Recently I spoke with Dr. Augustine Fou, a cybersecurity and ad fraud expert who helps pharma, medical device, and healthcare companies create integrated marketing campaigns and increase the productivity of their digital advertising.
The abbreviated interview was posted on our blog. The full text of our conversation is below.
1. You’re on the cutting edge of detecting non-human traffic at websites. Tell us about your research.
My research focuses on the measurement accuracy of bot detection and human detection. That’s a key point. All other current fraud detection only detects for bots, which are also known as non-human traffic (NHT) or invalid traffic (IVT). They don’t detect for humans, but that’s telling half the story.
Marketers need a way to measure for humans and to ensure those are the actual physicians they want to show their ads to—and they need to do so in a compliant, privacy-friendly way.
For example, if you detect 10% bots, it doesn't mean the other 90% is human. You need to verify that. So I use a technology toolset developed in-house to collect data in order to verify the measurements of other detection technology companies.
I’m finding that while some measurements are accurate, there are a large variety of ways that fraud detection can go wrong. Knowing how measurements can go wrong or be tricked is the key to ensuring clean data and accurate measurements.
2. What are the economic effects of non-human traffic within the healthcare space? Who does it hurt?
Fraud due to bots, or non-human traffic, hurts everyone in the ecosystem. In healthcare and pharma advertising, the harms can be even more egregious. For instance, in the case of bots pretending to be oncologists by visiting pharma websites, or important safety information being delivered to bots and not the physicians and patients for whom it was intended, fraudulent non-human traffic could even lead to loss of life. These harms far exceed the loss and waste of ad dollars that all advertisers face when using digital marketing that has ad fraud.
3. What trends do you see among your clients in managing and leveraging information in their digital channels?
Marketers want to target real physicians and real patients. They’ve experimented with digital, but may not be fully aware of the extent of fraud and non-human traffic. When they think they’re targeting a physician, it may actually be a bot pretending to be a doctor, simply by visiting a series of websites. As more marketers get savvy about ad fraud, they’ll be looking for ways to ensure their ads are being shown to real doctors.
4. How interested are your clients in managing, leveraging, and investing in their digital channel efforts? Where are the gaps?
They know they need to increase investment in digital, because doctors and patients are spending more and more time in digital channels and using less and less of print materials and other channels like TV. But they remain wary of the non-human traffic that is misdirecting their dollars to cybercriminals.
They’ve tried various fraud detection technologies to detect for bots, but they’re finding it’s not enough. Those measurements simply report a percent of bots, but don't provide any details about what those bots are and where they came from, nor do they provide specific actions for remediation. Marketers need a way to measure for humans and to ensure those are the actual physicians they want to show their ads to—and they need to do so in a compliant, privacy-friendly way.
5. Take me to 2020. Do you think that we’ll be monitoring the traffic at websites in any ways that are different from today? If so, in what ways?
We’ll still need to monitor traffic, but hopefully by combining both offline and online data sets we can ensure that "traffic" to sites is actually from human physicians or patients that marketers care about. In fact, we should stop referring to it as traffic and use "audiences" instead. Humans visiting a site are "audiences." Bots are "traffic."
We’ll still need to monitor traffic, but hopefully by combining both offline and online data sets we can ensure that "traffic" to sites is actually from human physicians or patients that marketers care about
6. What do you find interesting about the DMD product portfolio?
What I was immediately drawn to among the DMD product offerings was the ability to take a physician that has been verified using offline data and find that person online when they visit various pharmaceutical and informational sites.
By starting with the verified human and then constantly re-verifying that their identity is real and not compromised, DMD is offering clients a way to do marketing to real humans and avoid all the problems of fraud and non-human traffic. This allows marketers to achieve the promise of digital, reach the real audiences they intend to reach, and deliver marketing messages and real information to the people who need it. Other forms of digital ad tech cannot achieve this.
Dr. Augustine Fou is an industry-recognized thought leader in digital strategy and integrated marketing, and former Chief Digital Officer of Omnicom's Healthcare Consultancy Group, a $100 million agency group serving pharma, medical device, and healthcare clients. Dr. Fou has over 22 years of management consulting experience, creating and optimizing marketing across traditional and digital channels. Dr. Fou completed his PhD at MIT in Materials Science and Engineering at the age of 23.