Brand safety is hugely important in the current climate of suspicion towards digital advertising. Frances McCann, partner manager, Blis, discusses the three key pillars of brand safety which must be considered to minimise the risk to advertisers and ensure ads are served in a safe environment.
Given growing concerns around digital advertising exhibited in this summer’s WFA report, which highlighted the suspicion of advertisers over the placement and viewability of their ads, it’s increasingly important for brands to see a return on their advertising investment. While tech giants like Google – which was recently rocked by brand safety scandals on their video sharing platform YouTube – have no real effect on the work of small- to mid-sized demand-side tech partners, it’s good to see them accepting responsibility and addressing the issues through third-party verification.
Brand safety is an industry-wide issue and needs to be tackled accordingly. There are three key pillars to brand safety, without which brands will continue to pull their digital ad spend. Demand-side partners have the responsibility of being open with brands and taking action accordingly.
1. Context: Where ads will be seen
When planning a campaign, it is key that brands understand where their ads will be displayed, with which publishers, and associated with what content. This can be achieved in a number of ways.
Third-party specialist verification, including pre- and post-bid processing, can help to ensure ads only appear in appropriate places. However, media buyers still have to monitor the performance of their suppliers.
Companies should constantly update their whitelists and blacklists to ensure that poor-quality publishers, potentially damaging content and/or poor performance do not creep into their supply pools. Publishers with low-quality data, or non-transparent traffic, can be equally just as damaging, and a takedown policy should be activated if an ad is found to be badly placed. Third-party verification alerts help with detection and provide speedy notifications of ad violation so they can be addressed immediately, whilst blocking tags provides a proactive way to stop ads ever appearing against poor content. No technology is foolproof, however, and tag blocking, for all its merits, can mistakenly block good-quality publishers. What’s more, the fact that many work by substituting blank ads for real ones means that the buyer is still left having to pay for inventory.
A display ad is defined by the Media Rating Council as having been viewed if “at least 50% of its pixels are displayed on-screen for at least one second”.
The main challenge with viewability, specifically in mobile, is measuring in-app, as it requires the adoption of third-party measurement SDKs by the publishers. There was initial resistance to the adoption of SDKs by publishers, due to the additional app cost and weight from doing so. However, with advertisers enforcing ever-stricter standards, it’s become apparent that there are significant ad dollars to be gained from getting on board. A key part of hitting viewability benchmarks on campaigns, therefore, involves the effective targeting of measurable inventory, not just viewable inventory.
Fraud occurs when advertisers are fooled by bot activity, fake URLs, specific page-level fraud, or other ways of selling false inventory that results in ads not being seen, whether by real humans or legitimate consumers – rendering them worthless.
Once again, third-party verification and real-time advertising auditing and analytics are key tools in the detection and prevention of ad fraud. The problem is that fraud is a moving target, with fraudsters fooling buyers with ever-more sophisticated methods of imitating real human behaviour. What’s clear is that publishers and buyers must work together to build safer channels for exchanging inventory: incentivising cheaper inventory can increase the risks of brand-unsafe practices, and so fraud needs to be considered when evaluating the true price of inventory.
DSPs can work with publishers to set up PMPs as they provide a direct buying channel with a publisher, or group of publishers, in the case of inventory package PMPs. These are useful, as they have a specific ID used to identify specific publishers or traffic, making them much harder to copy. This results in the creation of a unique channel with much more transparency between buyer and seller.
The next steps
It’s unlikely that these issues will be solved within the next year. They’re constantly moving targets. Everyone has a role to play when it comes to brand safety, because everyone loses out from bad practices: publishers lose money, buyers lose value from purchasing fake impressions, and this trickles all the way down to the advertiser fee. Everyone needs to cooperate and remain transparent and vigilant in identifying malpractice.
It’s difficult to outline a single formula for achieving brand safety, because each advertiser has their own requirements, meaning solutions must be specifically tailored. Ensuring brand safety may be complex, but it’s more important now than ever. If demand-side tech partners take demonstrable steps to tackle it, they can put brands’ worries at ease, while helping to foster a more positive and trusting relationship.
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