Programmatic has been a boon for marketers wanting to execute buys with surgical precision. There’s a downside though: brand safety.
Without the proper oversight, a brands’ ads can appear next to objectionable content. Most consumers don’t understand programmatic, so they assume the brand bankrolls such content.
This has been happening more and more recently. In February, Jaguar Land Rover yanked its digital ads after a Times of London probe. The investigation showed Jaguar’s YouTube ads inadvertently funded extremists and Isil supporters. Jaguar wasn’t the only one. The Times found Mercedes-Benz and Sandals Resort did the same.
After that, PepsiCo, Walmart and Starbucks pulled ads from YouTube, then parent company Google apologized. Even so, the Wall Street Journal found ads from those brands and others continued to run before racist and antisemitic content. A Toyota pre-roll ad ran before an antisemitic video, for instance.
If Google can’t navigate such terrain, who can? The answer is a trusted partner who has already been addressing the brand safety issue. Such a partner also doesn’t act as seller and supplier the way Google does.
The brand safety issue started gaining traction late last year. An eMarketer study found 60% of ad agency professionals were fearful about programmatic buy quality. That study took place before the election. But shortly after that, the issue of fake news and advertisers’ part in funding such content started making headlines.
Generally, there are two solutions to the problem: whitelisting and blacklisting. The former, which requires making a list of ‘good’ sites, works well, but also drastically limits the scale of such buys. The latter is difficult since websites generate so quickly that keeping track is like playing Whac-A-Mole. It takes some skill in other words to blacklist correctly.
Plenty of companies can’t or won’t use blacklists. As a result, a buyer might ask for premium sports sites and expect ESPN, BBC Sport and Fox Sports. But what they actually get is placement on junky sites that are only loosely related to sports.
That’s why the choice of a trusted partner is crucial. We work with DoubleVerify, for instance, to ensure that programmatic buys are brand-safe. DoubleVerify knows that brand safety doesn’t happen by flipping a switch. Instead, it requires constant vigilance and the right expertise. In December, for instance, when many other vendors were still scrambling to make sense of fake news, DoubleVerify released a tool to exclude such sites from programmatic buys.
A real threat
Brand safety is a real issue, not media hype. Terror-related content is on the rise. Grapeshot reports that terrorism content has trebled over the last three months. DoubleVerify also reports a big jump in such content.
That doesn’t mean this is a hopeless situation. If not for walled gardens, brand safety would be a lot easier. Under threats to its ad business, Google may be implementing changes in the future. In the meantime, advertisers have other options to keep their brands safe.
Jonathan Gardner, Vice-President, Communications, Turn.
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