Commentary

Embracing A More Open Approach Is Critical To Fostering Brand Safety

With last week’s projection by eMarketer that nearly 80% of all U.S. digital display dollars will transact programmatically this year still fresh, RTBlog asked Tim Mahlman, president of AOL Platforms, to comment on issues that could impact that growth. Given the ongoing concerns among advertisers about brand safety, transparency, and the extent to which automated media buying has intensified these issues, it’s no surprise that most stakeholders in the digital ad industry are reassessing.

RTBlog: What can industry stakeholders do to course-correct on transparency?

Tim Mahlman: Advertisers want and deserve deeper insight into how agency and technology partners are acting on their behalf. They want to know how their money is being spent. Earlier this year, Proctor & Gamble announced it will review all media agency contracts this year. P&G's goal is to extract broader transparency and data from what the company has called “murky” agency and publisher relationships.

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Technology platforms, given our position as both ad-buying and ad-selling facilitators, are particularly well-positioned to deliver on increased calls for transparency and accountability. But that requires shifting away from the traditional “walled garden” model of digital advertising and embracing a more open and flexible approach.

RTBlog: What should be the next steps for brand safety?

Mahlman: When it comes to brand safety and accountability, being proactive is critical. In facilitating ad transactions and media buys, technology partners need to use tools for quality control and verification, ad screening, white lists/black lists, exchange-wide blocking tools, and more. They also need to offer self-serve tools for advertisers who want to take control into their own hands, as well as managed services for larger partners.

Installing multiple safeguards to prevent mistakes is also important. These tools must be supported by complementary ad blocking (in something close to real time), should a “bad” ad happen to slip through for any reason, such as a mislabeling by an advertiser.

RTBlog:Attribution and measurement issues are also very much in play for all advertisers. Where does the industry stand with cross-screen/cross-device attribution?

Mahlman: Third-party verification is quickly becoming standard protocol in digital advertising, and technology platforms need to proactively embrace this shift as the cost of doing business. A survey by the Association of National Advertisers, for instance, revealed that 97% of advertisers want independent measurement of their media buys from third-party companies like Moat, DoubleVerify, and ComScore. Advertisers are now choosing who they work with, based on whether or not they will allow independent verification.

This matters not just for viewability and ad fraud, but also for general attribution and campaign success. For years, Google and Facebook has slow-walked these demands. But that changed recently, with both announcing they will be audited by the Media Ratings Council to verify ad measurement accuracy.

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