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Google inks brand safety accord with ComScore to provide third-party measurement

Google appears to be making good on earlier promises

Amid a wave of undesirable headlines around brand safety following The Times’ ‘advertisers funding terrorism’ series of investigations, Google (which suffered major PR damage during the affair) has announced a deal with ComScore to provide independent verification that its inventory is brand safe.

The deal was announced today (April 5) with the pair claiming the tie-up will provide “independent verification to provide advertisers with trusted and transparent reporting of YouTube”, this means that brands booking media slots on the service can use ComScore’s validated Campaign Essentials (vCE) suite to assess whether or not content their ads will be served next to is appropriate.

The technology performs this task by continuously monitoring patterns within text content to identify the brand safety of a given ad context - both in general and for specific campaigns, on both mobile and desktop platforms.

"Monitoring online content for brand safety is a complex challenge, particularly in an environment that has the vast scale and growth of YouTube," said Dan Hess, executive vice president of products at ComScore.

"We're delighted to see Google taking further action to monitor and increase brand safety, and appreciate its vote of confidence in selecting comScore to be part of this initiative."

Google has been at the epicenter of the recent outcry over brand safety, with the furore originally sparked by an investigation from News Corp's editorial team which revealed that ads served on its video-sharing site YouTube were served against inappropriate content.

This move sparked outrage among the mainstream media causing each of the big six holding companies to assure their clients they were acting on the matter, as brands on both sides of the Atlantic suspended advertising on the platform.

In the immediate aftermath of the outcry, Google announced plans to introduce a suite of new tools and measures designed to restore confidence in its services, with Google’s chief business officer Phillip Schindler claiming: “We’ll offer advertisers and agencies more transparency and visibility on where their ads are running, and in the coming months we’ll expand availability of video-level reporting to all advertisers."

The announcement of the tie-up with ComScore is a sign that Google is making good on its promise and also comes the same day as it announced the continued roll out of its Programmatic Guaranteed offering for both media buyers and owners.

The online advertising behemoth also used the announcement to trumpet how its updates had led to improved ad placement, viewability, plus enhanced efficiencies, as well as increased integration with third parties.

The Drum spoke with an assortment of industry experts to gauge their reaction on whether or not the April 5 updates were a direct response to its recent bad publicity, with the widespread conclusion being that Google's overtures should not strictly be viewed through such a narrow lens.

Commenting on the updates to DoubleClick’s Programmatic Guaranteed offering, Rob Rasko, chair of the 614 Group, said he believes the recent announcements are an overture to the wider ecosystem, not necessarily for the purposes of clearing its name in the brand safety debate, but as a reaction to the increased rise of header bidding.

Last week it emerged that Google was in the process of removing its ‘last look advantage’ for ad auctions in its DoubleClick AdExchange, and Rasko believes that today’s announcement come as a reaction to the rise of header bidding among publishers.

“I think this has more to do with the header bidding discussion… they [Google] are certainly feeling pressure with companies adopting header bidding,” he said.

Noting that the move is a welcome one, but one that the market had been calling upon from Google for some time, he added: “It’s an important step for Google to get more involved in programmatic direct and header bidding. The market has been asking this for a long time, and it’s definitely an important step that they are launching these products, but it does show that Google is not ahead of the curve… I would tie this to the last move by Google but they are trying to make their ecosystem and tools more accessible to publishers.”

Paul Gubbins, an independent adtech consultant, cast doubt on the theory that the timing and wording of Google’s press release was a deliberate overture to brands and advertisers in the wake of the recent furor.

“I would be hesitant to say that, but it has been getting a lot of traction, but it Google addressing the fact that big brands want to increase their spend in programmatic, and this is helping the transition of the I/O into programmatic,” he explained.

For Gubbins, the deal shows that Google is trying to enforce that its DoubleClick offering is now longer a clearance house for ad space that would otherwise go unsold.

“There’s two things, if you look at the evolution of programmatic it’s all been about biddable, and that mechanic has really suited DR advertisers with hard performance metrics to hit, but as more and more brands look to use the efficiencies of programmatic, then Google has had to move to show them that less risk involved. Uncertainty is the by-product of a biddable environment."

For the past 24 months there has been a lot of speculation over automated guaranteed, but that has only been a workflow function that helps improve the efficiencies of the process, and could not technically be termed as programmatic, as this process was not based on the Open RTB standard, according to Gubbins.

“That was one way to get brands to move their budgets into automated, but it was just a workflow automation, which removed the process of signing I/Os but they couldn’t leverage the efficiencies of the biddable pipes as it was not based on the Open RTB standard,” he said.

However, the rise of programmatic guaranteed has essentially leapfrogged open automated guaranteed, as it enables the buyer to essentially cherry-pick inventory by leveraging first and third party data sources, as a result more and more brand advertisers are beginning to trust the technology.

“All the big SSPs are starting to support it, and their narrative means big brands can transition more of their big [branding] budgets, as it enables the publishers to guarantee the inventory the buyers want, and buyers get a guarantee that premium publishers are using the auction,” added Gubbins.

However, Ashley Swartz, Furious Corp, chief executive officer, takes a less positive view, and says the efforts (while likely welcome among publishers) are unlikely to shift the dial significantly when it comes to how publishers perceive DFP when it comes to monetizing their inventory.

“Despite Google’s efforts to improve its offering to appeal to premium content publishers it will still struggle to be seen as anything other than a sales channel for remnant or experimental inventory given the rigid nature of their ad decisioning,” she added.

“The reality it is still that you can’t be all things to everybody,” noted Swartz, adding that programmatic pipes are essentially built for the monetization of adtech players, not necessarily premium media owners.

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Ronan Shields

I'm the digital editor at The Drum, and cover adtech and martech. Prefer news and analysis, over opinion pieces. Current fascination(s) are blockchain and media futures trading; also curious about transhumanism on a personal basis. NYC-based, but really London Irish.

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