It took a front-page story in the Times and an advertiser boycott to spur Google into action, but the search giant is now moving to create a safer—if not 100 percent safe—environment for brands.
While this is a step in the right direction, very real risks still exist for any brand advertising itself online. Neil Eatson, the founder and chief executive of Appraise Digital, a London-based consultancy that aims to help advertisers make more objective decisions online, says the recent revelations around lack of brand safety came as no surprise.
At the same time, he says, it’s served as a “wakeup call” for advertisers everywhere. Eatson notes that problems of transparency are widespread and not unique to Google. He says that although programmatic advertising technology was attractive in its early days for its high level of transparency, it has become “about as opaque as mud”.
Eatson suggests it’s in the interests of agencies and platforms to make the technology appear more complicated than it really is, and that brands need to take greater ownership of their activities online. That is now starting to happen, he says, with more brands questioning the technology that drives their media, and some taking programmatic buying in-house.
Japan does not seem to be at that stage yet. Nori Takahiro, a former Google employee and representative of Sharethrough in Japan, says online advertising in the country has less emphasis on safety or placement quality. He attributes this to the fact that still relatively few ads are created for branding purposes. Takahiro sees Japanese online advertising as “two to three years behind schedule” relative to Western markets. He says given that many advertisers in Japan plan to raise their budgets for online branding, safety controls would need to be tightened. Re-targeting in particular results in many cases of ads appearing against “non-safe” inventory, he said.
Takahiro says a further issue advertisers in Japan must contend with but may lack awareness of is the rise of low quality ‘curation’ media and fake news. An example is last year’s scandal involving DeNA, which among other cases was criticized for disseminating inaccurate medical information via a curated website.
Who will lead the creation of a safer environment? Takahiro is clear that it has to be the advertisers. But in Japan and globally, all stakeholders including clients, vendors, publishers and agencies need to work together if any progress is to happen.
“It’s a problem for all publishers and ad tech companies, not just Google and Facebook,” says Takahiro. Third-party auditing by companies such as Integral and Moat will be essential. But that could open up a whole new can of worms, with some publishers resisting greater transparency around unique users and viewable impressions, he suggests.
Last week, Campaign reported comments by Michael Higgins, chairman of Ebiquity, a media auditor, stating that up to 60 percent of global programmatic ad spend is wasted.
“It’s a striking fact that today only about 40 percent of digital programmatic advertising investment reaches the consumer, with value being eroded by the multiple links between advertisers and publishers, fraud, lack of viewability and non-human traffic,” he said during an annual results announcement. “I don’t envy any business leader who has to tell his board and shareholders that they’re investing in anything that suffers up to 60 percent wastage. The trouble is, that’s what many CMOs should be saying.”