Thought Leadership

Brand Safety and the ‘F’ Word


February 12, 2015

By Gareth Shaw

Transparency, brand safety and, dare I say it, fraud have been a few of the biggest buzzwords of the digital ad industry over the past year. Everyone has been talking about these issues. Everyone wants brand safe and transparent environments that are free from fraudulent activity, and rightfully so. Why shouldn’t brands and their agencies know exactly what their advertising budgets are buying – from the sites their ads appear on to the content they’re aligned with to which audience they appear in front of. Brand safety isn’t a new issue; but the onset of the RTB ecosystem has shifted the onus from sitting exclusively with the sell side to being the responsibility of all the involved parties from the sell side and buy sides to the tech players that sit in the middle of the equation.

As I recently talked about at last year’s RTA Summit, the traffic quality and brand safety issues that our industry faces today aren’t too dissimilar to the doping problems that plagued professional road cycling for decades. The type of 'superhuman' athletic performance turned in by the likes of Lance Armstrong are scarily similar to some of the eCPM and CTR results we see in our industry today: too good to be true!

Just as Armstrong and the cycling dopers became more creative and covert to avoid detection, as we look to eradicate the ‘f’ word from online ad traffic, the more inventive and clever the bad actors are becoming. However, professional cycling has turned a corner and is now widely regarded, once again, as a clean sport. Like professional cycling, our industry needs to come together to figure out how to overcome these issues before they become endemic.

The buy side and ad tech partners can be the stewards of their own success

Agencies and trading desk have a responsibility to protect their clients’ budgets and reputations by ensuring that every ad appears on clean and safe websites against relevant and brand appropriate content. To do this, they need to work with certified partners to ensure confidence throughout the buying process. What’s more they need to collaborate with these partners to share insight around traffic quality measurement and analysis so that partners can learn and adjust procedures accordingly.

Brands also have a role to play in terms of due diligence. Building a transparent working relationship with their partners is crucial, but so is going a step further to work with their buy side, tech and sell side partners to better understand their target audiences. In short, instead of chasing lower and lower eCPM’s, they should begin to think in terms of value not price.

Moving down the chain, it is up to ad tech partners to put proper measures in place to deliver good, clean, relevant inventory. At PulsePoint, our proprietary technology and methodology combines both human and first and third party machine verification filters resulting in a rigorous approach to ensure both inventory and audience quality.

One step at a time with industry insight and best practices

We are certainly moving in the right direction with the introduction of the Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG), which has set out to establish an industry-wide set of best practice brand safety guidelines that sit across all of the key RTB buying touch points including agencies, DSPs, exchanges, networks, and trading desks.

Though the Group aims to ensure that brands will be effectively protected against appearing alongside harmful content, this is of course, just the first step in an ongoing process. Brands don’t just want to protect themselves against having their brand aligned to undesirable content, they also need to ensure that their ads are being seen in a human environment by the right, intended audience.

By working together as an industry – from the buy and supply side to ad tech partners and industry standards groups – we can help clean up the industry and celebrate our true ‘greats’, just like Team Sky is doing now as it helps bring in a new era of honest professional road cycling. By sharing responsibility and adhering to industry established best practices, we can really start to introduce brand safety and transparency while truly eradicating the ‘f’ word before it threatens to de-value the entire digital ecosystem.

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