How Instagram can improve brand safety

What O2, Essence, Adform and Cedar think to Instagram letting a fake ad slip through the net, and the measures Instagram needs to take to better protect brands in the future.

The Drum recently investigated a fake Apple ad that ran on Instagram, which breached its policies, and highlighted ongoing issues over the open-door self-service advertising policy it introduced last year.

The photo-editing app was formerly known for imposing strict measures on what brands could use its ad tools but in September last year that arsenal was made available globally for all businesses, regardless of reputation. This could diminish Instagram's premium credentials, with too many ads that are not vetted for relevancy or legitimacy lowering its appeal as a destination for advertisers.

The Drum asked tech providers, agencies, and brand-side marketers how they responded to news that Instagram had allowed a scam to slip through its nets. The news didn't come as a surprise, with all agreeing Instagram opening up its API last year only worked to allow bad actors to take the stage. All were critical of Instagram's lack of rigorous ad vetting, and offered solutions of investing in tech and improving the quality of media to protect the reputation of the platform, before it is damaged beyond help.

Sam Macleod, senior marketing manager for social and content at O2:

"It’s a problem that might be more visible when you do something high profile like ripping off Apple, but when you look at the history of self-service advertising whether that is through publisher networks or Facebook there is always that chance that people could illegitimately use your brand in the wrong way. It’s not a new problem, and we certainly work very hard to make sure our accounts are verified where possible which means that our advertising continues to portray that verified status. But there will always be people who will take advantage of this, and I think it's a necessary evil for the convenience of self-serve.

Instagram in particular are behind in terms of verifying accounts, there is no way to actually request a verified account on Instagram, and so as a brand you are very much reliant on them choosing to work with your brand to give it that extra credibility. From that perspective they can safeguard a lot of their company and brand IPs by not allowing just anybody to talk about a specific brand unless there is a verified account for it.

The jury is still out on which platform out of Twitter and Instagram advertisers prefer. From a functionality perspective Instagram has a lot of features that it needs to improve upon. That said, if you are a content-rich brand Instagram is probably the strongest at the moment for building a brand message in a very visual way."

Liam Pook, mobile director for EMEA at Essence:

"Since opening up the Instagram API, examples like the fake Apple ad were inevitable. Instagram appears to have sacrificed rigorous vetting in favour of increased scale and income, which will no doubt benefit them in the long-term, but also expose them to those who wish to exploit its, still relatively new, ad platform.

It’s important to be fully aware that, despite improvements in efficiencies, algorithmic and automated methods of buying media still present challenges with regards to quality control. As an industry, we must continue to invest in technologies that help mitigate this issue and improve the quality of media for the brands we work with.”

Jakob Bak, chief technology officer and co-founder, Adform:

"First, it should be said that cases such as these happen regularly across the landscape, including at the biggest networks, DSPs and publishers. There are even worse examples such as automated distribution of malware, tricking users into inadvertently installing malware, auto-redirecting to app stores or hijacking the browser window against a ransom.

Their first line of defense should be to employ rigorous screening and asset approval processes for direct self-service buyers and requiring all demand partners to offer similar protection. This will probably not catch everything, so subscribing to monitoring services from companies such as ClarityAd and The Media Trust for the quick discovery and automatic removal of fraudulent ads is also important.

I’m sure all established players in the industry have learnt these lessons the hard way, including Adform. As the programmatic advertising industry innovates, ad fraud activity will also evolve. It is our collective responsibility, as an industry, to share knowledge and solutions and to stay vigilant, proactive and secure."

Laura Shephard, social media strategist, Cedar Communications:

"Since Instagram opened up advertising to all we have seen less native, lower quality, and often irrelevant content creeping into the feed. Some brands have gone further and seen this as an opportunity to dupe users with fake ads, as discovered by The Drum's investigation.

From my POV, this has a negative impact upon the integrity of the Instagram brand, they are held up as the home of inspirational, high-quality visual content, and by letting crass, or even, inauthentic content achieve high scale (through advertising) they jeopardise their reputation, with users, brands, and agencies.

Instagram must look to re-introduce ad vetting to maintain brand integrity, but agencies and brands must also act with integrity and consider the role and nuances of this channel when creating ad campaigns.

Whilst it is a shame to see some taking advantage of the open door policy, I am not put off using Instagram to advertise. Instead, I see this as an opportunity to gain maximum scale and impact through relevant, timely, and inspirational content. We work closely with Tesco's media agency, Mediacom, to ensure relevancy through ad targeting and we have tested and quickly learned which content is gaining maximum cut-through and engagement on this channel. This agile optimisation approach has led to us seeing Instagram ads performing equally as well as those we run on Facebook, a fantastic and unexpected result for a channel which has only recently become monetised. These results mean that Instagram will be an integral part of our social media marketing plans for 2016.

Whilst we are pleased with the results we have seen so far it will, of course, be difficult for Instagram to compete with the other big social players if the integrity of the channel slips. Ultimately, if the users get fed up with seeing obtrusive, irrelevant ads on their feed and they choose to exit, then the advertisers will follow them to wherever they go next."

Jessica Goodfellow

The Drum's media reporter covering everything from publishing, TV, social media, radio and technology.

All by Jessica