Brand safety: seven questions to ask your agency
To mitigate brand safety risks and get the best bang for your online advertising buck, you need to ask the right questions, writes Chris Pattinson.
The shockwaves from February’s YouTube exposé continue to ricochet around our industry. Brands are – rightly so – more aware of ad placements and the potential brand safety issues and risks associated with automated online advertising. Brands are asking more smart and specific questions of their agency; likewise, agencies of their vendors.
This can only be a good thing.
As Keith Weed, Unilever’s CMO, said in Cannes this year, “I think some marketers woke up and realised they weren’t on top of buying as best as they thought… I think if people go away and say, ‘I want 100% brand safety’, they’re going to have a long journey back.”
In short, nothing is 100% safe. If you want a 100% safety guarantee, don’t do it.
In advertising there is a constant arms race between protective technologies and those who engage in dishonest practices: just ask any of the fraud/viewability verification businesses how hard it is to keep up and stay ahead of bots and click farms.
All you can do is to ask the right questions and use the best tools available to get the most value for your money while mitigating the risk of harmful exposure as much as possible.
Done right, programmatic enables brands to quickly and cost-effectively reach large numbers of relevant audience. For example, it can deliver airline ads to consumers searching for plane tickets or planning for holidays right now. But it can also inadvertently lead to an airline’s ad appearing beside a breaking news article about a plane crash. So, without the right levels of oversight, brand reputation could be put in danger.
This is not a good thing.
Around the globe, CMOs and their teams are increasingly aware brand perception is affected not just by the content of their ad but also by the content surrounding it. The environment in which it is placed is as important as the ad itself. Digital ad spend in APAC is experiencing a rapid rise and the region’s businesses want to know that when they pay for advertising, it will be as effective as possible.
We’ve said the right questions need to be asked, so what are they?
1. Are we considering context or targeting single keywords?
Agencies should work with solution providers evaluating complete texts, with native language capability, not machine translation. By analysing relationships between key words to determine meaning, rather than looking at single keyword incidence, it’s easier to find the content relevant to brands and customers for that specific creative, message or campaign; likewise, to filter out undesirable content. There is no one-size-fits-all either: content about obesity may be blacklisted for a fast food brand, but extremely relevant to a healthcare brand.
2. Will ads only be placed on same-language pages?
Get confirmation your ads will only appear on same-language web pages, so you’re not wasting advertising dollars on foreign-language audiences who can’t understand your ad. Viewability only makes sense if your audience can actually read your ad.
3. Is the data you’re using fresh and relevant?
The reality of content is stories break, edits are made and context can change. Are you working with a system crawling trillions of
pages in real time and constantly, dynamically, updating categorisations every time they are seen, or are you working with out of date and static data? Data used for targeting only carries value if it is current, relevant and accurate.
4. Are you really targeting consumers in real time?
Don’t just advertise to consumers based on previously read content or items they shopped a month ago – sure, it has a place on the plan, but are you using truly live targeting to grab relevant audiences based on what they’re reading right now? Are you capitalising on the opportunity of immediacy and capturing attention in the relevant environment and mindset?
5. Can you show me how it works?
Much can be suggested on flashy Poweroint decks with all the right industry buzzwords on them. But have you seen how it works in real time?
Do you know exactly where you ads will appear? Is it going to be in the native language relevant to your needs? Can you see the exact composition of your targeting? Or do you have to take it on faith that content and themes will be targeted or avoided?
6. What content needs to be blacklisted?
Work with your media agency to create a custom blacklist of brand-incompatible content ranging from breaking news to the archives of
the web so you avoid content specifically toxic to your brand.
7. What are the success metrics?
Avoid reliance on vanity metrics that encourage risky practices, such as cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-action (CPA). Instead, consider genuine
metrics such as customer engagement, as demonstrated by website bounce rate, time spent on the page and number of pages visited per session. As the economist Charles Goodhart said, “When a metric becomes the target it ceases to be a good measure.”
In the age of programmatic advertising, designing a striking ad with compelling copy isn’t enough. What’s the point of creating the perfect ad when it sits next to online content offensive to consumers, undermining the brand’s values, or is delivered in content missing the mark completely?
Luckily, there are ways to mitigate risks that accompany automated advertising. By working closely with media buying agencies and ensuring the right programmatic software is in place, brands can get maximum value from digital advertising at the same time as reducing the possibility of damaging exposure.
All you need to do is ask the questions!
Chris Pattinson is SVP at Grapeshot Asia Pacific
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