4A’s Introduces a Playbook to Help Advertisers Manage Brand Safety Risk

The group worked with TAG, BSI and IAB Tech Lab on the measure

The Playbook is meant to be a 'living document' that can adapt to emerging technologies. 4A's

The American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) is introducing a Brand Safety Playbook to educate agencies and their clients on how to best navigate the nuances of brand safety.

4A’s evp, media and data practice Louis Jones explained that the Brand Safety Playbook completes the set of goals set out at the Ad Assurance forum in March of 2018, which led to the formal launch of the Advertisers Protection Bureau (APB) at the Accelerate Conference in Miami in April of that year. These goals included the creation of a risk management module and code of decency, as well as providing ecosystem education. The APB addressed the prior two goals last September with the Brand Suitability Framework and Brand Safety Floor.

“The Ad Assurance effort was really around contextual brand safety, but this sets the framework for brand safety in total, which is inclusive of fraud and malware,” Jones told Adweek. “There’s a lot of understanding around brand safety and brand safety techniques, particularly among the bigger network agencies. But the 4A’s serves not only them, but all the independents. It’s giving everybody sort of a level playing field to start from and it’s an instigation for some of the smaller agencies to really think hard about this.”

"There's a lot of understanding around brand safety and brand safety techniques, particularly among the bigger network agencies. But the 4A's serves not only them, but all the independents."
-Louis Jones, evp, media and data practice, 4A's

To address a more comprehensive scope of brand safety, the 4A’s partnered with the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), Brand Safety Institute (BSI) and IAB Tech Lab on the project. The Brand Safety Playbook provides guidelines across fraud, malware and content adjacency from planning to evaluation, outlining steps that agencies and advertisers can take to manage brand safety risks. This includes establishing a brand safety and suitability profile, adding vendors with brand safety capabilities and prioritizing TAG-certified channels and technical tools and protocols.

“The 4A’s and the APB have demonstrated great leadership in developing this playbook,” TAG president and CEO Mike Zaneis said in a statement. “It provides clear, implementable steps for agencies to help protect their clients. And as an industry resource, it goes much further in helping to engage and educate everyone from marketers across to publishers.”

In a statement, IAB Tech Lab svp and gm Dennis Buchheim called the playbook “an important new resource for agencies, who play a central role in ensuring brand safety,” adding that it “highlights tools and guidance that can help buyers today, including some Tech Lab standards: ads.txt for sourcing authentic supply, taxonomies for editorial and ad content, Data Label for insight into audiences, and Open Measurement for verification.”

Jones stressed that brand safety is an evolving issue and that the 4A’s sees the Brand Safety Playbook, like the Brand Suitability Framework, as a “living document.”

“We have to look at this as an evolving landscape,” he explained, “because there will be technologies that we’re not using this year that will be available in the next year or two. We need to remain vigilant against ad fraud.”

With the accomplishment of its initial goals, the APB is at something of a crossroads.

“I’m pretty proud of what we’ve accomplished in just over a year,” Jones said, adding that the industry as whole has made a series of advancements in addressing brand safety concerns since the launch of the APB—yet those seeking to commit ad fraud are quickly adapting and entering new environments.

Jones explained that the APB has now been broken down into three working groups, one of which is focused on OTT and connected TV, a growing ad fraud target.

“In that environment,” he added, “the APB is trying to figure out what it needs to add from a framework perspective and understand how it may impact contextual brand safety,” as well as ad fraud concerns.

Other working groups include a news project which seeks to address brand adjacency concerns and “making news more accessible to more advertisers,” who often avoid such programming, as well as a project addressing brand safety on user-generated content platforms.

@ErikDOster erik.oster@adweek.com Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.