If we learned anything last year, it’s that brands need to take more responsibility for ad safety.
Trusting their hard-won images to social platforms that rely on user-generated content, media agencies that resist calls for transparency and open programmatic exchanges with lax controls on inventory have faced snafus.
Only advertisers can demand real change by making different choices about where they spend their budgets.
At YouTube, for example, brands trusted that the massive platform would protect them from improper placements. Instead, as TheTimes of London discovered, big brands were advertising against terrorist content, and a slew of similar revelations followed.
Even “Preferred” channels proved unsafe when Logan Paul’s vlog from Japan’s suicide forest caused a scandal in January. Thanks to advertiser outcry, 100% of YouTube’s Preferred videos will be moderated by humans to prevent further brand safety trouble.
But the advertiser outcry only followed a public outcry—brands had been perfectly willing to spend money against Paul’s content until then, despite its questionable nature. It was that willingness, in part, that boosted channels that feature pranks and stunts into Preferred status in the first place.
Advertisers have also come under fire for their role in helping to monetize unsavory websites. A heated U.S. presidential election put the spotlight on brands that followed their audiences to sites with extreme political slants and divisive content.
Following eyeballs wherever they go sounds great in theory, but brands should have realized long before complaints started proliferating on social media that they did not necessarily want to be everywhere their target customers did.
Many may have depended on media agencies to safeguard their brands by using appropriate whitelists, blacklists or blocklists, but some media agencies only have incentives to do this if brands reward them for it—or punish them for failure. The bottom line: brands need to own their campaigns and be aware of where their ads are showing up.
All of this serves as yet another wakeup call to brands executing programmatically, especially those who still view programmatic as a mere efficiency engine—looking for the lowest possible CPMs, often at the expense of targeting transparency, fraud risk and inventory quality.
But brands should be aware that “cheap” doesn’t always mean “efficient,” and again, they must be the ones to give guidelines to their agencies in terms of how much safety, transparency and quality they’re willing to give up in favor of lower prices.
According to a November survey by Salesforce, advertisers around the world aren’t planning any changes, on average, to the share of their digital budgets that go to Facebook or YouTube, two channels other research has found to be among the least brand-safe.
Brands are now focusing media reviews on quality rather than lowest price, suggesting advertisers are looking to reverse these trends. Only time will tell how much safety brands are really willing to pay for.