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Ad fraud is already a multi-billon dollar problem for digital advertsiers. But is the next transparency challenge data fraud?

National campaigns are increasingly reliant on modeling to target online advertising and turnout voters, which is raising concerns they could be susceptible to unscrupulous vendors using poor-quality data.

“I think the biggest topic in the next four years is going to be data fraud,” said Tim Lim, a partner at BPI, a Democratic digital firm.

He pointed to the gender segments available through some demand-side platforms (DSPs). “Where is the reliability that that data segment actually consists of the audience you’re trying to target?,” Lim said at C&E’s CampaignTech East Conference in D.C. “If you were targeting women, half of them were men.”

JC Medici, president of L2 Media, said vendors need to be transparent about what data they’re using in their modeling. In fact, some shouldn’t be offering the service at all.

“But I don’t think there will be a DSP out there that will say, ‘I can’t do modeling.’ The problem is, the more data I create, the more money I can make.”

Lim suggested campaigns do as much first-party matching with their data as possible and consider using a third-party verifier to do testing. He also advocated for campaigns to change their mindset when it comes to data.

“When it comes to persuading voters, we have to look at digital advertising much the same way we look at broadcast," said Lim. "We’re spending too much time measuring what the engagement is. The real question is, did the ad work? Did you see lift?”

Targeted Victory’s Tad Rupp disagreed. “We’re going to end up going backwards,” he said, if digital starts getting treated like broadcast because of concern about over targeting.

“Data isn’t bad, and third-party data is good. There are hundreds of ways to test this,” said Rupp. “You start to weed out the bad vendors from the good vendors.”

Precision Strategies’ Jen O’Malley Dillon said another way to improve the quality of data is through constant updating. “Nothing is static,” she said during a keynote talk at the digital conference. “Any data that we start with is a snapshot in time. You’re never reliant on just one model or one poll. You have to keep that data updated and figure out the other data points you’re pulling in.”

Meanwhile, Democrats may face an additional challenge on top of data fraud. Last cycle, they fell behind their GOP rivals in spending on digital and that is costing the party votes, according to Lim.

He noted that in contested elections in 2016, House GOP groups and candidates spent 28 percent of their budgets on digital, while House Democratic groups and candidates spent 4 percent on digital, according to post-election, publicly available data. 

“This storyline from 2012 that Democrats were so far ahead on digital advertising has totally reversed itself,” said Lim. “Going into 2018, if we have any hope of taking back the House and Senate, we have to start reaching out to voters” in digital. 

GOP strategist Phillip Stutts agreed with Lim’s figures and said his clients are already ramping up.  

“Our senate candidates last year were doing 25-30 percent of the campaign” on digital, he said.

“It’s all about the content. If you put a TV ad on digital, that almost never works anymore. You’ve got to put 10 digital ads on digital. The RNC really perfected that in the last year.”

They were making the same ad and tweaking 100 different times, Stutts said.

“This is the great lesson of 2018. The production or content team of the firm is so important to the process. There is so much content that you have to put out there.”