Three out of four brands have experienced brand safety issues in the past year. However, as top-of-mind as brand safety issues are nowadays, a disconnect remains. Only 26% of brands have actually taken steps to combat these issues, according to recent research. Certainly, it is up to publishers and ad tech vendors to do the heavy lifting, but there are steps brands can take as well.
There is no single solution. Brands can best protect themselves by adopting a comprehensive strategy. Let’s take a look at the three core imperatives that comprise a holistic framework for improving inventory quality and creating brand-safe environments.
1. Policing the supply chain
To create a clean and safe supply chain, we need players to abide by the appropriate policies. Here, IAB and TAG are leading the way. Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) is a cross-industry accountability program that aims to create transparency in business relationships and transactions. It is incumbent on everyone in the industry to vow to only work with TAG-certified companies. By exclusively partnering with TAG-certified companies such as Tremor Video DSP, brands will help ensure their ads run on legitimate platforms and make it harder for illegitimate players to stay in business.
Last year, IAB made it mandatory that members register with TAG. This January, TAG announced that publishers must implement ads.txt in order to receive a "certified against fraud" seal. Ads.txt aims to prevent advertisers from buying unauthorized inventory programmatically by allowing publishers to publicly declare who is authorized to sell their inventory. Roughly half of all websites have implemented ads.txt, which is great—but that also means half of websites have not yet implemented ads.txt. Brands must consider this as they choose their advertising partners. Unless everyone agrees to only work with good actors, we will continue to have supply quality problems.
2. Combating ad fraud
Working with certified players will help brands avoid fraudulent inventory and ensure transparency. But ad fraud, specifically nonhuman traffic, can impact even the most well-meaning partners. Brands must ask their partners about their approach to combating ad fraud.
Bot fraud cost the industry an estimated $6.5 billion in 2017, according to research from ANA and White Ops. This is a substantial figure, but we are making progress. This number represents a 10% decline in fraud-related losses compared to 2016.
No one can win this fight alone. Any company that serves ads needs to make sure it is using the technology available to filter out nonhuman traffic. Verification partners like DoubleVerify can scan ad requests in real time, identifying suspicious user activity and ensuring that buyers are bidding only on impressions that reach people, not bots.
3. Defining and ensuring brand safety
Context matters when it comes to ad delivery, and rooting out fraudulent sites and environments is only part of this equation. There is always the hazard that an otherwise credible publisher may be unsafe for brands if the story of the day involves crime or obscenities.
There are universal types of content like violence, drugs, profanity and hate speech that brands do not want to be associated with. These topics are harmful to any brand.
Brand safety can also be subjective. Red Bull, for example, has a different comfort level than P&G. Every brand needs to define what it means to them. Then, they must communicate this with their partners and inquire about the steps those partners will take to ensure the standards are upheld. Brands should also consider creating new roles dedicated to brand safety, as some big brands have already done. This will ensure brand safety is embedded in the company’s ethos and infrastructure.
Digital advertising is a partnership. We all have jobs to do and responsibilities to uphold. Both supply and demand partners must abide by relevant policies, leverage the ad fraud protection and detection tools at their disposal and take steps to understand and abide by each advertiser’s definition of brand safety. Brand safety protection should come at no additional cost to advertisers. It is our duty to create and preserve fraud-free environments for clients. If that requires additional tech fees, then that burden should never be passed on to marketers.
But brands can’t be passive. They must define brand safety, communicate it with everyone they work with and choose partners that adhere to industry policy and fraud-related best practices. In this way, brands will play an active part in creating a more transparent ecosystem that helps, rather than hurts, their ability to reach the most relevant and receptive audiences, while fulfilling their advertising objectives.
Abbey Thomas is the chief marketing officer for Tremor Video DSP.