Protecting your online advertising

Advertisers need to guard their brand image fiercely, and exercise caution online.

Increasingly, advertisers need to consider the risk to their brand of appearing next to potentially damaging content and take steps to avoid it. This is especially true of big brand campaigns that try to reach large numbers of users online.

Until quite recently there wasn’t too much risk of brand damage, because inventory suppliers (mainly ad networks) were careful about the websites they signed up. Even the biggest ad networks, with literally thousands of sites, were careful not to sign up a site that an advertiser might seriously object to. Even so, some advertisers got caught out. Around seven years ago a series of rows erupted between advertisers and ad networks when big brands – including eBay and EasyCar – appeared on a site which contained some pretty violent user-generated content. The media criticism intensified when Panorama broadcast a programme about ads appearing on sites which featured inappropriate and damaging content and suddenly advertisers started to recognise that they need to be a lot more careful online.

Concerned ad networks quickly established IASH with an agreed industry code of practice and a bi-annual audit of that code. IASH provided independent confirmation that ad networks use best practice. It never promised to give 100% safety online – indeed nothing ever gives absolute 100% safety – but it has served its purpose until now.

That all changed last year with the arrival of new inventory suppliers like SSPs (supply side platforms) and ad exchanges. These allow websites to make their entire inventory available with little, if any, intervention, which means that advertisers need to adopt more hi-tech technical solutions to protect themselves in real-time.

Advertiser risk has been further compounded by the emergence of DSPs (demand side platforms) which enable agencies to run their own campaigns by plugging directly into the masses of inventory available on SSPs and Ad Exchanges. The inherent dangers of this direct buying became apparent a few weeks ago when a number of companies – including British Gas, Tesco and EasyJet – found themselves criticised in the Times and the Daily Mail. They discovered that big brand ads were appearing on file-sharing sites that allowed users to download copyright material – helping to fund the site’s illegal operations. Unfortunately, IASH offers no protection against these real-time technologies – and SSPs and ad exchanges aren’t IASH members anyhow.

The advertising industry needs a new way to make sure it can get the brand protection it requires.

Adsafe, Adexpose, DoubleVerify and a number of other companies have developed ‘content verification’ or ‘CV’ tools, which are dedicated to protecting online advertisers from the worst of the web. They assess page content and rate them according to set criteria including adult content, illegal download, offensive language, illegal drugs and hate speech. Some of these companies simply provide delivery reports of the URLs used for the campaign and provide an analysis of the content of each. The best, however, block the ad before it is served if the URL is recognised as inappropriate. Again, these CV tools vary in how they do this – some block at page level and some at site level, so it is essential to do your research before deciding on which one is best for you.

Now that the advertising industry has evolved beyond IASH, the ad network industry – or indeed any company that runs campaigns online – needs to reassure advertisers that their ads will appear only on safe content. ABC has recently established the Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG) which is proposing a new Code and audit aimed at significantly reducing the risk of ad misplacement. However, it will be a few months before we know exactly what shape this will take, so advertisers should be careful who they use for their campaigns and ask what policies they have put in place to protect them.

Crimtan has run AdSafe’s Firewall product on all campaigns in theUKandIrelandsince last November, while its Digital Trading Statement and Brand Protection Policy clearly set out the promise to advertisers, and provide complete transparency into the protection process.

The online marketplace has changed drastically in a very short space of time, so it is more important than ever that every agency adopts a robust, proactive brand protection strategy. Here are the vital questions advertisers need to ask ad networks, DSPs or anyone that will be running campaigns for them:

  1. What steps are you currently taking to protect our campaigns from appearing on inappropriate content?
  2. If you are using a CV tool:
    • How does it rate pages? What is the content assessment technology?
    • Does the tool monitor or actively block ads in real-time?
    • What content categories can be blocked?
    • Is it possible to vary the degree to which you block certain types of content?
    • Does it block delivery at site or URL level?
    • Can you block specific keywords and domains?
  3. What visibility are you seeing across your network? In other words, what percentage of URLs where impressions are placed cannot be seen by you?
  4. Do you operate a blacklist? If so, what process do you use to keep it up-to-date?
  5. Can we supply our own blacklist for you to use?

Advertising on the web has always carried a risk, and recent developments have made it even more of a wild-west, but with the right strategies and the right tools you can ride out safe in the knowledge that you have the protection you need to survive the worst of the web.

Daniel Cooney, Country Manager, Ireland