In Keith Weed’s speech to the IAB Annual Leadership this week, he took a stand against Facebook and Google, threatening to pull out Unilever’s billions in ad spend unless they clean up their content.
He described the digital supply chain as a “swamp” mired with fabricated news, racist, sexist and extremist content, a toxic environment that is contributing to the erosion of consumers’s trust in brands.
Digital media is a swamp. It’s scarier and more dangerous than ever. Risky news. Non-viewable ads. Fraud and fakery. How can we navigate these waters, if they’re so muddy?
Brand Safety Comes First, Not Last
To start, stop thinking of ad quality as a box you check off during the AdOps phase. Protecting your brand should be your first thought, not your afterthought.
“But, we add tags so our brand doesn’t end up next to unsafe content like a news article about a mass shooting or a political scandal.”
That’s not brand safety, that’s covering your ass. And those methods don’t always work, especially for video and social.
The Damage Can (And Will) Be Done
It’s one thing to spend a dollar on an ad that no one sees; it’s another to spend a dollar and have it go against your brand. You’re not just stalling efforts, you’re sabotaging all the work you’ve done to build your brand.
Consumers notice, and it affects their buying decisions. More than half of U.S. millennials and Gen Xers are less likely to purchase from brands after seeing unsafe ad placements, and when they see brands next to “offensive, hateful or derogatory content,” they are three times more likely not to recommend the brand, according to a December 2017 study.
Define Your Own Standards
Unilever laid out a three-pronged “transparency commitment” that publicly demonstrated the standards to which it would hold itself and its partners — and you should, too.
Develop your own brand safety guidelines in the same way that you developed your other strategies, like your consumer archetypes, creative approaches and messaging guidelines. Make them part of your media briefs and the focus of your very first conversation with any vendor. Have a strategic conversation about your brand and the types of experiences and environments that bolster your brand image, rather than tear it down.
Pick Your Places
Social media is inherently unsafe for brands. Whether it’s an in-feed ad on Facebook or a sponsorship of an influencer’s YouTube channel, user-generated content is uncontrollable.
Yet, despite the UGC scandals of 2017, U.S. advertisers continue to spend more than 9 out of 10 new digital ad dollars into the Facebook-Google duopoly. And brands are expected to invest about $26 billion into social placements in 2018.
Instead of spending the lion’s share of their digital dollars on rolling the dice with Facebook and Google, marketers must begin setting aside large swaths of their media budget for inherently safe content, such as professional environments in categories like entertainment and games. This is where you’ll find the most amount of viewable, high-quality and brand-safe inventory in mobile, which we all know is the only growing channel. Focus on professionally developed content and partners who’ve proven their ability over the years to curate brand safe content and have strong track records of delivering value to advertisers without major risks.
Building a Safe Industry
The media industry is not going to clean itself up on its own. We as brand advertisers hold the most power and influence because we control the budgets. When you buy poor-quality video inventory, or turn a blind eye to a lack of viewability, you are rewarding publishers for their failure and perpetuate the problem.
So don’t just ask for more transparency, demand it. Instead of complaining, divest. Invest your ad dollars in quality environments; the money will speak for you, and the publishers will follow suit.