After the data scandal with Facebook & Cambridge Analytica - everyone wants to talk brand safety again

Brand safety means different things to different brands. For some, even the most kamikaze stunts can be brand safe, but you will never know unless you have a real conversation with the marketer, and you won’t be able to act on it unless you also talk to the agency, the platform and the publisher.

Often, you need more than one conversation. Global brands have global KPIs, but they also need to establish at a local level what consumers want, because brand safe behaviour in Germany is very different from Italy or Spain, for example.

Google and Facebook take nearly 90% of digital ad dollars, partly because their simple offering means less of those difficult conversations.

They have the same product everywhere in the world, accessed through the same buying tools. This makes them easy to work with, but behind their simplicity lies a complex web of deals and a lack of transparency which last week saw Mark Zuckerberg up before Congress, and Google accused of illegally collecting personal data from children under 13.

These controversies are in nobody’s interest, but at least they have raised awareness of the issues and serve as a reminder that customer interest should be at the heart of everything you do.

Do we want some kind of a big brother who is able to see everything that we want, and to anticipate what we don’t want now, but will want in a few months? That’s all very well from a business perspective, but you can’t trample all over the consumer because the consumer is the one paying for the service and watching the ads.

With Facebook and Cambridge Analytica putting brand safety at the top of the agenda, everyone – advertisers, agencies, platforms and publishers – is suddenly keen to have these conversations and to take a more collective responsibility for brand safety.

RTL has its roots in the TV world, where audiences have been verified and content has been brand safe for the last 50 years. We’ve since expanded through the acquisition of adtech and content channels, but we still see an element of digital that’s like a jungle – fake consumers, fake audiences, fake likes – but it can’t continue and we need to clean up this mess.

The big players are taking measures towards better brand safety and a better customer experience by putting systems in place and hiring large numbers of people to watch what has been uploaded onto the platform, but at the end of the day it’s all happening after the event, when the content has already been uploaded.

I don’t want to be part of the blame game. I believe that everyone has to focus on responsibility, and Facebook should do the same. They can’t say on the one hand that they are a distributor and not a publisher, but then make money out of the content that’s published on their platform. Do British TV companies have a responsibility when they buy and then distribute US series? Of course they do.

I talk to marketers and I can tell you they are still human. Most of them work five days a week, and none of them has more than 24 hours a day in which to make some very tough decisions about their brands.

In every industry there’s peer pressure. When asked, “Do you do digital?” you have to reply: “Yes of course.” However, the longer answer to that question is too often“… but I don’t understand digital, even though I spend 15% of my budget on it.”

Brands can no longer get away with that – they have to work out what’s right for them and to reorganise themselves to get a better grasp on the marketplace. The only way to do this is to dare to have the necessary conversations, and then act on them.

Stéphane Coruble, is the managing director of RTL AdConnect

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