Finding Brand Safety In An Unsafe World

Marketers that assumed brand safety was assured for the digital advertising they purchased on Google were suddenly shocked when they found it published alongside content they deemed unsavory.

Many proceeded to boycott YouTube and parent Google/Alphabet, paving the way for analysts to downgrade the stock. At the same time, industry executives used every medium conceivable to slam the digital ad giant.

The irony — all this could have been avoided if these brands and their agencies used a third-party brand safety solution.

Why Brand Safety is Critical

In digital advertising’s infancy, brand safety was not the big industry issue it is today. If you were buying Conde Nast, CNN or Sky in the U.K., you were buying credibility of content and a safe environment. Outside of airlines asking to embargo advertising immediately following a crash, you knew what you were buying.



In a programmatic world, that’s not the case.

Algorithms and audience targeting take the site curation out of the buyers’ hands. You can blacklist sites, but unless you know those sites in advance, you run the risk of running ads on a page that may feature hate, nudity, or violence.

This has led to the development of pre-bid tools, developed primarily for desktop over the last five years, which prevent bids from occurring based on content classification – some at the page level and some at the domain level.

Fragmentation Makes it Hard

Just as soon as the pre-bid brand safety providers tackled desktop traffic, two new features emerged: video and mobile. For video inventory, you can see what’s outside the player, but fly blind within the player. In the case of the YouTube Hate-Gate over the weekend, the brands wouldn’t have been able to protect themselves if the page didn’t offer a description or meta data about the content.

Brands and agencies are upset because most pages did offer this data, yet pages weren’t crawled for sensitive content. In the case of mobile, it’s trickier as in-app content cannot be indexed. But what brand safety providers have done is provide a crawl of the iOS and Google Play stores to highlight the categories, quality, reviews — and to confirm the app is certified.

It’s a layer of protection in an unprotected world.

Sentiment Makes it Harder

When you begin to look at context and classification of content, you can start with keywords, although contextual classification that includes natural language processing is more effective.  But one area of risk is around sentiment.

If an article about a cruise line comes up, is it a glowing review or a scathing account of food poisoning? If there is content about Donald Trump, is it favorable or a tough opinion piece? Knowing the state of mind of your audience is important when nurturing your brand.

Control vs. Censorship

Using the last example, “fake news” has joined the lexicon of every language around the world over the last year. Many people feel that alt-right sites like Breitbart, which has become the poster child for fake news, caused Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

However, there is a distinction between fake news and content that doesn’t align with your view — whether you are a brand or an individual. In this case, there are tools that provide control to prevent bidding on audiences who are reading things that do not align with your brand identity. 

If you are a brand or an agency and want to avoid being embarrassed or worse, fired, make sure you have adequate protections in place around programmatic. There are many pre-bid tools at your disposal, and they can be activated within your DSP of choice (except Google).


2 comments about "Finding Brand Safety In An Unsafe World".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 31, 2017 at 10:36 a.m.

    Fair enough, Mike, but why must the buyer have to take the lead in "protecting" him/herself from adjacency to "bad" content? Isn't it the duty of the seller to provide the same degree of protection---if a buyer requests it? Or even if it is not requested?This is standard procedure in traditional media but seems to be a new concept in today's digital world which is being taken over by automated buying and the attendant issues of disruptive ad clutter, ad visibility problems, outright fraud, being seen next to unsavory content, etc. Eventually, a new system that relies more on common sense human-based regulation combined with the ability of computers to to tremendous amounts of work at a low cost per machination, is very badly needed. Eventually, the ad sellers will realize that they are not doing the advertisers a favor by allowing them to place ads on their websites but, rather, are partners with the advertisers---whose dollars they crave---as well as having a bond of responsibility with their users. It takes all three to tango, not just the buyers.

  2. Mike Caprio from V3 Technologies replied, March 31, 2017 at 12:50 p.m.


    I absolutely agree. Brand Safety is something that should be a part of your agreement with your publishers. However, in a programmatic world the sheer volume of impressions and pages make this impossible to manage (for both sides). Tools like Peer39 are designed to protect against embarrassing or brand damaging association with certain content.  And at the end of the end the day each brand should be able to choose whether they want this independent protection or not. 

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