When the London-based newspaper, The Times, reported in February that ads were running on YouTube alongside video content promoting racism, terrorism, illegal activity, and violence, Havas Group UK froze all ad spend on Google and YouTube. Other major advertisers such as HSBC, Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, Lyft, and L'Oréal quickly followed suit. In the aftermath of this early pandemonium, there was a lot of fierce finger-pointing of who to blame. The big guy, of course.
Surprisingly (or maybe not), advertisers, agencies, Google, programmatic, and the entire digital ecosystem—considered by naysayers to be oversaturated and unwieldy even for industry giants—have all been held liable by one party or another. Identifying the culprit is a convenient way to eschew accountability. Instead of asking "Who is to blame?", perhaps we should be asking "Who is responsible?" for brand safety. And the answer is, well, all of us.
It Takes Two to Make a Thing Go Right
Let's start at the beginning of the media transaction, with brands. Reach, scale, and efficiencies have driven many brands to incorporate programmatic advertising as part of their plans. But too many, for too long, have let Google and Facebook play by a different set of rules. Rules that did not, until recently, allow third-party verification on their platforms.
Demanding that these tech titans use third parties to protect ads from being associated with “objectionable content" is a step in the right direction, but brands still need to place greater value on content and control—even if it comes at a cost. By stressing quality, not quantity to their media-buying arms, agencies can shift programmatic dollars to the more controlled environments of programmatic direct and private marketplaces (PMPs), decreasing the chances of a repeat of offense.
For advertisers, ensuring brand-safe environments starts by choosing the right demand-side partner and leveraging their third-party relationships. Verification companies such as DoubleVerify, Forensiq, and Pixalate are an effective way to monitor pre-bid supply. Advertisers and agencies should demand comprehensive reporting from their partners so they know what they are buying. At Tremor Video, we double down. We work with third parties and have our own internal team whose sole focus is monitoring and addressing fraud, viewability, brand safety, and ad quality.
On the other side of this media transaction are SSPs, responsible for establishing a strong vetting process for each publisher that is onboarded. When performing quality assurance on potential supply, we examine an exhaustive list of factors, including, but not limited to:
- Have quality in-stream video ad space
- No “stacked" ads
- Video plays properly
- Doesn't simultaneously play multiple videos with sound off
- Age of content
- True video content follows the video ad
- No site redirecting
- Site is actively updated with new and relevant content
- No third-party verification companies flagged the site as suspicious/site fraud
- Blacklist fake or questionable news site
It's an Ongoing Process
The right partner will also continuously update their approach to brand safety and implement new technologies as they emerge. Tremor Video was the first to develop a stream-level analysis taking contextual analysis a step beyond URL and page analysis by examining the content of every video stream.
We were also early adopters of server-to-server integration with DoubleVerify. This means our bidder analyzes each bid request prior to making a bid, allowing us to block non-human traffic and fraudulent content across all domains. We can also pre-block all controversial subjects: Inflammatory Politics & News i.e. “Fake News." It's imperative that our collective understanding and technological response expands as new risks present themselves.
It is too soon to tell what the true impact of Google's new-found focus on brand safety will be. Regardless, the lack of control and transparency was too common for too long throughout the industry and we can all work together to fix it. When we each do what we can for fraud protection, brand safety, and alignment, the entire ecosystem will benefit.