Aug. 25, 2017 by Sara Jabbari

How Brand Safety Came Back Into the Spotlight

Why is brand safety gaining attention?

Brand safety came back into the spotlight when the largest video platform served pre-roll ads within controversial and inappropriate content.  Some of the most reputable brands have pulled out of YouTube because their advertisements appeared alongside sexist, racist and even extremist user-generated content (UGC). CNBC reported that these scandals caused 5% of YouTube’s top U.S. advertisers, including AT&T, Johnson and Johnson and, Verizon, to leave the platform. While UGC platforms like YouTube and Facebook capture the most ad dollars, this is precisely where we find the most low quality and risky content, and as a result, advertisers have become concerned over a lack of transparency regarding where their ads are being placed - and seen  - by millions of viewers.

What is causing this?

Ad inventory is increasingly sold and bought through programmatic advertising, primarily in open exchanges where ad space is essentially bought blind. As a result, advertisers have little to no control regarding which video content their ads will run on. This creates a problem when considering that their efforts to improve brand awareness are instead compromising their reputation, simply due to the unsafe environment of certain ad inventory.

What measures have Google taken to fight it?

In response to the boycott, Google began putting in place more measures to ensure better brand safety, such as imposing tougher eligibility requirements for monetization and working with MRC-accredited third party brand safety vendors, such as DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science. While Google continues to update its efforts in giving brands more control over where their ads will appear, their efforts will be limited because YouTube relies on UGC by nature, and hosts an insurmountable number of videos, making it almost impossible to guarantee 100% brand safety.

What can advertisers do?

Brands themselves must take the necessary measures to minimize the risk of brand safety. Advertisers should focus on premium and reputable publishers where they can be sure that the content will be brand safe. While some may argue that those sites are more vulnerable to ad fraud, where bot networks and other non-human traffic generate fake impressions, solutions exists to overcome this challenge.

The Private Marketplace (PMP) serves as a safer alternative to big open programmatic exchanges. PMP is an invitation-only RTB auction where deals are directly established between an exclusive group of publishers and advertisers. Buyers and sellers have full transparency regarding which websites the ads will appear on, reducing the risk of brand safety concern. High quality publishers including Hearst, The New York Times, and Forbes have made inventory available through PMPs.

In addition, IAB’s new ads.txt initiative recently introduced a new way to whitelist ad partners allowed to sell impressions on a given site. Both publishers and programmatic platforms integrate the text file on their web servers so that advertisers have the ability to verify the validity and legitimacy of the ad inventory they purchase, eliminating  the sale of counterfeit inventory.

As quality control remains a top concern for advertisers who continue to prioritize brand safety, programmatic tools and initiatives are evolving in order to ensure that advertisers needs are met. By working with premium sites through these advanced methods, advertisers gain more control, transparency and confidence that their campaigns run on brand safe and premium content, and will therefore perform better, providing them a return on investment that platforms like YouTube simply cannot guarantee.

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