Safety guidelines drawn up to prevent online ad misplacement

Cross-industry trade bodies representing brands and online advertising companies and publishers have drawn up a six-point (see below) set of good practice guidelines designed to address marketers’ and publishers’ concerns over the reputational damage online ad misplacement can cause.

Ad misplacement

Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange, Yahoo UK, Quantcast, Millennial Media, Specific Media and Microsoft are among the 33 advertising businesses that have already signed up to the Digital Trading Standards Group’s (DTSG) “UK Good Practice Principles”. The DTSG is the cross industry initiative formed by ISBA, the IPA, IAB and AOP last year.

In principle brand advertisers can also sign up to the new industry-wide standards, although it is primarily aimed at businesses involved in programmatic buying. They are not, however, aimed at ad servers which provide the standalone technology platforms to broker the placement of display ads.

It is hoped the guidelines will “significantly reduce” the misplacement of display advertising next to inappropriate or illegal content and that they will help uphold brand safety and “protect the integrity” of digital advertising.

Signatories of the good practice guide agree to having their their policies to minimise ad misplacement independently verified within six months and thereafter every year. The third party needs to be a registered auditor and member of either The Institute of Chartered Accountants or the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants – including auditing body ABC – other than in “exceptional circumstances” when a signatory can apply to use a provider that is not a member of those bodies.

The guidelines also state buyers and sellers of online advertising should pre-agree to using independently certified content verification tools or agree ahead of ads going live in a primary agreement or signed contract as to where they should or should not appear. There is no intention, however, for the DTSG to form a blacklist of inappropriate destinations.

The publication of the UK Good Practice Principles come after more than two years of talks between the trade bodies involved.  Efforts had stalled earlier this year as parties within the IAB favoured a self-regulatory process towards minimising online ad misplacement, while the IPA and ISBA favoured independent verification.

The new guide supersedes online brand safety protocols published by ISBA and the IPA this summer.  They have been endorsed by the UK’s Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS) and replace the Internet Advertising Sales House (IASH) code of conduct, which only had a remit to cover online ad networks and closed in 2011.

There have been several high profile examples of ad misplacement in recent months. Earlier this year major brands including Nationwide and Nissan pulled advertising from Facebook after their ads appeared next to offensive pages, such as those which made light of domestic violence or incited gender-based hate. Facebook counteracted the boycott by introducing a five-point safety programme to counter hate speech on the site. 

The IPA’s head of digital Nigel Gwilliam says: “Misplaced advertising affects the whole online industry, so it is only right that we are addressing this from a cross-industry standpoint. These principles will increase the transparency, accountability, trust and safety that our advertisers and agencies so rightly deserve when placing ads online. Any business keen to demonstrate its responsibility and commitment to brand safety has nothing to lose by signing up to them, and everything to gain.”

The DTSG’s 6 “UK Good Practice Principles”
1) The buyers and sellers of digital display advertising must ensure the transaction adheres to a “primary agreement” or the specific terms and policies within a signed or agreed contract.
2) Those agreements or contracts should include the buyers and sellers’ intentions as to where the advertising should or should not appear. They should select from one or both of the following means to minimise ad misplacement:
     a) An independently certified content verification tool
     b) Appropriate or inappropriate schedules agreed between the buyer and seller pre-delivery
3) Sellers should confirm “reasonable endeavours” will be applied to minimise the risk of ad misplacement.
4) Sellers should be able to explain the processes that form the basis of these reasonable endeavours.
5) Both buyers and sellers should understand any contractual consequences should they fail to monitor these processes and respond appropriately to ad misplacement via take down.
6) Each signatory will have their ad misplacement minimisation policies independently verified within six months and thereafter every year.

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