Mobile Ad Fraud Series: What is Ad Stacking?

By John Koetsier January 10, 2016


Most app marketers are rightly concerned about the levels of mobile ad fraud we are seeing in the market today. This series of posts is designed to help marketers understand the many different approaches that fraudsters take in order to steal money from your brand.

They also provide advice and tips to help you protect your business from app fraud, and review some of the ways that Singular helps its clients detect and prevent app fraud.

Mobile ad fraud is every marketer’s business. And savvy, data-driven marketers know it. A recent survey of enterprise app marketers showed that almost 80% were concerned about the costs of fraud to their businesses.

This post talks about one form of mobile app fraud — ad stacking. It will then given you both practical tips on mitigating fraud risks and provide a top-line explanation on the steps that Singular takes to mitigate the risks fraudsters impose on got its clients.

Ad Stack: A Stack of Ads

Whether in-app or on the mobile web, advertisers purchase impressions with the expectation that they will be visitor to users when they are deployed. While a media company cannot really guarantee that the user will pay attention to a message, they have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that every ad impression that a brand purchases is actually seen by person on their mobile device.


Download the Singular Fraud Index

Singular has just released its 2017 Singular Fraud Index, which reveals the mobile industry’s Most Secure Ad Networks. The Index is the first study of its kind to examine ad fraud data collected from multiple ad fraud prevention solutions, each with its own set of proprietary detection methods. Drawing on this unique dataset, the study exposes the effectiveness of today’s most common anti-fraud mechanisms as well as the 25 ad networks driving the lowest rates of digital advertising fraud.

Get your free copy here.


We call that expectation — that an ad can be seen by a user — viewability, and it is a very hot topic in the advertising industry. Until a few years ago, most advertisers believed that the ads they paid for were actually being seen by people. But then, some rather eye-opening data were published that indicated that this was simply not the case. There were and are a variety of reasons for this, including:

  • Bots drive a large percentage of web traffic. Security firm Imperva estimated that more than half — 52% — of web traffic was bots.
  • Ad loads sometimes fail, or take to long to display before the user moves on to another web page
  • Many ads on a page deploy “below the fold” or outside the screen of the user
  • Many media companies deliberately buy inexpensive placements at the bottom of web pages in order to be the last ad impression that loads on a page, so they can get “last view credit” for subsequent conversions. Actually, the practice became so common that for a time, the most expensive ad on the page was at the bottom!

These are all “legal” reasons why an ad for an iPhone or Android app might not be viewable, provided that a media provider has not specifically promised 100% viewability. We’re not suggesting they are ethical or acceptable — clearly they aren’t. But in all cases, this advertising at least have a chance of being seen.  

By contrast, ad stacking is a technique that is clearly illegitimate. In ad stacking, a series of ads are literally piled on top of one another, so that a single ad placement can register more than one ad load. When the ads are stacked, only the top ad in the stack is actually visible — the others are hidden by the top ad, even though they will register as displayed. The other impressions are billed to advertisers as if they were available to be seen, even though there is no possibility that they were.

Ad Stacking and Media Buying Models

Ad stacking is most commonly used when an advertiser pays by the impression (CPM), rather than via a buying model that guarantees performance like cost-per-install (CPI) or cost-per-click (CPC).

Protecting Yourself

Ad stacking is one of the many ways that app businesses can be affected by mobile advertising fraud. Here are a few strategies to help you detect mobile ad fraud and protect your business from the costs of mobile ad fraud.

  • Anti-Fraud Tools: Some attribution and analytics suites offer tools to help marketers identify and prevent fraudsters. Singular, for example, automatically offers many protections. Such tools may use signals like IP addresses, click and install pattern detection, and activity monitoring to pinpoint campaigns, partners and buying models that are driving suspicious app installs.
  • Common Sense: Marketers must constantly resist the temptation to sign up for media deals that sound too good to be true. A deal that sounds too good to be true is likely to result in low-quality app installs.
  • Focusing Resources on Trusted Partners: Most brands spend a great deal of money on installs. It makes sense, then, to focus dollars on partners that you know and trust.
  • Leveraging Retention and Uninstall Data: By comparing the set of user traffic attracted by different media companies, brands can learn a lot about user quality. Low user retention or high uninstall rates increasingly are seen as signals of possible fraudulent activity.
  • Use ROI Analytics as a Primary KPI:.When app publishers measure and optimize to ROI, you get both a true picture of the value of the users that you are driving, and a powerful way to optimize your advertising investments.

All that said, truly protecting your business and your consumers against fraud represents a major commitment of time and resources. That’s why so many companies look for attribution and analytics solutions that offer anti-fraud protections as part of their core services.

Singular and Mobile Ad Fraud

Singular offers an industry-leading fraud solutions that you can learn more about right here. For a capsule summary of some of the steps we take to detect and prevent fraud for our clients, read on.

With Singular, app publishers have visibility into ad performance, media investment, and revenue data. That provides unique advantages in detecting and protecting clients from fraud. Our fraud detection and fraud prevention technologies are a mix of the best known techniques today as well unique proprietary techniques only we can offer.


Singular’s New Anti-Fraud Improvements

Learn about Singular’s new Enhanced Fraud Protections. See how working with Singular can help protect and defend your business.


Singular monitors the flow of data into our platform, looking for signs of fraudulent activity such as illegitimate networks, IP addresses, devices, mismatches in targeting, and more. Further, Singular verifies every in-app purchase (IAP) with the appropriate app store to ensure that you recognize revenue from every reported purchase. With full uninstall insights right in the platform, Singular helps you identify sources and campaigns with suspiciously high uninstall rates. These are just a few of the ways that Singular helps protect our clients from mobile ad fraud.

Learn more about our anti-fraud offerings and our entire unified ROI analytics offerings by clicking here.

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