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Jimmy Carr's Quality Media Gameshow

Xaxis brought together experts at Advertising Week Europe to discuss the serious issues of brand safety, viewability, and ad fraud - hosted by comedian Jimmy Carr

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Brands and agencies face an important challenge to achieve consistently high quality media placements in evolving, and increasingly hostile, online environments.

The threats range from brand safety, where ads appear alongside inappropriate content; viewability, when an ad may not have the opportunity to be fully seen, and ad fraud, where there’s the risk an ad might not appear at all.

And when considering the impact of an ad largely depends on where it appears, this becomes an essential consideration. Or as Jimmy Carr explained to a packed session at Advertising Week Europe: "You don’t want to be advertising on Pornhub if you are Mothercare."

Carr moderated the Xaxis-curated Quality Street Gameshow, involving a light-hearted quiz that delved into some serious issues with media industry experts – incorporating an advertiser perspective from Tesco and a publisher perspective from Guardian News & Media.

Here are the key take-outs.

Brand safety – who’s responsible?
Nobody wants their ad to appear in the wrong setting. The New Zealand terror attacks acted as a reminder as to how quickly media plans can be overcome, as most brands wouldn’t choose to be associated with such editorial content.

The incident also showed how inconsistently brand safety can be managed. Some publications immediately pull advertising inventory when a terrorism attack or natural disaster occurs, whereas other media outlets run advertising alongside negative news reports.

Nick Hewat, commercial director at Guardian News & Media, said that while brands had lists of keywords they did not want to appear next to, these were inconsistently adhered to on-and-offline. Also, while some brands would choose to not appear next to content including words, like "Brexit" and "parliament," these typically drive high traffic where people are spending most of their time.

The problem for brands is that they get the blame from customers, according to Nick Ashley, head of media and campaign planning at Tesco. "Increasingly, advertisers are being made to pay for technology to make it safe. We want publishers to do more and we want to trust them."

Tackling fraud
Ad fraud is the theft of brand advertising investment through the generation of false traffic and activity. Fraudsters have a number of ways to deceive the industry, including bots, click farms, ad injection, domain spoofing, and cookie stuffing.

The prospect of advertising revenue being syphoned by spoof sites in Russia or the Far East is real. Thankfully, there are initiatives in place such as the IAB Gold Standard, and ads.txt which works to identify certified ad sellers.

Publishers and vendors are encouraged to adopt these industry wide standards, which also include the brand safety principles set by JICWEBS’ Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG) and The Coalition for Better Ads, which focus on consumer experience. Legal remedies can be hard to achieve, however the City of London police and EU legislation also actively monitor IP activity and disinformation.

A zero tolerance approach is necessary, said Paul Rowlinson, managing director of GroupM Digital, responsible for Xaxis. "The internet is an incredibly complex and fast-moving environment, and the threat of fraud is ever-present. GroupM implements rigorous internal processes for all media buying that goes well beyond the industry standards when it comes to vetting ad placements.

"It’s a continuous process that requires the application of the right technology, and the commitment of human resources to identify potential threats and shut them off before they become an issue. We take a zero-tolerance and proactive approach to minimise the risk to the lowest possible levels for our clients."

Third party verification tools can play a part, said Diane Alagar, digital partner at Wavemaker. "We get daily reports on viewability and ad fraud rates. Buyers are looking for that level of detail so they can address any issues with publishers."

What’s being done?
Platforms such as YouTube and Facebook started to take notice of advertiser concerns two years ago when advertising appearing on terrorist sites led to campaigns being pulled.

However, Steve Chester, head of media at ISBA said the industry couldn’t go on marking its own homework. "Platforms are moving from a world where they determine the rules to one where there is more independent oversight. Regulation will come down the line."

But in such a dynamic environment, there remains a concern that legislation will not keep up, said Rowlinson. "It can’t be just about legislation because it will always be behind technology. Agencies, publishers, and platforms have to work together to be our own police force for advertisers."

Craft media buying
In some ways, the problems of inappropriate content and fraudulent activity have helped traditional media, which is emerging as a safe haven. "When brand safety became an issue, we saw a return," said Hewat. "Advertisers started asking where their ads were running."

According to Ashley, programmatic has become too much about the audience. Media should consider the mix of the people consuming the content, the channel, and the context. "The craft of media planning is returning." Tesco achieved great success for its Finest ready meals by working with Sky, he added.

Ad viewability
Change is coming in regards to ad viewability too with new, more consistent standards enabling advertisers to know the inventory they purchased had the opportunity to be seen.

"The digital industry has failed in not knowing whether an ad has been seen," said Chester. "But it has advanced and we are raising the standards this year to 100% of ads being verified as seen. Brand advertising needs this."

Making media quality the priority
Media quality will continue to be a major source of concern for brands looking to protect their reputations and achieve a strong return on media.  

As a result, Rowlinson believes agencies need to ensure they remain ahead of the curve on this issue: "As the barrier to entry for content creators is so low, agencies need to respond with standards that are unwaveringly high. GroupM set our own standards that go beyond those of the IAB. Publishers and platforms must be thoroughly vetted, with ad placements in full view and alongside appropriate content at all times."

Rowlinson added: "The only way to achieve high quality media placement is through due diligence and investment from brands, agencies, and publishers. Otherwise advertisers run the risk of damage to their reputations through unsuitable ad placements and becoming the victims of fraudsters with non-existent domains."

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Jimmy Carr's Quality Media Gameshow