Programmatic is an environment that is dynamic and is constantly evolving. And it's heralding in an era where advertisers put more emphasis on reaching a demographic or a targeted audience, regardless of the site in which the audience is visiting.
But with the promise of unmatched efficiency comes a few challenges.
Brand safety as a concept will need to adapt along with the new sophistication of programmatic ad trading. Advertisers need management tools which are customised to the individual product, the ad content and the unique brand values.
In a sense this is because the ad must be in a pure environment in many different contexts. One that suits the brand and makes the consumer comfortable.
At the IAB Programmatic Conference earlier this month, we heard that brand safety has held a position at the top of senior marketers' concerns and the IAB continues to work to define and drive standards that foster a safe environment for ad trading to ensure the industry keeps growing.
Some of the headline changes in the industry in recent years have fuelled extra discussion about managing your brand in the online environment:
1. Automation. What once was a direct relationship between advertiser and publisher has become automated. This process has also added a web of intermediaries including ad exchanges and ad network companies to the supply chain.
2. Fragmentation of content (UGC), social media sites, and also news sites, publish varied content. This can attract innumerable users, across billions of sites, but is difficult to predict the tone or topic of the content at a central point in time.
3. Keeping track of mobile ads displayed on mobile sites and ads appearing on mobile apps present a new set of challenges to those of desktop.
Nico Neumann, senior research analyst for programmatic strategy and analytics at the University of South Australia, and Timmothy Whitfield, director of technical operations at GroupM, also speaking at the Programmatic Conference earlier this month, discussed their work in testing the reliability of third-party data sources.
In their study, they found third-party data sources were effective at confirming facts about a user but poor at estimating user behaviour. This is an interesting point about using third-party data to aid programmatic targeting in a campaign.
For example, Breaking Bad or Dexter content is premium inventory in their demographic (18-49 yrs). An advertiser might want to target this type of user. But the show is full of graphic violence, bloodshed and mutilation - an environment that would not match with some brands.
If purchase of inventory was made over an ad exchange, via an entirely automated processes, this mismatch might not be detected.
The IAB recommends four steps you can take to protect your brand
1. When buying media, work with partners that offer choice, consultative support and control. When working with media buying agencies seek a relationship in which transparency is central when they are buying media on your behalf via programmatic buying solutions. They should be able to provide you with the details and data behind the campaigns from their optimisation efforts - i.e. any interactions with specific audiences, placement of ads and margins. Continue to understand the details behind any third party data sources in terms of their precise design and method, ask them to break down the data aggregation and hire consultants, or your own in-house experts to interrogate the answers they provide if you are unsure of what the results mean in real terms.
2. Know what the 'wrong' place is and always avoid illegal sites. Beyond the obvious, brands need to specify the type of content or environment that is preferred but also those that strictly undesirable or inappropriate for them. Ask your agencies and advertising delivery partners what controls they use to minimise ad misplacement. Have these important conversations when you're planning online campaigns and reflect them in your contracts. Many agencies or media buyers employ appropriate and inappropriate schedules as a management tool - whitelists and blacklists.
The blacklist will typically consist of thousands of websites the agency deems to be inappropriate based on a list of criteria, such as offensive language, message boards and un-moderated forums and so on.
Whitelists, on the other hand, comprise sites that have been pre-vetted and verified by the agency, media buyer, or an independent body such as Integral Ad Science. For full control insist on working with a whitelist of sites only or else review very carefully the setup of any blacklists and we also recommend the use of effective verification and validation technologies.
3. Talk to your partners on an ongoing basis. The advertising industry, just like many industries, is on a fast track to programmatic which in simple terms means automation. An advertiser today can buy a digital ad without speaking to a single human voice. Yet, while these changes will greatly improve efficiency of many metrics, the only way to guarantee brand safety in an automated environment is to have sufficient insights and a great working relationship with you partners. Feel comfortable constantly asking questions – the more informed marketers, agencies and advertisers will always engage people to have constructive conversations, which will reduce the risk of any nasty surprises, such as the brand ending up in unsafe environments.
4. Mid and post-campaign analysis. Invest in talent, tools and applications available to monitor your brand while a campaign is delivering or nearing the end of its cycle. Alerts can help you search the internet for areas across social media where members of the public might mention your brand. These tools can also help you find out where your brand is most likely to appear, and help you manage your search engine optimisation strategy effectively. Seek full transparency in any post-campaign results and use any business insights generated during and after the campaigns are delivering to enable better results for future campaigns that are in planning.