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Tracking Industry Progress on Brand Safety

Questions about brand safety are in the news again this summer thanks to recent controversies surrounding objectionable video content on YouTube. This isn’t the first time advertisers have raised questions about brand safety associated with automated ad buying techniques like programmatic: a similar issue with video ads showing up alongside inappropriate content on YouTube came up in 2017. But given that programmatic ad buying continues to play an increasingly important role in digital ad spending, is the industry making any progress on this issue? Here are three signs of the industry’s evolution on brand safety.

CPG Advertisers Are Leading the Charge
There’s no question that concern with brand safety cuts across nearly every industry. But some of the most vocal advocates pushing for change have been CPG brands like P&G and Unilever. Thanks to their huge marketing budgets, both companies have an influential voice to push for change. P&G’s Marc Pritchard is the most notable example thanks to his widely cited comments about ad transparency in 2017. And Pritchard appears to have followed through on his calls for change: P&G reported during an earnings call last year that the company cut its digital spend by 20 to 50 percent in 2017 on certain categories of ads linked with bots and brand safety concerns. Now other CPG brands are following P&G’s lead. Unilever CMO Keith Weed raised similar brand safety issues during a 2018 keynote speech at the annual IAB Leadership Meeting.

Growing Recognition Among All Industry Players
Advertisers aren’t the only ad industry parties concerned with brand safety. In fact, there are growing signs that publishers and advertising technology vendors are aware of the problem and actively working to solve the issue. Consider a June 2018 study by Iponweb and ExchangeWire, which surveyed media professionals for their opinions of major challenges associated with programmatic ad buying. According to the results, 59% of media professionals listed brand safety as an issue, the second-most popular answer. And as recognition of the challenge increases, industry groups are rallying together to develop methods of fighting back. The latest example is the Brand Safety Institute, a trade group formed in July 2018 by digital media professionals that’s dedicated to raising awareness and identifying solutions for the brand safety predicament.

New Solutions Show Signs of Progress
Best of all, the ad industry’s efforts to fight back against brand safety are showing some early signs of success. A July 2018 study by Trusted Media Brands and Advertiser Perceptions, which investigated steps taken by industry players to improve the brand safety of their digital media buys, is one example of the strategies that the industry is using to prevent brand safety problems. Sixty-six percent of respondents said they had blacklisted specific sites or channels, while another 58% had avoided buys connected to political content and 56% had done more monitoring and auditing of the site lists where they were investing campaign dollars. Even better, other problem areas related to advertising transparency and fraud have already seen considerable progress. Extreme Reach’s Q2 2018 Video Benchmarks Report, for instance, found that rates of “invalid” fraudulent traffic were down nearly 5% versus the same period a year ago. Meanwhile, the rates for video appearing in suboptimal “small player” ad placements have diminished for premium publishers, dropping from 22% to 16% during the same period.

Brand safety remains a significant challenge for the ad industry, particularly as automated programmatic buying plays a greater role in campaigns. But thanks to the advocacy of executives at companies like P&G and Unilever, more advertisers, publishers and vendors are aware of the problem and taking steps to find solutions. So far, that commitment appears to be showing results, both in the form of new countermeasures along with growing collaboration across the industry. Brand safety may not be solved just yet, but there are plenty of signs that the industry is already taking steps to fight back.