One of the nastiest problems in ad ops is the bad creative that only shows up sometimes. This may be intentional bad behavior by the advertiser, but often it’s just bad luck that arises through the complexity of the RTB ecosystem.

In other articles, we talk about how to track these down (spoiler alert: it sucks)

In this article, we’ll explain how it happens. We are not encouraging you to do this! But learning more about the techniques will broaden your perspective and understanding of how bad actors can affect the entire online advertising industry.

What is Bad Creative?

There are a few different definitions, but “bad creative” generally falls into three categories:

  1. Malware
  2. Automatic Redirects
  3. Really Slow Ads

Malware and App-store Redirects are intentionally malicious. However, other ad techniques such as In-banner Video, Very Short Refreshes, and extremely large creatives can also cause a negative user experience.

How is it done?

Sadly, it’s super simple. All you need to do is rotate creatives. If the bad creative is only shown to 5% of the users, it’s gonna be very difficult to detect.

Targeting the bad creative to specific cities or countries makes it very difficult to track down. The poor website owners and ad ops personnel can drive themselves crazy trying to hunt it down, but if it’s targeted only to the UK, and all the website staff is located in NYC, they’re never gonna see it unless they have a geoproxy.

Day Parting
Similarly, a bad creative could be setup to only run between 1:00 – 1:15 AM each day. This will be very, very hard to catch because by the time somebody has a chance to track it down, it’s already gone.

Device Targeting
Similar to the techniques above, when a bad ad is targeted to a specific device, it becomes very hard to track down.

Getting the picture?

This is all very easy for the bad guys to do. Close your eyes and I bet you can imagine another half-dozen ways to show different ads to different users in highly specialized scenarios. After all, that’s what ad servers do. Unfortunately, that also makes it very hard for website owners to figure out.

Check out these articles for some ideas on how to track these down.

(coming soon)

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