Brand safety is hardly a new issue, but it recently returned to the forefront. Last March, Johnson & Johnson, Verizon and AT&T pulled their ads from YouTube amid growing concerns about extremist content. Around the same time, JP Morgan Chase reduced its digital advertising from 400,000 sites to 5,000 (all pre-approved), with no change in impact. And in June, Procter & Gamble, the country’s largest advertiser, reduced its digital ad spend by $140 million due to brand safety issues.
It appears as though programmatic’s long tail is being docked.
Advertisers and media buyers are rightfully concerned that their programmatic buys can show up in unexpected places. In a recent study from Adobe Digital Insights, 58 percent of marketers said they were more concerned about digital ad fraud than they were a year ago, and half of media buyers identified “media quality” as the biggest challenge facing the industry.
There’s a lot at stake. According to eMarketer, almost 80 percent of U.S. digital display spending—more than $32 billion—will take place on programmatic this year. By 2019, that should jump to 84 percent and nearly $46 billion.
So what’s can brands do to mitigate the brand-safety risk? Here are few things to consider:
Buy views, not impressions
Brand safety is built on a three-part foundation. First off, ads must be viewable. While what constitutes a “view” across different types of digital media is still frequently debated, there are minimum standards that groups like the IAB stipulate. Second, ads should be seen by real people—bot fraud is still rampant and costly in terms of wasted impressions and dollars. Finally, there’s contextual relevance. This is basically the advertiser’s Hippocratic Oath: Does the surrounding content do no harm to a brand?
Many brand-safety, viewability and fraud issues arise when ads are bought via public ad networks using real-time bidding. Private marketplaces and programmatic direct programs—because of their greater transparency—can provide higher-quality placements and ward off concerns. For instance, according to the most recent Media Quality Report from Integral Ad Science, brand risk for open exchanges (at 9.5 percent) is nearly twice that of publisher direct (4.6 percent). In fact, per eMarketer, nearly three-quarters of domestic digital display ads will run via private marketplaces or programmatic direct this year.
Focus on context
To reach their best customers, brands should be focusing on media buys that are contextually relevant. It seems like a no-brainer, but a surprising number of advertisers fail to do this. Contextual targeting ensures ads only show up on pages that contain content relevant to the ads. And, of course, buying privately (see above) increases the chances of being both brand-safe and reaching humans.
Use pre-bid decisioning
Screening for brand safety often occurs in hindsight—you’re reviewing your post-bid reporting and see your ad coming up in places you don’t like. But that’s too late. Pre-bid decisioning—done via extensions to a DSP—assesses web pages across a range of variables, looking for patterns that may identify activity that is suspicious, non-human or not appropriate for a brand. Examples of this anti-fraud filtering include Grapeshot, Integral Ad Science, Proximic and White Ops. In addition, look for ways to customize your decisioning using keyword blocking, geo-compliance and custom site lists (where you can eliminate entire categories of potentially harmful sites).
Exert some human control
Technology alone can’t control your entire ad buy. When JP Morgan Chase reduced the number of sites it advertises on, it had an intern manually click on any address that had yielded more action than just an impression to ensure the sites were ones the company wanted to advertise on. No one is suggesting everyone build interns and temps into their plans, nor that they entirely sacrifice reach. But a review of a post-bid domain report can help you determine which sites are yielding the best results in terms of brand KPIs.
Still, while automation may be one of the culprits of raising risk, used effectively, it also is the best option for maintaining a brand-safe environment. As every media buyer knows, it’s all about quality placements.