Marketers risk losing business from millennials when their ads end up next to hate videos

Hulu; NBCWhen brands end up in bad places, that’s not good for anybody
  • Brand safety has been a huge issue in the ad business in 2017.
  • A slew of marketers have had to grapple with their ads ending up next to inflammatory content, like hate videos, thanks in part the opaque nature of software-driven digital ad buying.
  • New research suggests these incidents aren’t just embarrassing to marketers. They actually can hurt their business.

While marketers and ad agencies have long been focused on reaching as many consumers as possible with their ads, there’s an open secret in the industry: some of this reach is waste.

More recently, however, due to increasing brand safety concerns (e.g. the possibility that ads could end up next to hate content on the web), a portion of some advertisers’ reach has gone beyond being merely wasteful (like reaching the wrong people)-it’s actually damaging brand equity, creating public relations risks, and hurting a business’s bottom line.

We call this “Negative Reach.”

From our agency’s perspective, brand safety really refers to two distinct issues: fraudulent ads (such as ads that reach bots rather than humans) and ads that end adjacent to content that isn’t aligned with a brands ‘values.’

Neither of these issues is new, but the increased sophistication of fraudsters and increased demand for quality inventory (particularly for advertisers who really want to avoid having their ads next to dicey videos) have outpaced the capabilities of technical solutions in place to combat them, creating a renewed sense of urgency.

Thus, the urgency to combat Negative Reach is warranted. New research from Omnicom Media Group found that

  • 70% of Millennials and Gen Xers will not like, recommend or purchase a brand if its ads appear next to hateful, derogatory or offensive content-a scary reality when you consider the staggering purchasing power of these segments.
  • And 51% of these valuable audiences are less likely to purchase from such a brand-even if the placement wasn’t the brand’s fault.

Earlier this year, many premium marketers were rightly shocked to learn that their ads might be appearing next to derogatory, hateful or offensive content. Globally, most brands adopted a white-list– only approach to combat the threat (i.e. only buying ads on a preset list of safe sites), and agencies worldwide shifted their focus to developing such brand safe lists that align with clients’ brand values.

JPMorgan Chase, for example, slashed the number of sites on which its advertises in order to gain transparency-without decreasing performance, reported the New York Times.

Whitelisting is a good first step, but it doesn’t solve another major fraud problem: inventory spoofing. In the ad world, spoofing refers to fraudsters using digital ad exchanges to sell ads on low quality, low trafficked websites – by falsely representing these sites as premium. For instance, a digital advertiser, using automated software, thinks it’s buying ads on when its actually running ads on Or something along those lines.

Google ran tests earlier this year with trusted publishers like CBS, during which it cut off selling ads on CBS sites for brief periods of time. Funny enough, lots of ‘CBS ad space’ was still for sale on various digital ad exchanges. That’s because fraudsters were making low-quality websites appear to be CBS sites.

Spoofing unfortunately cannot be prevented by a white list and often goes undetected by third-party tech vendors who specialize in tracking this sort of thing. As a remedy, the Interactive Advertising Bureau launched Ads.txt in the spring, an initiative designed to make it very hard for advertisers to buy spoofed ad space.

This is a critical push forward for the industry. Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet that can ensure brand safety.

There are steps, though, beyond just engaging a third-party brand safety tech vendor, that should be taken to combat the threat of Negative Reach.

  • Make sure ads only appear on website that have been reviewed – by real people.
  • Champion the adoption of ads.txt. How? Vote with your wallet and require publisher partners and platforms to adopt ads.txt-and find out what solutions your agency has in place prior to full ads.txt adoption.
  • Shift marketing budgets away from open ad exchanges and toward private marketplaces.
  • Additionally, streamline your supply chain partnerships, and only stick with those companies who adhere to your safety standards.
  • Plus, evaluate fraud technology solutions on a regular basis. Not all fraud detection technology is created equal. Sadly, the fraudsters are sophisticated and their approaches are always evolving. Consider ongoing testing and evaluation of fraud detection technology.
  • Deploy your own safety mechanisms-both human and technological. Brands should be holding their agencies accountable to monitoring any oddities in their digital ad buys.

The threat of Negative Reach is real and it affects the whole ad industry. Brands must work together with publishers, vendors and agencies to address the problem-or else they run the risk of not just limiting their return on investment, but wasting their ad budgets entirely.

Megan Pagliuca is Chief Digital Officer for Hearts & Science, Omnicom Media Group’s data-
driven marketing agency.

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