Q3 2020 Recap: New Normal, Old Worries

Q3 2020 could very well be the point where the new normal – everyone’s favorite term – really started to feel like “normal” rather than something “new.”

In many ways, we saw the industry shake the COVID-19 fallout ashes from itself, reassess the environment, and look to the road ahead. And as I’m about to discuss, that largely meant a heightened focus on the fraudsters’ old bag of malicious tricks.

Ad Lightning’s Q3 2020 Recap

Shape-Shifting Malvertising

As you’ll see from Ad Lightning’s Q3 2020 Recap, we were extremely active in protecting our publishing partners’ sites and brands throughout the quarter. Overall malicious activity remained at high levels, even relative to the historically high volume of bad ad blocks we saw in Q2. But that’s not to say Q3 was a repeat performance, though, as demonstrated by a few key insights:

  • Redirects & malicious browser extensions are still the most prominent problematic ads, collectively accounting for over 50% of the bad ads we saw in Q3
  • With the introduction of category blocking in Q2, 12% of bad ads detected and stopped contained unwanted, NSFW imagery and content.
  • Due to the upcoming election, ad blocks for publishers sensitive to political content made up 4% of overall bad ads

Further, Ad Lightning saw six major malicious spikes in Q3, mostly toward the beginning and end of the quarter. While the frequency of such spikes isn’t necessarily unheard of, what’s especially disconcerting is the variety of new techniques used, including typosquatting and steganography.

In a broader sense, these new tactics are proof positive that fraudster’s are constantly evolving, expanding and enhancing their malicious ways to exploit gaps and susceptibilities in the ecosystem. Although I urge you to take a closer look at our recap data for more granular insights into what the bad ad battlefield looked like in Q3, there’s a key takeaway that I hope publishers – and the entire ecosystem, for that matter – take to heart:

Publishers need an ad quality solution that is as agile as the fraudsters are if they want to protect their brand, stakeholders, and customers.

But how, exactly, does a publisher find such a solution? Well, as I’ve said before, you start by choosing an AQ partner that offers more than just a single point solution. Because as convincing as some providers are in spinning a tale about the effectiveness of this or that, a one-trick pony simply isn’t going to be able to seamlessly go from blocking redirects and trojans one minute to malicious browser extensions and video stuffing the next. And Q3 2020 was a perfect example of that dynamic.

Looking Ahead at Q4

So far in Q4, we've already seen the fraudsters hard at work, primarily through consistent weekly spikes of malicious attacks impacting a wide range of platforms. Looking a bit further into the future, we’ll thankfully see a dramatic drop in political ads after the November 3rd election, at least until the midterm elections start coming to life in late 2021. However, with so many experts predicting a significant uptick in the coronavirus pandemic in Q4, we could very well see a repeat performance of some of the malicious activity we experienced in Q1 and Q2.

Therefore, along with the typical avalanche of redirects, non-compliant ads, malware, and other types of malvertising that Ad Lightning identifies and blocks all day and every day, we could see another escalation in COVID-related fraudulent ads as well. And that’s on top of the usual uptick in bad ads we see during the holidays.

Also, since the CCPA continues to evolve, the results of Proposition 24 in California could wield a significant impact on the digital advertising industry. Therefore, just as we saw in our 2020 State of Ad Quality report, compliance will remain toward the top of every publisher’s robust list of concerns in Q4 and beyond.

Ad Lightning’s Q3 2020 Recap

Once again, this only speaks to the need of using the right ad quality partner. I won’t relitigate the significant issues that single point solutions pose for publishers but, suffice it to say, the consequences of choosing the wrong partner could be devastating. But that’s why Ad Lightning exists – to give publishers an extremely effective ad quality solution that pivots wherever and whenever needed. And no other provider in the marketplace can make such a claim. Well, at least truthfully, that is.