Rocket Fuel, the American AI-powered marketing and advertising company founded by ex-Yahoo employees, is looking to fight the massive issues of malvertising and extremist content with the help of big hitting partnerships with IBM Watson and Google.

Rocket Fuel's software-as-a-service (SaaS) demand side platform has generally been positioned for predictive marketing and advertising, but the industry is fast moving, and the company is always having to adapt to user concerns. 

© Rocket Fuel
© Rocket Fuel

Now, brand safety is as pressing a concern as personalisation and programmatic, as the rise of malvertising -- where malicious or malware-laden advertisements are injected into legitimate online advertising networks and webpages -- and extremist content on the web climb up the list of concerns for digital marketers.

The rise of malvertising and extremist content

The rise of malvertising and extremist content on the web has forced leaders from technology giants Google and Facebook to apologise to users and advertisers as of late.

Rocket Fuel CEO Randy Wootton has said: "Malvertising and those who perpetuate it have been a huge problem for the digital advertising industry for years. Rocket Fuel is committed to the fight against malicious ads and by continuing to leverage outside technologies like Google Cloud Vision API, we can take even greater strides in protecting brands, agencies and consumers."

Speaking from its London Office in Covent Garden, GM of global platform solutions and SVP international at Rocket Fuel, David Gosen, emphasised that these are industry-wide issues. "We all have a role to play in the ecosystem to be clear, transparent and collaborating to ensure that the system works," he said.


Rocket Fuel has been working with Google's Cloud Vision API to inspect the visuals in an ad for its platform users to detect and reject advertising as potentially malicious, or brand inappropriate.

This adds to what Gosen says are various layers of protection for its platform customers, to go with its existing partnerships with third-party verification specialists like IiAS and Peer39, as well as membership with the Trustworthy Accountability Group.

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Gosen believes that fighting malvertising and fraud online is a fundamental use case for machine learning because "fraud is an ever moving beast."

"Because the machine can learn, we can build black and white lists to ensure that we deliver effectiveness in a brand safe environment for the advertiser and the consumer." For example, Rocket Fuel blacklisted 100 URL's the week before this interview alone.

Rocket Fuel is also using Google Translate to automatically translate copy in ads in 104 languages to detect prohibited products and click-bait.

IBM Watson

Rocket Fuel is also working with IBM's cognitive platform Watson to allow for brands to make sure that ads aren't served against content which is critical or negative about them.

Rocket Fuel already processes and 'scores' around 200 billion bid requests -- where publishers have inventory on their site and they want to auction that -- a day. Now, by integrating with Watson's Discovery service, Gosen claims to be able to do "something we call 'brand moments'. It allows for sentiment tracking online to understand whether someone should place their advertisements on that page", he explained.

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Gosen gave an example: "Let's say there is a global airline who wants to run some online advertising. There's a story in the papers about another airline that has gone into meltdown and what a terrible time it is to fly, hypothetically.

"So Watson Discovery will track and measure in real time and update every seven minutes all of the sites they have for sentiment based on keywords, they then feed that to our AI and then we look at the best place to either bid on an ad based on the sentiment surrounding that inventory." Then the user can decide to accept, reject, bid high or low or not at all on an ad opportunity.

On the flip side, a Rocket Fuel platform user could look for negative sentiment and do competitive pitching. So "our AI would enable us to bid higher to make sure we got [that ad], so it works both ways", Gosen said.

For example, Virgin Atlantic could decide to aggressively advertise against content which is critical of a rival like British Airways to try and lure customers away during a brand crisis.

This brand moments functionality will be made generally available to Rocket Fuel customers by the end of the year.