The news has recently been awash with articles naming big brand advertisers who have unwittingly had their ads placed on content associated with terrorism and hate speech, raising real concerns on the issue of brand safety. Worryingly the platforms in question are those we often feel are safe and trusted. Google and Facebook have been singled out in particular in news reports for their lack of control over this type of content and the advertising that runs alongside it.
It’s clear that as an industry we are facing a significant problem that will not be quickly going away. Many questions have arisen on how this continues to happen, despite existing process and protocol, and what we should be doing to change it. Of course, critical to this discussion is where responsibility sits on the journey to this solution. Advertisers must ensure they are aware of the risks and the options they face to mitigate the problem, and realise we all play a role in ensuring brand safety.
When you look at the huge volumes of user-generated content (UGC) that hits the web every day, you can understand the challenge in managing this flow.
Google for example admits the difficulty in its brand care playbook:
There are over 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube each minute, and every piece of content is automatically classified and categorized by machine-learning algorithms. While we are constantly improving our detection and categorization measures, some marketing content may not meet the specific brand care needs of a specific advertiser.
And just in case something slips through the cracks, Google relies on users to report inappropriate content, which it will review and remove if it's deemed to be in breach of its guidelines.
Much of the current dialogue surrounds the question of whether this is enough. What responsibility sits with platforms to prevent this from happening? Google has now released expanded safeguards in response to the issues coming to light—a great step in the right direction. The focus will be on improving the approach to deciding which content can carry advertising (ensuring it is only content by legitimate creators), increasing brand-safety levels and controls that advertisers can access directly, and more transparency on where ads are running.
While it is certainly true that the platforms have a responsibility of care and due diligence, and these discussions are ongoing at a global level as we speak, we also need to take the bull by the horns as marketers in APAC and look at how we can bring more accountability into our advertising investment.
There are two key areas we should be focussing on:
- Ensuring we deploy third-party tracking on brand safety and viewability so we fully understand the risk we face and how best to avoid it.
- Supporting a supply solution that gives us more control over the inventory we buy and the quality of content we are associated with.
GroupM works with many tools to track and improve brand safety and viewability, including Moat, Grapeshot, Integral Ad Science, Double Verify and Sizmek. These tools are an essential consideration in any advertiser’s tech stack.
The common pushback on the use of these tools is that advertisers don’t see the benefit of yet another tracking cost to bear. When it comes down to it, these costs should be seen as more of an investment—an insurance policy if you like. As we’ve seen with the recent coverage on this issue, it can take just one bad example to make you front-page news, for all the wrong reasons.
It’s also once again down to the issue of accountability. Are we really getting what we pay for? We cannot rely on publishers to ‘mark their own homework’. We need independent tracking and verification to ensure that data used for investment decisions is fairly represented and neutrally reported. In order for that to happen, all publishers need to allow it. This is unfortunately not always the case, but agencies need to work with all of their partners to address this (and we are).
The inventory supply chain
It’s critical that advertisers have access to premium, quality content at scale. GroupM has been focussed on building out a robust trusted market place (TMP) which creates a pool of programmatic inventory that is set up via direct publisher deals. This works to reduce the market’s reliance on open-exchange inventory, and improves both brand safety and viewability standards.
For direct buys that are non-programmatic, similar principles and standards apply. We should only work with partners that we are confident are taking the right measures to minimise the overall risk. In APAC it’s important that we work closely with local partners alongside global partners, where they can help us deliver local relevance, and improved viewability and fraud rates, both from an IO (insertion order) perspective and a programmatic supply platform perspective. We look for local partners that are direct to source, and perform well, allowing us to further optimise our overall performance. The market operates on a demand and supply model: the more we create demand for quality inventory, the more incentive there is for publishers to create it. And a virtuous circle begins.
In the end, there will always be an element of risk. The scale and complexity of the available inventory make it difficult to fully eradicate unsuitable content. It’s up to the publishers to take full control and responsibility for minimising this risk, and for advertisers and agencies to make sure they are tracking their activity and optimising towards sites that are brand-safe and are viewable. Moving the demand in this way will, over time, create a safer and better-quality marketplace for us all.
Nick Binns is chief investment officer at GroupM APAC