Keeping brands safe in a programmatic world
A view from Nick Morley

Keeping brands safe in a programmatic world

What needs to be done to safeguard brands online, by Integral Ad Science's managing director

Recent revelations that major brands and political parties have inadvertently funded terrorism through their online advertising highlights just how easy it is for premium advertising messages to appear alongside unsavoury, and even extremist, content. 

The initial furore caused advertising platforms, advertisers, and agencies to sit up and rethink their strategies. Fast forward three months and we’re left questioning whether the industry has become too complacent, too soon? It’s clear that marketers are split on how to move forward – while Marks & Spencer, Aviva, and Pepsi are continuing to withhold adspend from YouTube until guaranteed protection is in place, McDonald’s is one brand that has reinstated its advertising.

Just as Google began to take significant steps to allay advertiser concerns, a wave of politically misaligned content surrounding the UK general election further cemented the need for appropriate measures to be introduced.

Security measures to date

Following an initial crisis meeting held between Google’s UK Director, ISBA, and a number of British advertisers, the most significant improvement implemented by Google has been to block the delivery of brand ads on YouTube from channels with less than 10,000 total views.

Recognising the importance of human input to help deliver ads inline with brand requirements and expectations, the company has also employed a large number of staff to monitor inappropriate video content to prevent the possibility of advertisers bidding on unsavoury inventory. Finally, Google has revised its rules around categorising online content according to specific genres and channels, minimising the risk of misplacement.

In light of these measures, two-thirds of brand advertisers confirmed they would increase their digital media spend this year, and nine in ten are prepared to invest more in video over more traditional (static or text-based) ad formats.

Despite these glimpses of positivity, Integral Ad Science’s H2 2016 Media Quality Report, found that the overall rate of video brand risk fell from 11.2% to 8.9%, this still means one in every 11 ads are susceptible to the possibility of misplacement. So how can the industry continue to work together to improve brand safety levels and minimise risk of future exposure?

Room for improvement

Firstly, advertising platforms and networks need to ensure transparency in all aspects of their relationship with brands and agency groups in order to improve campaign visibility and to restore confidence in the advertising supply chain.

Integrations and partnerships with leading advertising technology developers are beginning to make this a reality across the industry, and on YouTube, for instance, we are already beginning to see an improvement through the implementation of improved, MRC-accredited reporting metrics, providing an indication of where ads are likely to appear.

Using advanced keyword analysis and content categorisation, brands will begin to be protected across clearly defined risk areas – for example, adult content and violence. Given the subjective nature of brand safety, such categories should also be assessed and flagged according to varying degrees of risk – i.e. low, moderate, high, and very high – depending on a brand’s particular values or levels of tolerance within each risk area.

In addition, given the global reach of some of the biggest brand campaigns today, it is vital that emerging brand safety tools include the capability of detecting and analysing the specific language of on-page content to ensure the most suitable placements (regardless of territory), as well as geo-compliance.

In the wake of 2017’s second wave of misplaced and misaligned ads threatening to tarnish the reputation of some of the world’s biggest brands, it’s clear there is still more to do. But with everyone on board – from advertisers and agency groups, to major advertising networks, content platforms, and technology developers – we can help make the digital advertising industry a safer place for all.

Nick Morley is managing director of Integral Ad Science

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