The rapid adoption of omnichannel marketing executed through programmatic media buying has brought the challenges of brand safety, ad fraud, and viewability into sharp relief, but sometimes for the wrong reasons.

In 2017, brand safety became a hot topic when ‘The Times’ accused Google of running their brand messaging on YouTube alongside extremist content. What followed was a firestorm of bad publicity for the biggest walled gardens, YouTube and Facebook.

It also put the programmatic advertising industry under scrutiny too, prompting a backlash from big media agencies and large brands, predominantly from the UK and US, to suspend their advertising with Google, with countless advertisers quickly jumping on the bandwagon.

Yet all the bad publicity yielded positive change; since these were big budgets at stake, Google and Facebook implemented some big changes to the filtering of user-generated content, with ad exchanges, networks, and demand-side platforms all following suit.

At the advertiser level, it prompted brands to question how they could ensure that their display advertising ran alongside published content that aligned with both their brand’s and their customers’ values.

This piece provides forward-thinking marketers with three core actionable steps to define, implement and adjust protective measures to ensure brand safety that directly consider brand objectives and comply with industry standards.

Step one: Define your programmatic brand safety policy.

Take ownership of the issue. Sometimes it starts with a simple conversation about ownership or rather ‘who’ is responsible for overseeing the implementation and running of brand safety. In my opinion, implementing and managing brand safety is black and white.

For example, if a media/ad agency is running a programmatic campaign on behalf of a brand or marketer, it is clearly the agency’s responsibility to implement and maintain brand safety. Alternatively, if the brand marketer themselves is running programmatic in-house then the responsibility lies entirely with the in-house brand marketing team to ensure all brand safety features and mechanisms have been put in place and are kept updated with the latest tools and industry standards.

You shouldn’t need to push or probe ad agencies and ad tech vendors who are genuinely adept at programmatic marketing about brand safety; it’s something that should be etched into their vernacular before campaign implementation begins. However, if it isn’t, perhaps you should think twice about who is running your programmatic campaign, their level of experience and their ability to rise to the challenge if your brand’s safety is comprised.

Partnerships matter. The good news is that within the programmatic ecosystem itself, the fight to protect brand safety has come ahead in leaps and bounds over the past few years, with many demand-side platforms (buy-side ad tech) integrating brand safety into their platforms.

A hard and fast approach is to consider only running with programmatic vendors that guarantee brand safety solutions or your money back. We made this decision a few years back, trading with platforms that have integrated brand safety solutions like Integral Ad Science and Double Verify. These companies have developed algorithms, formulas and data-driven tools to prevent ads from ever appearing alongside undesirable content.

Step two: White and Blacklist

A simple method of protecting brand safety is supplying a blacklist of sites in the form of actual website URL’s, content themes or even industry verticals where you don’t want your brand to appear. Then supply a whitelist of networks or sites you would like your brand to appear. Again, a good agency partner should assist you here to eliminate any confusion and cut down your time preparing lists.

For example, we follow a strict brand safety process that includes supplying our clients with ready-made black and white lists that are brand appropriate, making sure they are constantly evaluated and updated to ensure they remain relevant, accurate and valuable for the brand advertiser.

You should also be aware that implementing a whitelist for brand safety is relatively simple these days. Most of the platforms themselves have a list of approved networks, sites and apps that have been through a stringent process to achieve a brand safety guarantee. Consequently, the practice of blacklisting is not as popular simply due to the fact the number of ‘bad sites’ is constantly rising and its difficult to keep up. However, to ensure peace of mind on both sides, we always recommend blacklisting as sometimes it can come down to something as simple as the brand wanting to avoid a specific type of vertical or a bunch of websites of which your agency or ad tech vendor may not be aware.

Step three: Consider Programmatic Private Marketplaces

Instead of your brand running on the ‘open exchange’ (open marketplaces) you can decide to pick and choose exactly where your ads appear from a list of ‘brand safe’ networks and publishers, for example, Yahoo, Fairfax, Microsoft, or Gumtree. This is called Programmatic PMP (private marketplace) and is becoming an increasingly popular method of transacting digital inventory via programmatic platforms. Knowing exactly where your ads will be placed warrants peace of mind, but it will also come at a greater cost.

Programmatic PMP (private marketplace) deals ensure you’ll be buying premium brand safe inventory at just the right price. however, keep in mind that you are also limiting brand exposure on the web which can potentially reduce your ability to reach more lucrative audiences at scale and potentially push up your cost to acquire a lead or sale.

Since Google’s YouTube’s brand safety scandal in 2017, it is not surprising that Programmatic PMP deals are becoming increasingly popular with almost three-quarters of digital display ads run via private marketplaces in the US. As Australia’s consumption of programmatic grows significantly over the next few years,  expect to see the same trends adopted locally too.

Your best approach is to put your stake in now, start securing PMP deals sooner than later so you will be in a stronger position to know what you’d like to pay for those contextual placements that are working better for your brand.

Partners in brand protection

For brands to achieve effective brand protection online they must work with the right partners. If your partner fails to present you with their brand safety strategy or policy before campaign implementation (one that should be relatively easy to implement and even pre-integrated into a DSP), then that’s a big enough reason to question their integrity and look towards another solution or partnership.

Brand safety is not a luxury or a ‘nice to have’. If implemented strategically by a partner who cares enough to take the time to navigate the complexity of what ‘harmful pages’ means for your brand, this mindfulness and attention to detail can be your best ally in the fight against dangerous content.

It’s your brand’s reputation at stake and in the words of Richard Branson, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.”

About this author

Leah Daly is the co-founder and media director at Adgility which is a corporate member of the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit. Our members provide their insights and expertise for the benefit of the Which-50 community. Membership fees apply. 

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