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Minimising the risk of display advertising misplacement

Nigel Gwilliam head of digital at the IPA discusses the plans to crack down on the misplacement of display advertising, a strategy that will also include the IAB, AOP and ISBA.

The launch of the Digital Trading Standards Group good practice has been a long time coming. Its aim is pretty straightforward: minimise the risk of display advertising misplacement. What could be so difficult about seeking to limit ads appearing adjacent to inappropriate content? Let me try and explain…

The online display ecosystem is hugely complex and fast evolving. There is a plethora of intermediary business types between agency and end publisher, and unlike any other medium, atomised inventory is traded dynamically in real time. In simple terms, every time you call up a webpage, the ad you see has been individually served and could have passed through dozens of automated hands.

This presents tremendous opportunities for advertisers who are able to find the right audience at the right frequency at the right price and track results. But it also makes minimising inadvertent ad misplacement a priority. The web is a vast fluid place where content type cannot be ensured in the same manner as with a small number of discrete media brands such as within newspapers or magazines.

Until 2011 agencies relied upon intermediary businesses following the Internet Advertising Sales House (IASH) Code of Conduct. Its purpose was to give those buying, selling or brokering internet advertising space a clear understanding of the types of inventory which can and cannot be used when fulfilling an ad insertion order. If you’re a family holiday brand, it’s likely you want to avoid adult content. If you’re an alcohol brand you have to avoid children’s content.

The Code required signatories to have their processes for providing a safe environment for brands independently audited, and once it additionally required sites represented by networks to be independently vetted, the IPA endorsed it in 2009. This all sounds pretty dry, but if you consider sites like had previously classified themselves as ‘entertainment’, you get the picture.

By 2012 it was clear that the evolution of ad exchanges, and supply and demand side platforms required a new, more inclusive but flexible solution. We knew then this wouldn’t be easy. As well as all the new players, there was a more immediate form of real time trading. On the upside, a new breed of content verification tools had emerged that aimed to vet the environment in which an ad was to be displayed.

As a first step the industry asked our auditor, ABC, to undertake a certification programme to verify the capabilities of these CV tools to drive trust and transparency. This simply sought to confirm that the Tools did what they said they did. Rather interestingly, only five agreed to this.

With this building block in place, together with the more traditional use of website blacklists and white lists, we simply had to get nine often competing business types to work towards a collaborative solution. Making full cross industry progress was always going to be an exercise in herding cats. To help focus attention, the IPA and ISBA together opted to develop a bilateral brand safety initiative to champion pioneering suppliers and challenge the status quo. It was always our hope and intention this would grow into a cross industry solution, and it borrowed heavily from early drafts of the DTSG good practice principles.

Following what has quite rightly been described as unprecedented levels of cross industry collaboration facilitated by ABC, the IPA and ISBA have worked with the IAB and AOP to publish the DTSG Good Practice Principles for minimising the risk of ad misplacement. Crucially, these JICWEBS-endorsed principles, mean committed businesses will have their advertising misplacement policies and processes verified by an independent third party.

The end result of two years hard work by all these industry bodies is a DTSG seal of compliance through which suppliers can demonstrate, shorthand, to advertisers and media buyers their commitment to brand safety.

I would urge all IPA member agencies to look for this seal when buying online display media.