Digital Advertising

Safety first: Why brand safety is front and centre in 2018

Rubicon Project


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March 15, 2018 | 6 min read

“Safety first” is a cautionary maxim you might hear on the tube, while installing a child car-seat, or learning how to drive. Recently, it’s been a phrase used to forewarn those buying digital ads online. Marketers have been cautioned to mind the gap between expectations and delivered results.

It’s widely recognized that the seismic growth of the digital ecosystem has brought with it the need for better control and improved safety measures. Fraudulent activity and poor inventory quality can siphon off ad dollars and compromise performance. According to The Verge, one in five ad-serving websites is visited exclusively by fraud bots. While it’s wise to keep such claims in context, there’s no doubt that fraud is indeed a serious problem the industry must continue to confront. These fraudulent practices handicap the creation of a fluid marketplace, one where everyone wins.

Brand safety in 2018

Brand safety in 2018

Beyond fraud, poor ad placement continues to be every brand name’s nightmare: no one wants to appear next to inappropriate content or fake news. In a programmatic world where advertising transactions occur in milliseconds, protecting brand safety requires vigilance across the media supply chain. Just as neighbourhood watches keep properties safe, it’s time we create our own systems of protection online.

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In this, every player has a role. When we do business, there are parameters within which we must abide; we’re digital citizens who are responsible for upholding best practices. Here are some measures we can take as a community to better protect ad quality and stop the usual suspects like bots, fake URLs, and false inventory from compromising brand safety.

Whitelist sites and apps

With a constant stream of new, ad-bearing sites and apps entering the ecosystem, keeping up with fast-moving fraudsters is a perpetual challenge. The simple solution to avoiding placements on unsuitable sites, blacklisting, can’t keep out the shape-shifting riff-raff. A more effective answer is whitelisting,a list of acceptable sites to run inventory on, or choosing the specific environments where ads can served safely. Just as airports and public spaces require pat-downs, we need to ensure everyone “let in” to the public venue has been vetted.

While this sounds like an impractical amount of work for buyers, it doesn’t need to be, if brands can rely on the exchanges they work with to enforce a rigorous inventory approval process.

Embrace the IAB Gold Standard

Spoofing is the bane of every marketer, buyer and seller online. In this scenario, the seller misrepresents the inventory domain: while buyers think they’re getting the original label, they’re really getting a knock-off. Widespread adoption of the IAB’s recently announced ads.txt specification will help prevent several common forms of spoofing and misrepresentation.

Organisations can also go a step further and become signatories with JICWEBS. This year, Rubicon Project met the industry-agreed standards to reduce the risk of both ad misplacement and exposure to ad fraud. In our continued effort to provide a safe, clean and well-lit marketplace to our clients, we partnered with JICWEBS to show our support for best practices.

Explore third-party partnerships

There are many viewability and third-party verification tools that can provide measurement, as well as assurance to marketers. Third-party vendors can offer safety scores, and even check placements at render time in a user’s browser to verify viewability.

Forging strategic partnerships is a vital part of Rubicon Project’s holistic approach to brand safety. In conjunction with manual review of each account, site, and app, as well as first-party technology and controls, third-party verification adds an extra layer of confidence. Rubicon Project has a longstanding, relationship with White Ops, a leading provider of anti-fraud services for the digital advertising market, to keep our exchange secure.

Ultimately, in the ad tech universe, we could all be better neighbours. Brands need to have the confidence that they are buying brilliant digital campaigns, in safe environments with great performance - and we all have a role to play in this. Demand-side partners, exchanges and buyers alike must all come together to not only prioritise brand safety, but put it first and foremost. In a secure, safe environment, everyone wins.

By Steve Wing, managing director UK & Nordics at Rubicon Project.

Brand Safety will define digital advertising in 2018 - don’t miss Rubicon Project’s brand safety panel at Advertising Week Europe, March 19.

Digital Advertising

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Rubicon Project is an online advertising technology firm based in Los Angeles, California.

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