MBPT Spotlight: When Buying Online Ad Space, Protecting the Brand Is Key

You’ve made the leap to integrating your advertising strategy, or that of your clients, to include all channels. This may include a Facebook or Twitter link at the end of your TV or print ads, or banner ads that run alongside Facebook or other Internet outlets.

I’m sure your clients have considered incorporating strategies to protect their online brand and digital content, and you’re doubtless aware of the threats to both brand and security in cyberspace. I spend my time catching cybercriminals who infringe on brands.

First, there’s showrooming—consumers shopping in physical stores and using online environments to check pricing and get the best bargain. But fake online ads can turn the customer into a perpetrator of fraud. This past holiday season, Walmart offered to match select online prices and got caught unawares. Walmart cashiers were shown fake Amazon listings showing $400 Playstation 4 consoles being offered for $100 or less.

Mobile apps and social media are two other platforms where fraud and counterfeiting can take root through advertising. Social media networks are used to promulgate links to counterfeit products on both online marketplaces and rogue websites. Copycat social media pages can use your company name and logo to lend greater credibility to fraudulent ad activity; some of them even accept payments for “orders.” 

What’s an online advertiser to do?

Not only do fake ads and websites need to be taken down, but online marketplaces that support counterfeiting and fraudulent Facebook pages need to be eliminated, too. And be careful not to make offers that could open you up to fraudsters, as in the Walmart example.

Finding the fakes, knowing how to identify them and blowing their cover is an ongoing task that requires constant vigilance—and one you may not have thought about much until now.

Preventing fraud in online advertising is a painstaking, but artful, exercise in tracking down the suspected fake, doing forensics to establish whether or not it’s legitimate, and “knowing who to call,” so to speak, to take it down.

Then there’s the array of challenges linked to eCommerce platforms like Alibaba and Amazon. The most legitimate of these marketplaces have stringent policies for policing vendors, but fake advertising and sellers of counterfeit goods still slip through the net.

As these online Goliaths target the lucrative U.S. market, and more low-cost products, fake or otherwise, are offered to U.S. customers from other territories, this problem will only be exacerbated.

And now, additionally, they have the consumer working virtually as their partners, egged on by the thought of getting legitimate branded goods at bargain rates.

It’s important to recognize the depth and seriousness of the problem. Given that legitimate Internet brand retailing is all about maximizing traffic to one’s own site, increasing conversion rates of site visits, capitalizing on online marketing investments and driving repeat online purchases, the issues highlighted above have a strong negative impact on these metrics. The loss of trust and credibility in the retailer or brand, alone, has huge ramifications.

It’s helpful to know that ultimately, individual sites or listings on marketplaces selling counterfeit products can be taken offline. As with all markets, there is a supply side and a demand side to false advertising and counterfeiting.

We’ve all seen the consumer demand side: the desire for a certain luxury brand item to call your very own, and the temptation to cut corners to attain it. The supply side of this equation is about trying to make a buck on the back of someone else’s brand equity and hard work.

Simpson is product director of brand protection at NetNames, a firm specializing in global online security, brand protection and anti-piracy services.