Advertisers gaining advantage in battle for online brand safety

Let’s be clear: responsible advertisers don’t want their ads to appear on pirate websites. Reputational damage to a brand can cost millions of pounds. And it’s not just IP infringing websites they want to avoid at all costs, as a matter of fact they don’t want their ads appearing anywhere deemed ‘dodgy’, especially by their consumers and prospects. Instances of brands having suffered embarrassment and reputational damage as a result of an impression being served on such websites prove salutary – if expensive – lessons to all of us.

But how can advertisers avoid reputational damage?

Well, until recently there wasn’t an awful lot they could do to avoid what could be seen as an endemic risk of online display advertising, and one that has been exacerbated by programmatic bidding. But the tide is slowly turning.

Online piracy is prevalent in the UK (valued at £400 million for music and film alone), with the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit’s (PIPCU) Steve Head claiming that up to 500 international organised criminal gangs are “causing significant damage to industries that are producing legitimate, high quality, physical goods and online and digital content”. ISBA and its counterparts across the advertising community have worked closely with rights holders to strangle the unintentional revenue streams that have helped fund a proliferation of sites ripping-off copyrighted material, mainly films and music. In June the Infringing Website List (IWL) was launched by the City of London Police with the full backing of rights holders and trade bodies.

The IWL consists of websites which infringe intellectual property and copyright and have been deemed illegal by PIPCU. Advertisers are being asked to recommend use of the regularly updated IWL to their media agencies, intermediaries and ad servers, thereby giving advertisers more say over where their ads appear (or, more pertinently, don’t appear). Indeed, ISBA will be launching new Contract Clauses in September, one of which will recommend the use of the IWL to media agencies.

Launched on 24 June at the House of Commons by Mike Weatherly MP (the Prime Minister’s IP adviser), ‘Follow the Money’ is another step forward in the battle for control over the digital landscape. Running in parallel with the IWL, Follow the Money aims to disrupt the income that advertisers unwittingly provide to IP infringing websites. Step forward ISBA. As you might expect, by responding to Mr. Weatherley’s ‘Financial Options To Assist In The Battle Against Online IP Piracy’ ISBA has taken the opportunity to confirm that responsible advertisers not only understand the importance of brand protection and safety, but they are being proactive by issuing clear instructions to their media agencies.

ISBA has also been involved in the cross industry Digital Trading Standards Group, which has recently established cross-industry ‘Good Practice Principles’, aimed at making sure that ad servers and intermediaries, using black and white lists as well as Content Verification (CV) tools, do their very best to ensure that ads don’t appear on illegal or inappropriate websites. In fact five CV tools have now been independently verified by the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) in the UK. 29 organisations have so far indicated their intention to become signatories to the principles and 13 have gained independent accreditation, allowing them to use a Seal of Approval.

ISBA has also responded to Mike Weatherley’s Discussion Paper on Search Engines and Piracy. Here he seeks to examine the role search engines play in inadvertently guiding consumers towards illegal content and how well placed they are to become part of the solution.

ISBA and its members will be involved in the Follow The Money Steering Committee Working Group to develop this UK initiative. We are gaining ground in the battle over where our ads appear and, between us, we hope to hit the pirates where it hurts the most.

Advice for advertisers:

  • Ensure your media agencies understand how important online brand safety is to you
  • Ask them to confirm their online brand safety policy and which tools they are using
  • Ask them to use the IWL
  • Ask them to use companies that have gained the Good Practice Principles’ Seal of Approval
  • Ask them to use CV tools that have been independently verified by ABC.

David Ellison is ISBA's marketing services manager.

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