“The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
Today’s column is by Paul Bannister, co-founder and executive vice president at CafeMedia.
It’s unquestionable that brands need to use brand safety platforms to ensure their ads run in safe and appropriate environments. While these platforms were developed with positive intent, they also created many unintended consequences that are negative for publishers and advertisers alike.
Who wouldn’t say yes to run their brand ads in safe environments or alongside the types of content deemed appropriate? What platform wouldn’t build services for advertisers that lets them control exactly where their ads appear? Who wouldn’t choose to be as aggressive as possible in policing their brand or clients’ brands?
These questions end up creating a culture of fear within brands, agencies and brand safety vendors themselves.
From executive boards down to programmatic traders, everyone is worried about someone else second-guessing their decision. No one ever got fired for enabling every brand safety filter available in a demand-side platform. Buyers today have been coached to prefer false positives (safe content being marked unsafe) over false negatives (unsafe content slipping through a filter). Being overly cautious is the default behavior, and this leads to significantly decreased inventory access, which in turn leads to higher prices and worse performance.
Applying brand safety can cut inventory availability significantly and usually functions as a blunt instrument. When unsafe content is blocked, huge swaths of safe content are also blocked – often contextually relevant and well-performing content that could be a positive for a given campaign.
By cutting access to significant amounts of inventory, prices are artificially increased in the “safe” areas, which reduces the efficiency of that content and works against an advertiser’s key goals. This reduced access also cuts into reach, making it harder to speak to the intended audience in the best way. It also forces advertisers to rely more on walled-garden platforms, which aren’t subject to the same rules as they don’t allow third-party filtering, and we all know how effective their filters are.
The blunt instruments of brand safety users create “dark pools” of inventory – large pools of under-accessed inventory that are high-quality but rarely bought by advertisers. This presents an opportunity for savvy marketers that can access these pools at lower prices and greater efficiency, as long as they pick the right approach.
Education, transparency and oversight
Finding the right balance of brand safety and inventory access requires significant efforts within and across organizations. Brands must first set clear internal policies and strong enforcement of the right way to filter and educate all teams about the policy. Buyers should create a clear list of what sorts of content are truly unsafe for their brand and make sure that campaigns are implemented correctly.
A definition of what is brand-safe, what is and what is contextually relevant is an important delineation. Every brand will have very different reasons for why those classifications are set, and it’s important for everyone involved in each brand’s marketing efforts to understand the separation.
Publishers should constantly educate their buy-side partners about the negative consequences of heavy filtering and push for more precise or less filtering whenever it makes sense. In private marketplace or programmatic-guaranteed environments, publishers should encourage buyers to change from a pre-bid blocking strategy to a monitoring approach. Since they know their content better than anyone, publishers should accept more of the safety burden, which is a better approach than pushing responsibility to ad tech vendors, which may have conflicting goals.
Publishers and buyers need to apply oversight to the monitoring platforms. Buyers need to use their clout with the brand safety platforms to improve their algorithms. No one is “grading the graders,” and they have no incentive to improve their algorithms and approaches without pressure from their customers. Publishers need to work closely with these partners to illustrate the significant error rate in their systems.
The Brand Safety Institute that was recently announced is a great step in the right direction. This form of deeper education will help brands remain safe in a complex digital environment while maximizing reach and efficiency. The way to reduce fear in the ecosystem is with oversight, transparency and education – and buy-in from all parties about the benefits of reduced filtering.