Brand Safety - The Big Guys Get It, Why Not The Independents?

When the great and the good of the advertising industry meet up in London to discuss brand safety at a seminar hosted by the IAB, there will be good news from JICWEBS, the industry body set up to ensure that brands don't find their advertising next to inappropriate or illegal content. Around two-thirds of digital display is now covered by the industry regulatory group's UK Best Practices guidelines, and by the end of the year, the industry regulatory group estimates between 80% to 90% will be.

This forecast prompts the question of who is providing the other third now -- and the 10% or so by the end of the year that is not going through tools and practices certified by JICWEBS. From first inspection, certification does not appear to be too demanding. There are a whole bunch of guidelines and policies that need to be adopted, but the basic principle is that certified companies have been audited to show they take reasonable steps to prevent advertising going where a brand would rather its name was not seen. One very simple but effective step, for example, is to deploy technology that bars ads from going on sites listed on a constantly updated blacklist, such as the Infringing Website List (IWL) provided by the City of London police and advertising industry partners.

A report on the progress made so far can be viewed here, as can a list of who is fully certified and who is signed up on the process that should hopefully lead to certification. It's encouraging to see that the major trading desks at Dentsu Aegis and Publicis are already certified and WPP is on the way to getting a JICWEBS seal. Among the advertising networks as well as the supply and demand-side platforms, there is pretty much a "who's who" of the industry.

The glaring omission for me has to be on the independent trading desk side, where only one has signed up. There are only two big names on the sales house side, with none listed in the pipeline of brands seeking certification, but it is can potentially be argued that sales houses would see themselves as a direct channel with less risk for brand embarrassment. The publisher's side is pretty low too -- but to be honest, you'd expect reputable publishers not to publish material that brands would be embarrassed by.

The big surprise for me remains the independent trading desks. They will always be up against the big groups. WPP's Xavis is on the way to being certified, and AMNET and VivaKi are already there -- although I don't see IPG's Cadreon among the list, surprisingly.

So if you're an independent trading desk, you would imagine there are four brand transparency issues you can't fall behind on. The weighting that each brand gives to each of the four may vary, but you can guarantee that most would list brand safety, fraud, viewability and data as their four key areas to watch. Notably, brand safety is the only one of these that can publicly embarrass a brand. The other three are important areas, but they're not public-facing. 

So if you've gone to today's IAB event or if you're just checking out the announcement, I'd be very interested to hear what you have to say.

Private trading desks -- the people who are setting themselves up as an alternative to the centralised big three trading desks (I can't see IPG on the list to make it a big four) -- surely cannot afford to fall behind on the one thing that a brand is terrified could embarrass it in public. They might well consider themselves to have tools and practices in place to prevent this, which don't need outside auditing to verify -- but to be honest, if that is is the case, it's a surprising stance.

If independents and start-ups want to hit the big three (maybe the big four in time), then an IAB tick in the brand safety box has to be something worth having -- doesn't it?

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