Enough of brand safety, what about the safety of real people?
A view from Jay Rajdev

Enough of brand safety, what about the safety of real people?

DTSG certification is lowest-common denominator stuff and does not prevent brand safety breaches, warns Videology's EMEA vice-president, brand solutions.

The reporting of YouTube’s DTSG certification left us perplexed.

Leading industry figures went on record saying it’s a significant step forward; a breakthrough in increasing transparency, while reassuring advertisers that their investments are bring protected.

However, a high-profile advertiser at a conference last week damned it with faint praise by saying "it’s better than nothing", and herein lies a problem. Is better than nothing good enough?

DTSG certification is simply an audit of the processes that publishers and platforms have put in place to minimise the risk of unacceptable content adjacency, and steps they take in the event of a brand safety breach.

In reality, it amounts to nothing more than an agreed list of processes.

DTSG is what emerges when lots of vendors with different agendas get in a room. We end up with minimum standards designed for every publisher and platform to pass. Lowest-common denominator stuff.  We know this because we at Videology are DTSG certified too. We just don’t talk about it because its table stakes. What everyone should be doing anyway, regardless.  

It is not content-level vetting. It is not white-list pre-approval. It does not prevent brand safety breaches from occurring, and certificate holders face no meaningful consequences in the event of a breach.

So, does DTSG certification make you brand-safe? No, and many clients we work with agree, as more than ever employ additional verification technology. We advocate this approach, we collaborate well with the likes of Integral Ad Science, and we enable real time optimisation towards a client’s specified brand safety goals. 

But there’s a bigger issue with initiatives like DTSG, and indeed the topic of brand safety as a whole as it ignores real people.

The brand safety issue prioritises advertising environment over anything else. It side-steps the fact that audiences might still encounter hate propaganda, suicide mocking, or Tide-pod eating on a platform.  Never mind the potential impact of that content on my consumers, as long as my ad is nowhere near it, that’s fine. 

TV, on the other hand, is brand-safe because it has no choice but to be audience-safe. Why is this? It prioritises audiences over advertising.

Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code serves to not only guide broadcasters on audience safety as it relates to TV and on-demand content, but has legislative power to rigorously enforce a set of common rules. The code is very specific on the protection of audiences from harm, offence, hatred, and abuse. No three-strike rule here, only severe financial penalties for contravention, even the risk of broadcasting licence revocation. What TV has shown is brand safety is not a problem when audiences are protected by regulation. 

Self-regulation, on the other hand, leads to subjective decision-making that holds little regard for audiences. Not only has Logan Paul already been reinstated to YouTube’s advertising network, his profanity-laden Number Song is already one of the most promoted videos in educational environments on the platform.

Actions like this serve to remind us that until we see more regulation (as we are starting to see in Germany), neither audiences nor brands will ever be truly safe.

Jay Rajdev is vice-president, brand solutions, EMEA, at Videology