Brand Safety: What Needs To Be Done?


June 12, 2014

The rise of automated trading and tremendous growth in programmatic buying – specifically real-time bidding (RTB) and impression-level targeting – promises brands greater advertising efficiencies.

While some brands have widely adopted programmatic trading as standard, a lot of advertisers still seem hesitant to embrace more automated trading. This is because, with these great promises, it brings much more perceived risk.

It should go without saying that brands want more transparency around where and when their ads are appearing. Are they being placed alongside other relevant, like-minded content or against ads that might be competitive or damaging to their reputation?

The reality of RTB is two-fold. For one, automated trading can make it hard for marketers to have that ‘hands-on’ control they are accustomed to with direct buys. Secondly, there are a lot of websites with low-quality content and high traffic. Both of these challenges can easily lead to a brand’s ad being displayed alongside content that is not within keeping of its core brand values. Ultimately, this lack of control means that advertisers have traditionally hesitated to invest more into programmatic advertising despite the huge benefits it can deliver – from scale and cost efficiencies to better audience targeting and performance.

I’m preaching to the choir here. We all know we need better online ad transparency – so what needs to be done then?

For starters, the industry needs to get better at protecting advertisers from inappropriate content. Agencies have a big responsibility here to protect their clients’ budgets and reputations by ensuring that each and every ad appears on clean and safe websites against relevant and brand appropriate content.

To do this, they need to work with reputable partners to ensure confidence in the buying process. And it is up to these partners to put the proper measures in place to deliver good, clean and relevant inventory and traffic.

At PulsePoint, our proprietary technology and methodology combines both human and machine verification filters. Only a rigorous approach will do when it comes to ensuring both inventory and audience quality.

Of course, advertisers have their role to play in terms of due diligence too. They need to ensure they are working with not only the right partners, but those that are credible and industry-vetted.

They must proactively communicate what brand-safe content is in order to ensure their ads are placed within safe, clean context as well as targeting the most relevant audiences. 

It has been increasingly clear that the industry as a whole needs to be held more accountable for quite some time now. The good news is that we’re moving in the right direction – particularly with the introduction of the Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG), 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.

By introducing an audited process for its signatories, they aim to ensure that brands will be effectively protected against appearing alongside harmful content while still allowing them to take full advantage of the scale and efficiency RTB offers.

This, however, is just the very 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 by the right, intended audience.

With comScore estimating that more than half of display ads – 54% – go unseen, this is becoming a growing focus for the industry.

It is crucially important that, with every step we take towards making online advertising more transparent, safe, and sustainable, we keep the lines of communication on the buy and sell side open.

Moving towards a more brand-safe advertising eco-system will only succeed when all sides of the business can enter into discussions with clear expectations and an understanding of the entire process.

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