Brands are responsible for their brand safety, not agencies or providers
A view from Richard Sharp

Brands are responsible for their brand safety, not agencies or providers

Ultimately, advertising can only be played safe when all parties involved understand it is not just about performance and efficiency, writes Richard Sharp, vice president EMEA at Grapeshot.

It’s been a hell of a tough year for YouTube. Its ongoing brand safety issues has caused chaos for the digital advertising industry. Publishers, media agencies and advertisers are entwined on a battlefield of blame. But let’s take a step back.

In programmatic ad-buying, theoretically, brands have an infinite number of tools at their disposal to prevent their ads from appearing in brand-damaging environments such as pornography, gambling, fake news, or hate comments. You would therefore think that a simple blacklisting of such pages should be sufficient. But, in reality, this is not the case.

Brands are responsible for their own safe environments

If advertising appears in a bad environment, the culprits are quickly found: either the publisher is responsible, or the blame falls to the media agency that booked the ad placement. But this isn’t right.

The problem is almost always homemade. Brands should be tasked to develop individual guidelines and then communicate them to their employees and service providers.

Often, however, there are campaign goals and guidelines that torpedo each other. For instance, if you want to buy cheap and high reach, the majority of the time it won’t be within premium inventory, meaning the environment will not always be conducive to the brand.

Communication between brands, media agencies and providers is key

Brands must take it upon themselves to decide which parameters and topics they wish to be seen within and what they expect in terms of transparency and quality. In turn, this helps in the selection of the right partners and service providers, while also being an important framework for a brand’s own employees.

Ultimately, advertising can only be played safe when all parties involved understand it is not just about performance and efficiency. And with the right technology, it can still be efficient and successful.

Range and secure environment must not exclude each other

When it comes to the performance and reach of a campaign, brands either go to one extreme or the other in terms of brand safety; they protect their brand too much or too little. Unfortunately, both hinder the efficiency of a brand’s campaign.

For instance, if a brand plays it too safe using blacklists as well as blocking entire pages of specific categories, this will have a negative effect on the range. If then the campaign does not perform as expected, the brand’s presence fades more and more in the background.

Newer technologies categorise web pages and their environments into segments and then evaluate all content, not just individual words. The entire context of the page is therefore analysed and related to the blacklist, so that pages are not excluded just because they use a wrong word.

For example, if a customer does not want to appear within pages about "golf" in a sporting reference, advertising in environments about the car "Golf" may still be interesting and relevant for the brand.

Transparency and control are the key to brand safety

Even if there is a growing trend of brands building technology in-house, media purchasing is still more often than not, outsourced. It is therefore still crucial to consider brand safety when selecting partners. It has never been more important to ensure partners offers a transparent monitoring of ad placements. Only then, will the advertiser be able to understand where their advertising actually ran.