism, clickbait, and provocative content are the seductive baits used by MFA sites to lure in unsuspecting visitors. The result: a bloated ecosystem teeming with waste and deceit.

With programmatic advertising’s global market estimated at $88 billion, the ANA’s revelations prompt a critical reevaluation of the road ahead. The pursuit of efficiency is not a mere luxury; it’s a necessity, a mission to reclaim squandered resources. The ANA believes that rectifying the course, by drastically reducing MFA spending, could yield an astonishing $20 billion in efficiency gains.

However, the stakes are not merely financial. MFA sites also exhibit environmental recklessness. According to Scope3, the carbon emissions of MFA sites tower 26% higher than their non-MFA counterparts. The link between digital fraud and environmental degradation underscores the urgency of tackling this issue. The pursuit of profit must not come at the cost of our planet’s wellbeing.

The ANA’s recommendations for remediation are anchored in a paradigm shift. The seduction of low-cost inventory must be countered by a commitment to quality. Advertisers must seek inventory that is viewable, fraud-free, and brand-safe, even if it demands a premium. The balance between cost and value is not a mere dichotomy; it’s a moral imperative.

Website inclusion lists, not exclusion lists, are proposed as a beacon of efficiency. This strategic shift could trim the fat from the bloated inventory, minimizing waste. However, a caveat emerges – equity must not be compromised. Small or minority-owned entities should not suffer as a result of this transition. Transparency’s mission is not just to cleanse the ecosystem but to ensure fairness prevails.

The ANA’s clarion call to exclude MFA inventory, unless explicitly desired, resonates as a battle cry for integrity. Yet, the quest for transparency, while essential, should not overshadow the pursuit of knowledge. The potency of transparency lies not only in its revelation but also in the empowerment it bestows. Advertisers must wield transparency’s light to navigate the complex ecosystem intelligently, fostering efficiency and upholding ethical principles.

This specter of MFA sites looms large in the digital advertising landscape, casting a pall over the industry’s integrity. The ANA’s revelations provide a roadmap for rectification, a battle plan to vanquish the fraudsters and reclaim resources.

Pesach Lattin
Pesach Lattin
Pesach "Pace" Lattin is one of the top experts in interactive advertising, affiliate marketing. Pesach Lattin is known for his dedication to ethics in marketing, and focus on compliance and fraud in the industry, and has written numerous articles for publications from MediaPost, ClickZ, ADOTAS and his own blogs.

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