Brand safety has rocketed to the top of the marketing agenda for almost every brand on the planet, following scandalous revelations by British newspaper The Times that companies, charities and even governments were unwittingly funding extremist groups through programmatic advertising on Google’s YouTube.
A subsequent boycott of the video platform has spread across the globe with many brands suspending campaigns until they can be certain ads will not be delivered alongside bigoted or extremist content. Among the Australian companies to join the boycott are Telstra, whose ads were served in conjunction with an offensive video from a men’s rights activist, and Foxtel whose video ads were found to be running on a YouTube channel with anti-Semitic material.
So what impact will the recent revelations have on the industry, and what can be done to protect the safety of brands in Australia moving forward?
Although the boycott will be expensive for Google – estimated to cost $A995 million – it is unlikely to have a negative long-term impact on the company. With approximately half the Australian population using YouTube, the platform’s reach is too great for advertisers to stay away permanently.
And despite the blame for poor ad placements being laid at the door of digital advertising – specifically programmatic – the situation isn’t likely to see a reversal of fortunes for this sector either. The digital advertising market continues to grow, with spend increasing by 23 per cent last year, and the percentage being spent programmatically is rising rapidly. Brands are simply not going to turn their backs on the scale and efficiency this marketing channel provides.
Instead of causing the downfall of Google or programmatic advertising, the YouTube boycott must serve to improve the online ecosystem, making it a safer and more transparent place for brands to engage their audiences. There are various ways to achieve this:
All parties must take responsibility
It is easy for marketers to point the finger at technology providers and publishers, but while these parties are busy addressing issues on their side, brands and their agencies must also take action. Vijay Solanki, the chief executive of IAB Australia, recently urged brands not to avoid digital advertising, but to instead gain a better understanding of how their media is planned and booked.
Marketers also need to define what constitutes a safe placement for their unique brand and clearly brief agencies on the types of content ads need to be kept away from before campaigns are executed. While some categories such as extremist content will be unwelcome for all, marketers may have individual views on other categories such as breaking news or adult entertainment depending on their product and brand values.
As well as understanding what brand safety means for them, marketers and agencies may also need to review the metrics they use to gauge campaign success, with a shift towards qualitative measurements such as optimum ad placements replacing a sole reliance on quantitative metrics such as views and clicks.
Ad verification must be implemented
In an attempt to address brand concerns raised by the recent controversy, Google has already announced a partnership with comScore to provide independent reporting into brand safety on YouTube and provide advertisers with greater contextual transparency. In learning from the Google ad boycott, the industry as a whole must adopt universal standards in digital advertising and implement third party ad verification to validate where ads are appearing, for how long and in what context.
Technology must promote transparency
Technological innovation has revolutionised the digital advertising landscape, but at times it has also hindered transparency, allowing quality issues to go unnoticed, so as new technologies emerge they must be designed with openness and clarity in mind. Header bidding, for instance, was created partly to promote transparency, but a recent move towards server-side integrations – intended to reduce latency – risks limiting this once again. Tech developers must ensure their server-side solutions allow complete visibility into the bidding process, indicating if the exchange has an ad to show and establishing a price before the ad call is made, to ensure embracing this positive technological development does not mean sacrificing clarity and brand safety.
The Google backlash represents a call to arms for the digital advertising industry as a whole to address widespread issues with transparency and accountability, and there is much the industry is already doing – and can do in the future – to allay any fears. By following the path of greater transparency and cooperation, brands, agencies, tech providers and publishers can make better use of programmatic technology to ensure digital ads are reaching the right audiences in an effective, brand safe context.
(As published on B&T)
June 15, 2017
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