Agencies Bear Responsibility For Brand Safety

Last week, Google came under intense fire for its inability to protect brands on its YouTube platform. Is Google to blame? Partially, but this is also an easy opportunity to gang up on the big guy and let agencies off the hook.

In all  fairness, our clients should be putting the same scrutiny on their agencies. 

I agree that Google should be a pioneer when it comes to brand safety, and they haven’t been as diligent as they should be. Google is investing billions of dollars in artificial intelligence, yet many of YouTube’s basic brand-safety settings require a manual opt-in by the brand (or agency), which is ridiculous.

Google should also be accommodating brand and agency requests to allow MRC-accredited third-party partners to run on its platform. So yes, Google, you need to fix these things and fix them fast.

Still, agencies need to take some responsibility. It is our responsibility to educate our teams and clients on the tools available to protect brands more broadly. Companies like Integral Ad Science (originally called AdSafe), comScore and Open Slate have been around a long time and have various solutions for protecting brands. 



As agencies, we know these tools are never 100% accurate — especially when it comes to mobile and pre-roll — and you have to use the right tool for the specific platform or challenge, but blaming Google for not educating us on their tools is naïve.

It is our job to be asking these questions, training our teams on how to use the tools/bring in the experts to teach our teams and stay on top of innovation in the space.

If you are a brand worried about running within Google’s network, here’s what you should be asking your agency:

  • What default blocks are we using?  (Google has quite a few)
  • What negative keywords are we implementing that might protect us against things specific to our brand or category which might not be caught by generic blocks?
  • Are we using a white or black list? Which publishers are on it?
  • Are we pulling regular placement reports to ensure nothing is slipping through the cracks, and can I access these reports on a regular basis?
  • How are we protecting ourselves against bots and fraud?

Given the vast amounts of content uploaded every day, as well as the Internet’s inherently open architecture, digital advertising is never 100% risk-free. But it can be minimized.

To this end, brands should be sitting down with their agencies to evaluate the safety measures they have in place across all their buys, not just Google.  Making sure your tech stack is in order is an essential way to protect your investment.

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