Leave Google alone - it’s time for media agencies to step up

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The last few months have been an awakening for advertisers about the risk of programmatic, but the risk has been there since the beginning.

Nothing has changed, other than brand safety becoming the object of mainstream media panic, and even a recent point of focus for the UK government.

The media’s focus on the dangers of programmatic is useful to the extent that it encourages greater vigilance within the industry. However, I think too much scrutiny is being placed on Google: it is the agencies that need to take responsibility.

For us, the issue of ad misplacement - in terms of brand safety and ad fraud - has been at the top of our agenda since we began; we were born during the programmatic era, so our approach has always been shaped by an awareness of its power, and its pitfalls. For us, this isn’t news nor is it a reason to panic - we already have a rigorous governance system in place.

Six step process

At Brainlabs, we employ a six step process for minimising ad misplacement. After applying Google’s blocklists, we then add our own and our client’s custom lists. We use Adloox for pre-bid blocking, which then monitors the ads once live. Our last step is to manually vet sites, continually refining our process to maximise safety.

YouTube can be your best friend

Much of the news has focused on ads served on inappropriate YouTube videos. This is a particular problem, as some channels are able to avoid detection by using misleading tags. Here’s how we overcome this issue:

We only serve on YouTube, not on any of its partners (sites with YouTube embedded on them).

We only use one DSP, which allows us to carefully control where we are actually serving ads. This is a different world to the murky waters of multiple or ‘meta-DSPs’

We don’t advertise on ‘new’ videos: before anything is set live we block any new content through blocking "Content not yet rated" in our DSP

If you need 100% brand safety, just use whitelists

There’s absolutely no need to panic and pull every ad off YouTube.

For clients that are highly risk averse, we are able to target based entirely on whitelists (rather than combining with blocklists as well). For example, restricting an inventory pool to just the top 2,000 YouTube channels would only limit reach by 30% (based on our estimates in graph below). Ultimately, it is up to the client how they wish to balance reach against brand safety, and up to the agency to ensure this balance is created through the campaign.

A new agency model

Underlying all of this is our belief in the value of transparency. The media supply chain is notorious for being a black box, but it needn’t be that way. An agency should act as an agent, i.e. in the best interests of their clients.

One DSP allows us to minimise the number of parties involved in the process. It also enables us to refine our strategy, which in turns allows us to clearly communicate our approach. Our clients have 100% visibility of their ad campaigns: every site or channel on which an ad is served is available to them via our reporting suite.

Stringent corporate governance procedures need to be the norm amongst agencies. Instead of placing the blame on Google, we’re asking clients and brands to align themselves with a new order of business, a new agency model, and a new future of media.

Dan Gilbert is the chief executive officer of Brainlabs, a paid media agency

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