Brand-Safety Problems Can't Be Solved With Tech Alone

“In the era of big data, there are more answers than ever, but people aren’t asking the right questions,” Malcom Cox, CMO of Grapeshot, said at a Meetup sponsored by ad-tech firm PulsePoint that explored brand-safety issues and programmatic advertising.

Cox told the audience, mostly people who work at ad tech companies and agencies, that they need to be clear about their policies, how they make decisions, and how they serve ads.  “There’s no reason why we, as an industry, can’t help advertisers. Google is the No. 1 brand in this country and the most trusted brand, yet we don’t feel we can trust Google to place ads next to site content,” Cox said, referring to Google’s brand safety challenges.

Addressing the elephant in the room, Rich Sutton, CRO, Trusted Media Brands, Inc., said: “If it doesn't have human intervention, you can't guarantee it will run with brand-safe content.  I don’t think you can stop [the problem] with tech alone. I don’t think that advertisers realize that -- and when they do, they’ll either pull back in a big way from programmatic and digital overall, or do business with premium publishers directly.”  

Sutton said it’s easy to pull ads from one place like Google or Facebook versus hundreds of places on the open exchange. He pointed out that brands buy advertising directly and through private marketplaces because it’s easier and they think they’ll have a greater degree of control. And, he said, it’s cheaper. “The future with programmatic has some clouds on the horizon,” he said, citing research that indicated more than 50% of advertisers and agencies don’t think programmatic will do a better job of delivering brand safety.

Discussing the most recent troubles in which marketers’ ads have appeared next to offensive content on YouTube, Rob Rasko, CEO and founder of The 614 Group, said: “There's enough blame to go all around, but in order to move forward we have to start collaborating. How do you get through this finger-pointing moment and get to collaboration? It’s really easy to blame Google. The problem is that the technology was built to follow audience interest.”

Rasko maintained that 90% of the technology works, while 10% doesn’t. He advocated stakeholder collaboration to improve the situation. He also suggested the industry consider a reward system for publishers' good behavior: “How do you drive toward a brand safety KPI [key performance indicator] so that publishers that are doing the right thing are getting more money?”

Chris Neuner, SVP & GM of digital health solutions, PulsePoint, said the industry needs to focus on the programmatic process in order to reduce brand-safety risks and fake news. “I argue if you’ve got data and real-time decisioning in a brand-safe environment, dollar for dollar, you will outperform other channels because of the scale, data, and real-time information.

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