Mercedes is the first to act, promising an investigation this morning into its programmatic setup, which it is blaming for its ads appearing in compromising positions -- well, to be honest, it's not like you'd buy that space direct, is it?
This whole issue of moving beyond embarrassment to actually standing accused of funding terror was always going to be a problem now that ad exchanges are fully automated under programmatic schemes. Computers telling other computers where to place an ad for a new car or pasta sauce don't have that fallback piece of intelligence that a URL espousing Nazi values or calling for terror strikes on the West should be avoided.
However -- and it's hard to say this without banging the table and screaming, "what were they thinking" -- brand safety is the most evolved JICWEBS certification scheme available for advertisers. It's been running for a couple of years now, and was the original protection offered to companies, most recently joined by digital display fraud certification. I wonder if you would like to venture a guess as to how many ad-tech partners are certified by JICWEBS as carrying the Brand Safety seal. You could be forgiven for thinking it's just a handful, but the answer is actually 34. Yes, there are no fewer than 34 ad-tech partners that are out there certified to provide brand-safe display. I know because JICWEBS politely pointed this out this morning along with a note that advertisers really should ask their ad partners if they are certified. No shit, Sherlock!
My basic understanding is that the systems blacklist known hate, terror and porn sites, but I'm not sure whether they can also scan a page for trigger words. However, in the cases exposed by The Times, these look like pretty simple fails. The advertisers haven't been tricked into advertising on a dodgy page on a seemingly reputable site. They have advertised in places that their creative should never have gotten anywhere near.
So there are two questions. If you can't name who your brand-safety guys are and whether they hold a JICWEBS certificate for their work, you suddenly have something at the very top of your to-do list. Second question: What the flipping heck were these smart brands thinking? All three outed by The Times are the epitome of middle-class Britain.
It would be hard to name three brands that stand the lose more valuable brand image "shine" than these companies. Yet clearly they either had no brand-image systems in place -- or if they did, they need to be outing who they were using so we all know whom to avoid in future.