Calling BS on BS…brand safety, that is


By Marc Goldberg, CEO

November 29, 2018 | 5 min read

The term “brand safety” has become a catch-all to cover far too many of the digital advertising issues that plague the industry. Buyers often think that if they receive a brand safety guarantee — or even work with a partner who claims to be committed to the problems under the brand safety umbrella — they are fully covered.

Calling BS on brand safety

Let me just stop right there and say that idea is BS.

The market has a lot of BS around BS and it can be difficult to navigate. If you hear these assertions, beware:

We are 100% brand safe, so you’re covered.

BS. Make sure you and your vendor have a shared definition of ‘brand safe’ and that you understand what that vendor can and cannot do for you. Does brand safe mean fraud-free? Not placed near unsavory content? Does it consider your brand’s suitability? You need to understand their definitions and make sure they know yours.

We have built a comprehensive blacklist.

BS. That blacklist will be out of date before the end of this sente… A huge BS should be thrown in the direction of people trying to stay away from hate, fake news, and porn by using a blacklist. These sites pop up every day and are here today, gone tomorrow. By the time your team catches up with this Whac-a-Mole game, the damage is done.

Whitelists don’t work. They just reduce scale.

BS. A whitelist can scale and reach your audience if you target the right sites. Whitelists can also help you identify domain spoofing and seek make-goods if you are diligent with post-campaign analysis. You are used to artificial scale that has been pumped up with NHT and unsavory content.

We use a page-level detection service to keep us away from hate.

BS. Page-level keyword blocking is insufficient, so you might unknowingly be supporting hate. It’s important to understand the intent of the domain, not just look for particular keywords. Hate mongering sites might not need to actually use any words that may raise a red flag while still getting their points across. Similarly, high-quality sites (mostly in the news category) may use some rough language while maintaining high standards of journalism when quoting and reporting on an event. Page-level detection might find a safe weather page on a neo-Nazi news site or an article on personal finance on a site full of pornographic images. Remember: Consumers associate advertisers with the website they view the ad on, not a particular page.

We had less than 1,000 impressions ran on “that” site.

BS. By making a habit of sweeping mistakes under the rug as a rounding error, you are supporting these questionable websites and giving them the means to stick around. If advertisers make a stronger effort to remove these sites from their plan, regardless of how few impressions they run on each one, there would be less incentive for these sites to be in the ecosystem.

Programmatic is too much trouble.

BS. The pros vastly outweigh the cons if you put in the time to understand the process. Programmatic is not going anywhere and is a great reach vehicle with technologies that allow you to find new customers. Use multiple vendors and proceed with caution, but don’t dismiss the opportunity altogether.

I read a report that fraud is going down…

BS. While it might be true that a study or vendor has observed reduced fraud, be careful of the details; it does not mean you can be less careful. These announcements usually measure a vendor’s success using their own product, so simply catching less fraud leads them to suggest there is less in the ecosystem.

We recommend that you use Ads.txt to protect you from all brand safety issues

BS. Buyers continue to misuse Ads.txt, which is a great initiative but is not going to protect you from NHT or safety issues. While you should only buy strictly Ads.txt-enabled inventory and urge more of the industry to adopt it, if you think it replaces a vendor or prevents safety issues, you are mistaken.

We do not support X, Y, or Z and had no idea our ads would be on these sites.

BS. When an advertiser is called out for running on a bad site, we hear the same response every time: “We will discuss with our partners and revisit our approach.” Most of the time the problem is systematic neglect or incompetence. Advertisers need to stop passing the blame onto their partners, take ownership for their mistakes, and take real steps to fix them. These issues concern everyone and we need to confront them as an industry.

Marc Goldberg is chief executive of Trust Metrics


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