A warning from CMOs: The ad industry has been too complacent about brand safety

The Times investigation shows the ad industry has taken its eye off the issues, such as brand safety, that really matter to advertisers.

Lenovo global director of marketing, Gary Milner, says it is important for companies to have fewer tech providers

Every industry event in recent weeks has been taken over by conversations around brand safety, transparency and the effectiveness of digital advertising and the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas last week was no different.

At the event, brands and agencies agreed that the ad industry has taken the issue seriously enough and that, while it might not be a new problem, the scale of the problem and reaction from brands shows more needs to be done.

The concerns stem from an investigation by The Times, which found ads from brands such as L’Oréal, the Guardian and Channel 4 appearing next to unsavoury and sometimes extremist content. According to the newspaper, at least 250 brands have pulled their advertising from YouTube while Google is working on updates to its policies and services in an attempt to address the issue

Gary Milner, director of global digital marketing at Lenovo, says the outcry now shows how complacent the ad industry has become.

“The problem is people in the industry have been complacent. They haven’t been listening and thankfully people like [Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer] Marc Pritchard have stood up and talked about it. The solutions are there but not everyone has wanted to use them,” he said.

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Milner believes one way to tackle the issue is for brands to have fewer tech providers so they spend less time in meetings with ad tech and more thinking about the supply chain and media buying.

People in the industry have been complacent. They haven’t been listening.

Gary Milner, Lenovo

Milner said it is important brands are constantly aware of the supply chain and understand how their money gets from the creative, through the digital ad ecosystem to the publisher. Then they will be able to work out where they have and haven’t got issues.

He warns marketers not to concentrate on impressions but to instead look at optimising efficiency, something he believes having fewer providers and platforms helps with. Marketers should focus less on tech suppliers and more on their media supply.

“Everything is an evolving thing and it won’t be overnight,” he said.

Bringing “sanity” to advertising

Adobe recently waded into the media buying space for the first time, introducing the Adobe Advertising Cloud, which aims to provide an end-to-end platform for managing advertising across traditional and digital formats.

Adobe claims its platform offers advertisers tools and safeguards in order to maintain brand safety and says the fact it does not have direct ownership of media or content means its incentives are always in line with advertisers’ priorities. It is also integrated with Adobe analytics and Adobe manager, something it says allows marketers to measure their ads better.

Ann Lewnes, CMO at Adobe, believes precise measurement is one of the big challenges facing marketers and that the whole industry needs to step up.

“There is a lot of responsibility with the brand, agencies and publishers to better protect their clients and customers. There needs to be stricter governance,” she explained.

However, TubeMogul CEO and Adobe VP and GM, Brett Wilson, suggested too much blame has been put on brands and ad tech and it is in fact agencies that need to step up.

“I really don’t think fraud should be blamed on the advertiser and it all too often is right now,” he explained.

“I also think there is a misconception that some things that are bad in mobile advertising are because of programmatic. It is the exact opposite, software should enable advertisers to know what is really happening and to learn faster.

“Are there agencies that log into certain ad tech problems and mark up the media and resell it? Sure, but that’s not the fault of ad tech,” he says.

Wilson admits more of Adobe’s clients have been raising concerns about media buying and want to have more control over their media strategy and execution. He says they want to know exactly what is happening with their media, where their ads are running and where the money is going.

In order to deal with this he believes marketers need to take a leadership approach and be more proactive. There needs to be an alignment of business models to make sure agencies are doing their best for clients, not just selling to them.

“We need to see the agency world turn back into principles and focus on transparent service models that do what is best for the brands in all situations,” he explains.