Fake news here, alternative facts there: The global media landscape faces new challenges, by which advertisers are also affected. Which brand would like to end up with ad campaigns on dubious websites? In the future, intelligent algorithms will help to minimize brand safety risks. Until then, however, advertisers have to roll up their sleeves.
Brands that advertise with big budgets rely on scaling and range. With programmatic advertising, advertising messages can be extensively automated and thus efficiently placed. On the one hand, the greatest possible reach and access to the most comprehensive ad inventory available are real added value for advertisers. On the other hand, many brands in the meantime face the question of how to avoid placing advertising messages in a non-preferred environment.
Erotic or violence-glorifying websites are the tip of the iceberg and are cited as typical negative examples in connection with the key word ‘brand safety’. In fact, websites of those categories can be excluded from current campaigns in a reliable manner to some extent. However, it is more complicated for websites whose contents do not clearly go against an advertiser’s preferences and those for which the categorical exclusion from campaigns has not yet been fully solved technically.
There’s a Grey Area Between Blacklists and Whitelists
It concerns a fairly large grey area and those who followed media coverage in the pre-Christmas period should know what we are talking about. Several brands discovered their ad campaigns running on Breitbart News – promoted by Steven Bannon now Donald Trump’s chief strategist – and wondered how this could happen. Kellogg’s, U.S. BMW other major brands had unintentionally spent parts of their advertisement budget on a far-right news website that fundamentally opposes their company culture and brand values.
The automation played an unwelcome trick on advertisers and has made it clear to our industry that the grey areas between blacklists and whitelists in programmatic advertising can become a real problem for brands. So, what can we do to minimize the risk with regard to brand safety?
Algorithms Are Competent Helpers, but Manual Work Remains Necessary
An automated approach is the first building block helping to ensure brand safety. Intelligent algorithms (inhouse-developed or from third-party providers) categorize content from websites on the basis of semantic and image analysis. In the next step, advertisers manually select which inventory should be included for their campaign based on categories. Since algorithms that try to exclude unwanted inventory from ever being bought are far from perfect (although always improving) and due to the fact that new inventory such as websites or apps becomes available almost every second of each and every day, a manual retrospective analysis remains essential: Where did the campaign run? Is there inventory, which is to be excluded for future campaigns? In this way, advertisers are developing an individual blacklist step by step, which will improve brand safety in future campaigns.
Whitelists provide more security than blacklist approaches, yet they are often disadvantageous with regards to reach. Only a few advertisers currently have enough experience to operate a whitelist, which, on the one hand, guarantees brand safety, and on the other, guarantees attractive reach. Currently, we can generally differentiate between two sorts of SSP-Providers. Those who bundle maximum reach and more or less don’t filter unwanted inventory (even the “obviously” bad inventory for 99% of advertisers). They follow the approach that they as technology providers aren’t necessarily responsible for inventory control.
On the other end of the spectrum there is such providers that carefully select and filter inventory they want to connect to the programmatic market. But also advertisers should take the initiative and alert publishers about the increasing priority of brand safety. At the end of the day, any effective and sustainable approach to brand safety requires both advertisers and publishers to pull on the same string.
The bottom line: In order to protect brands from funding unwelcomed websites or apps with advertising spent, algorithms that analyze and categorize the available ad inventory are constantly refined. The categorization is intended to provide more transparency in the management of brand safety. However, this process cannot be automated 100% quite yet. Until then, advertisers and service providers have to manually readjust.