In April, the American Association of Advertising Agencies launched a cross-holding company and agency consortium called the Advertiser Protection Bureau to "better share knowledge around brand safety incidents and how to combat them."
A few weeks ago, the Brand Safety Institute was launched, planning a "certification program designed to train and accredit ad industry execs on the finer points of brand safety, such as ad quality, how to vet partners, ad placement and content analysis and understanding ad fraud and malware."
You know, playing in the new world of digital media, changing media consumption and multiscreen audiences is really getting exhausting. Don't you ever feel like a hedgehog on a treadmill that never stops turning?
Clearly, though, there’s a trend here that mandates I immediately jump aboard or once again be labeled a behind-the-times lug nut.
Back in the day, brand safely was a pretty simple process because brands had straight-ahead clauses in their contracts to assure it. So, for example, airliners had a rule that would stop all of their on-air advertising in the event of a plane crash anywhere in the world. As time passed, their ads dribbled back on the air.
Tobacco companies, which kept the magazine industry afloat a decade or two longer than it might have been otherwise, required that their ads never appear next to stories about respiratory health issues, especially things like smog or, ahem, smoking.
In the early days of digital advertising, there was little concern for brand safety because everybody was so amped to finally get ads before those eyeballs that the context didn't matter. Execution didn't seem to matter either, because the industry went through a truly ugly period, inventing more and more intrusive ad units such as pop-ups, page takeovers, redirects and the ever-popular flashing strobe effect — to the point where brand safety was more at risk from the creative vs. the surrounding content.
Then the internet got ugly. Not that it wasn't from the get-go, but when downloading a porn image took three minutes over a 9600-baud modem, it was a powerful disincentive. Once the crazies found out they could post whatever they wanted and they would not go immediately to jail or get the shit kicked out of them by the subject of their rant, all hell broke loose.
At the same time the internet was soaring as a tool to quickly access information, communicate quickly with others, explore new cultures and share work, it was sinking into a mire of drug sales, pedophilia, conspiracy theories and racist, misogynistic and xenophobic diatribes.
Meanwhile it became so cheap for brands to reach millions of eyeballs, they plunged into internet advertising often with no clue about where their ads ran. Slowly it began to emerge than they were often running adjacent to porn, or vile user generated video or programming that was the moral equivalent of toilet water.
This wasn't all that upsetting. It was considered just the annoying cost of doing business in the new digital world — until social media gave audiences an easy way to call out those brands, accusing them of "supporting" that vile content.
After trying to blame ad tech for running their ads in undisclosed locations, brands finally figured out that the upside of an occasional conversion wasn't worth the downside of being labeled a sponsor of, say, terrorism or hate speech — and brand safety began to climb up the RFP.
Now everybody is jumping on the brand safety bandwagon, as if it’s some math calculation to be solved to figure out how to keep nice brands away from ugly content.
The answer was there all along, but everybody ignored it — especially as the audiences for social networks grew astronomically. So let me save you from having to attend any Advertiser Protection Bureau or Brand Safety Institute hoedowns: I suggest you simply go back to TV.