Brand safety is actually improving online

Despite current concerns over brand safety on Google, new research finds it actually improved both in display and video advertising in the second half of 2016.

The likelihood of brand’s advertising appearing next to unsafe or unsavoury content online actually improved in the second half of 2016, despite mounting concern over brand safety following revelations that ads are appearing next to extreme content.

According to research by Integral Ad Science, the volume of “brand safe infractions” on display advertising in the UK decreased from 7.8% in the first six months of 2016 to 6.8% in the second half. That decline was mirrored in video advertising, with the proportion dropping from 11.2% to 8.9% globally.

However, the UK is behind just the US when it comes to the proportion of advertising appear next to unsafe content. The 6.8% figure for display is higher than in Germany, France, Canada and Australia, although lower than the US’s 8.6%.

Programmatic drives brand risk

Programmatic is the biggest culprit when it comes to ads appearing alongside risky content. The report found ads appeared next to unsafe content 6.9% of the time when display advertising was bought programmatically, compared to 5.8% when bought directly with a publisher.

That figure is again similar for video, at 9.8% for programmatic and 6.4% for publisher direct. However, display ads were no more likely to appear next to content with ‘high’ or ‘very high’ risk when digital advertising was bought programmatically (see below).

The proportion of brand safety infractions in display advertising

The issue of brand safety has moved to the top of marketers’ agendas after a series of exposes by The Times revealed that ads are appearing next to videos on YouTube by pornographers, terrorists and white supremacists. More than 250 advertisers including brands such as Marks & Spencer, PepsiCo and Walmart have so far pulled their advertising from Google amid demands for the company to improve their tools and policies to limit damage to brands’ reputations.

Google has promised to review its policies, make it easier for brands to use tools aimed at limiting brand risk and employ more people to police content on its site.

However, Nick Morley, EMEA MD at Integral Ad Science, says that as fake news, ad fraud and brand safety become bigger issues, marketers must demand greater transparency.

He explains: “The recent headlines have increased awareness of these issues, highlighted clear areas where improvement is required, and reinforced that context is key. Everyone in the industry has a duty of care to address brand safety issues, we’d encourage all to do their part and use third-party verification technology.”

WPP is attempting to give its clients more transparency. Its media-buying arm, GroupM, is tying up with OpenSlate, with scores YouTube content based on its quality and brand safety and provides insights on where ads ran.

WPP-owned GroupM announced Wednesday it is forming a partnership with OpenSlate, which gives YouTube content a score for quality and brand safety and provides reporting on where ads ran. The service, which is supported by Google, only works on premium ‘Google Preferred’ campaigns.

Viewability and ad fraud

The report also found that, overall, media quality “stabilised” in the second half of the year while viewability saw “significant improvement”, increasing from 40% to 58.2% between the first and second parts of the year for video.

But there is again a big discrepancy between advertising bought programmatically and direct with publishers. Viewability for programmatic video was just 49.6%, compared to 76.6% for publisher direct. That is mirrored in display advertising with rates of 46.8% for programmatic and 62.9% for publisher direct.

In terms of ad fraud, advertisers that used tech that can “optimise against” the problem saw much lower rates. For programmatic display the proportion of ad fraud fell from 4.9% to 0.6% if the tech was used, while for publisher direct it fell from 1% to 0.2%.

The drop off for video was even greater, falling from 26.5% to 2.2% for programmatic and 10.6% to 1.6% for publisher direct.

Video brand risk – ads served next to content deemed inappropriate – improved compared to H1 2016, decreasing from 11.2% overall to 8.9%, which is on par with display brand risk, falling from 7.8% during the first half of 2016 to 6.8% during the second half of the year. However, with the advent of fake news and the increase in violent and extremist content and videos, brand safety remains a critical issue for advertisers, underscoring the need for a solution to protect brand reputations.



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  1. Expressly . 30 Mar 2017

    Thanks for the article Sarah, it is unfortunate that brand safety is a potential problem with online marketing. This will likely improve though as marketers and search engines look for solutions .

    One solution involves creating a network of merchants within which individual merchants can select others to partner with. The partners within the network display ads for each other and because each partner is carefully selected, it all but guarantees brand safety when advertising within the network. With carefully select ads offering great deals on items the customer has an interest in, the ads also help to offer value to their own customers.

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