The Brand Safety Partnership: Why Quality Placements are a Shared Responsibility

In March 2017, brand safety concerns stemming from news that many advertisers inadvertently ran YouTube ads adjacent to videos promoting terrorist content led many top brands to pull placements running on YouTube and other Google properties. This sparked a broader conversation within the industry about the importance of brand safety, third-party validation, and inventory quality assurance.

When engaging in the conversations around brand safety, both advertisers and agencies have a responsibility to ensure campaigns run in an effective and brand safe environment. Agencies owe their clients a degree of transparency in their practices to earn and maintain client trust. Practices such as engaging third-party validation, proactive blacklisting, and utilizing pre-bid filters in programmatic environments ensure agencies are operating with their client’s best interest in mind.

Keeping our share of this responsibility in mind, Lin Digital engages in practices that promote inventory quality across its activation points to ensure brand safety is a basic building block of our infrastructure. We wrap MOAT on every impression we run and use its invalid traffic (IVT) and viewability data to build proactive blacklists of sites with low-performing inventory. These blacklists are applied to every campaign we activate. We also import MOAT’s IVT data into our proprietary order management system and deduct those impressions from the billable units of campaigns billing off our internal ad server reporting. We continually update our blacklists to include known sites promoting adult content or terrorism/illegal activities and apply pre-bid brand safety filters on these categories to our programmatic activations.

For their part of the conversation, advertisers must understand that higher degrees of brand safety certainty carry their own costs that should be considered in part as a cost of doing business. By selecting reputable partners with transparent practices such as those outlined above, brands should expect their campaigns to be activated with brand safety and inventory quality as a priority. Even with multiple layers of proactive protection, however, there is still the possibility of a small volume of brand safety violations trickling through.

When considered in the context of the volume of an entire campaign, these impressions comprise a negligible amount of the total delivery, but depending on the nature of the violation, it is understandable that brands may prefer near 100 percent brand safety certainty. Advertisers must clearly outline their expectations and define the acceptable margin of error in the planning stages of a campaign to ensure all appropriate tech partners and activation strategies are included from the beginning. Achieving higher levels of certainty is not without its costs, and advertisers seeking this level must be willing to accept the price of added insurance. Any third-party vendor providing a blocking solution or data overlay will charge for its services, and these fees must be considered in the overall campaign budget. Outlining expectations up front can assist with managing these costs on both the client and activation points by eliminating waste from lack of communication.

Consider someone in market for a new car. This person may choose a Camry and, rest assured, make a safe, reliable purchase that meets the legally required safety standards and comfortably transports them from point A to point B. Alternatively, the person may choose to purchase a Lexus and receive higher level features that improve their experience with the car. However, they would not expect to purchase the Lexus for the same price as the Camry; the additional features necessitate more investment in the production of the car and lead to a higher price point. By expecting or demanding to buy the Lexus at the cost of the Camry, the purchaser would most likely receive a Lexus that was obtained unethically either because it was acquired by the seller through disreputable means or because it was actually a Camry and only presented as a Lexus. Showing an unwillingness to pay a fair price for the product is also likely to disrupt the relationship between the buyer and the seller.

To best serve clients who are looking for the Lexus of brand safety products, Lin Digital is also able to layer on additional features to achieve as close to 100 percent brand safety as possible. We have relationships with several viewability and verification partners that allow us to employ blocking tags along with our standard pre-bid filters. Our infrastructure also offers the opportunity to negatively target specific keywords, allowing for more agility in avoiding specifc themes or news stories. Finally, we are able to run ads to whitelists of sites provided either by our clients or generated from historical data within our infrastructure. For the highest degree of certainty of brand safety, we recommend layering multiple filtering strategies to create the most comprehensive plan possible.

If all parties engaged in a digital advertising transaction are committed to transparent practices and willing to accept higher degrees of brand safety certainty with its own associated costs, both advertisers and agencies will be able to create effective solutions to address client concerns. A shared commitment to maintaining brand safety helps represent the best interests of all parties in one cohesive execution.