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Brand Safe Brand Safety Programmatic Advertising

How to ensure brand safety when running in-app mobile ads



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November 17, 2022 | 7 min read

Reputation is crucial in the ever-competitive world of business — and even more so when your brand’s identity is put in the hands of third-party advertisers

In this article, mobile marketing specialists at Remerge examine the risks and safety measures that businesses should consider when running in-app ad campaigns with external advertising partners.

In-app advertising and how it works

With mobile devices accounting for over half of all internet traffic, app usage naturally accounts for a sizable portion of it. This makes in-app advertising an essential channel for any brand’s marketing mix. Promoting your products or services on mobile can be daunting though. There’s an infinite amount of ad space to choose from when you consider the sheer number of apps out there — and negotiating terms with each one of them would be far too time-consuming. Brands looking towards in-app advertising can simplify the process by working with third-party entities known as Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) who operate on an ad exchange, much like a centralized auction or marketplace for in-app ad placements.

DSPs simultaneously monitor thousands of apps in order to help brands locate relevant users to display mobile ads to. Based on the available data points for each individual user, DSPs use intelligent algorithms to evaluate how closely an app user resembles the intended target audience for a brand’s ad. The greater the perceived conversion potential of the user, the more money the algorithm will be willing to bid for the ad space. This automated process (known as programmatic advertising) gives brands access to an enormous pool of customers they can advertise to — and the algorithm ensures that the ads are shown to the right people, at the right time, in the right place, for the most cost-effective price. All of this typically happens within just a few seconds and occurs every time an ad is shown.

What are the risks of in-app advertising?

Although automation makes many aspects of the ad buying process more efficient, it does come with a series of risks that could negatively affect a brand’s reputation — or their ad spend budgets. As far as image is concerned, targeting parameters need to be carefully defined before the launch of a campaign so that a brand’s ads are not displayed in unsuitable places at inappropriate times, because this could damage their reputation. One example would be if a brand’s products or services were advertised in apps containing explicit content. Certain ad placements could also negatively impact business relationships or cause conflicts of interests if they are accidentally shown within the apps of partners or competitors. Only human intervention can recognize and resolve these issues, so working with a diligent advertising partner is key.

Another risk associated with in-app advertising is mobile ad fraud, which poses financial risks to a brand’s advertising budgets. Fraud exists in several forms, with the most common of which being ‘click spamming’ or ‘click injection’. Under normal circumstances, the clicking of an ad is a strong signal that the user of the app is interested in the thing that is being advertised. The danger is that some apps may be owned by fraudsters who initiate fake ad clicks without the user knowing. The apps are then able to generate illegitimate income from the ad placements that they are selling — even when the user hasn’t seen the ad. This leads to high (but fraudulent) click rates, giving brands and their DSPs misleading data about clicks that ultimately won’t convert to down-funnel actions such as purchases.

How to mitigate the risks and protect your brand when advertising on mobile

For any businesses looking into the complex world of in-app advertising, it’s important to partner with a respected DSP who understands brand reputation. A DSP will ensure your brand is well-protected by following industry guidelines (such as those outlined by the Interactive Advertising Bureau). They will also implement their own content verification processes. Be sure to work with DSPs who have clear attribution methodologies and provide transparent reporting. Those who don’t might be inflating their campaign results with conversions from users who could have converted organically, and some DSPs may even facilitate fraudulent click behavior to artificially boost their performance.

Trustworthy DSPs should have extensive ‘blocklists’ of apps to avoid. These lists are made up of apps that are known to publish inappropriate content, or have previously demonstrated suspicious click behavior that might fraudulently use up advertising budgets. These blocklists are comprehensive because they are formed from the DSP’s data and learnings across their entire ad-buying history, so partnering with an experienced DSP is a must. For added peace of mind, brands can also provide DSPs with their own blocklists, detailing specific app genres to avoid or even getting as granular as the names of individual apps where they don’t want their ads to appear.

Another way brands can protect themselves and their ad spend, is to partner with DSPs who have robust anti-fraud measures in place. Carefully monitoring campaigns and being able to detect fake ad clicks across untrustworthy apps ensures that ad budgets are spent effectively and that the attribution of ad performance is as accurate as possible. Before partnering with a DSP, you should always inquire about their anti-fraud measures. It’s also useful to know what third-party data integrations are available, how detailed their campaign reports are, and which methodologies they use for measuring campaign success. This makes it easier to establish clear KPIs for each campaign and designate ad budgets accordingly.

How do the experts view the road ahead?

Nick Barnett, principal solutions engineer at the Berlin-based DSP Remerge explains: “Remerge focuses on retargeting, which is naturally insulated from most forms of fraud because we target users who we already know to be genuine. This makes Remerge a very safe option in terms of maintaining brand image. As the industry moves ever-closer towards privacy-first processes, ensuring regulatory compliance to protect our clients’ reputations is more important than ever. While many in the industry search for alternative ways to retarget an increasingly anonymous pool of mobile users, Remerge leads the pack with their work on longer-term solutions to address the technical challenges of brand-safe and privacy-compliant retargeting campaigns.”

Remerge CEO Pan Katsukis adds that: “Brand safety is even stronger within the app ecosystem because Apple and Google have established strict approval processes that apps must pass before they can be displayed in the app stores. Going forward, their new privacy frameworks will make some forms of fraud like click-injection less viable than before because access to the framework is more curated — so being an app-centric DSP adds another level of security to the brand safety that we offer our clients.”

Brand Safe Brand Safety Programmatic Advertising


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