Tag Archive: brand safety

  1. How can vehicles like YouTube be made safe?

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    YouTube is embroiled in yet another brand safety scandal

    YouTube was recently beleaguered by yet another scandal involving brand safety. A Wired investigation revealed that many major advertisers, including Alfa Romeo, Grammerly and L’Oreal were featuring alongside videos that had widespread activity by paedophiles in the comments section. In response, brands such as AT&T, Disney, Nestle and Epic Games pulled their YouTube spend. This isn’t the first time that they’ve had to do this following a brand safety scandal: in early 2017, UK newspaper the Times revealed that brands were unwittingly funding terrorism by appearing next to extremist videos. Indeed, AT&T had only recently resumed its spend before pulling it again after this latest issue.

    It appears that media vendors continue to sell very poor-quality content, and buyers continue to purchase it – will anything change? How?

    Why is this happening?

    With their ads appearing alongside some of the most unsavoury content imaginable, you’d be forgiven for assuming that brands would turn their backs on YouTube permanently, or at least until they could be assured that it wouldn’t happen again. You could also be forgiven for thinking that tackling this matter would be top of vendors’ list of priorities, given that their business model is so dependent on advertising. So what’s going on?

    It’s all about the money

    The answer is, as it so often is, money. For vendors, the temptation to sell huge bundles of automated or semi-automated impressions can be too strong to pass up, while the sheer reach of those impressions is hard for advertisers to resist. The issue here is a lack of motivation on both sides to police content: brands could be doing more to monitor their campaigns, while vendors certainly have work to do around the content that appears on their platforms, and what advertising appears next to that content. The algorithm always goes where eyeballs go, which can lead to errors: for example, children’s videos often have high viewing figures, and children don’t tend to skip ads. The algorithm thinks this is fertile ground for an advertiser and promptly serves… an alcohol ad. This is especially likely if the child is looking at mum’s iPad and the brand is using demographic targeting. To be fair, Google has gone to significant effort to build tech that can track consumers across all devices, but that hasn’t stopped its targeting capabilities falling short, as the example above illustrates.

    In short, these scandals are happening because of an industry that continues to reward quantity rather than quality.

    So what can be done to improve brand safety?

    This is a difficult battle but it’s certainly one worth fighting as digital advertising becomes ever more prevalent and important. Responsibility lies with the platforms, of course – they must try much harder to make their content safer (not just for advertisers), and to prevent ads being served alongside potentially damaging content. But brands have work to do as well.

    Advertisers must be more careful about where their ads are being served, and what bundles they buy. There will always be a conflict between reach and relevance: while vendors and tech firms sell a dream of the automated purchasing of millions of hyper relevant, this is completely unrealistic, particularly in the short and medium terms.

    Using premium marketplaces

    One avenue that some savvy brands are pursuing in order to mitigate the risk of ads being served alongside ‘unsafe’ content is premium marketplaces, such as Google’s Preferred programme, private marketplaces and programmatic direct deals. These platforms give brands access to – at a premium price – inventory that is higher quality, brand safe and more relevant, in theory at least. However, these platforms are becoming increasingly crowded by concerned advertisers, and the packages often leave out high quality content. Alarmingly, there have even been instances where the packages have included content that has caused the brand safety scandals that brands are desperately seeking to avoid.

    Other formats are an option

    Of course, there are other options to the ‘traditional’ video ad: native advertising is not only safer, but also easier to target at the right audiences, so you get relevance and reach.

    Vendors must act too

    Of course, it goes without saying that the platforms themselves must really focus on weeding out inappropriate content, and on being stricter about which content can be monetised through ads. This might be controversial amongst content producers who rely on ad dollars for their income, but it will be critical to the success of the video platforms and avoidance of the scandals that have beset them in recent years.

    There’s no easy answer

    This is a complex issue which will take a lot of work from both brands and vendors to overcome; there’s no silver bullet. Google’s EMEA president even admitted that the tech giant may well never be able to guarantee 100% safety for brands. Advertisers will need to accept that they can’t have both huge reach and hyper relevance: greater relevance will come at a cost through programmes such as Google Preferred or private programmatic exchanges. Meanwhile, vendors must of course invest in tools and technology to make their content safe – for advertisers and viewers.

    Image: Shutterstock

  2. What’s Facebook’s problem?

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    For years, Facebook has been the darling of the tech and media worlds. Is the inevitable conclusion of its latest quarterly report that its star is fading?

    The unstoppable rise of Facebook – until now

    For many years, Facebook seemed unstoppable, unbeatable. Since its beginnings in Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room in Harvard University, it has grown into a technology behemoth with 1.47 billion daily active users and 2.23 billion monthly active users. Facebook has very efficiently monetised these users’ data, with advertisers flocking to Facebook and contributing to a company value of over $500 billion, and to Zuckerberg’s personal fortune of around $70 billion. But it is Facebook’s handling of its users’ data that seems to be at the root of its recent reversal in fortune.

    What went wrong?

    Facebook’s sheen started dimming two years ago, when it was first implicated in fake news and political meddling. This didn’t seem to have any impact financially until its second quarter 2018 report last week, which made for painful reading for its investors. The report disclosed that the number of users in Europe dropped by 3 million, ending its nine-year streak of quarter-on-quarter growth in numbers of European users (note that this was for Facebook only, and not its other owned properties such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus), and user growth in North America flattened. It gained just 22 million users worldwide in quarter 2 (largely in Asia), less than half of the quarter 1 figure. Worse, in the eyes of investors, was that it missed revenue forecasts for the quarter, bringing in $13.2 billion versus the $13.4 billion that analysts had projected. All this led to $120 billion being drained from Facebook’s value and a 20% decrease in stock price in after-hours trading on Wall Street, as investors were spooked further by Facebook’s predictions that its revenue growth would continue to decelerate.

    Scandals, data, addiction and saturation

    With the problems that have beset Facebook over the last few years, it was perhaps inevitable that this point would come. The first and perhaps most serious headaches for its leadership have been the twin issues of political interference – notably in the US presidential election and the UK’s Brexit referendum – and fake news. This culminated in the Cambridge Analytica scandal of earlier this year. Facebook was fined $656,000 – the maximum possible – for breaching UK data protection act, but has had to spend much more to offset the negative press. It exacerbated Facebook’s increasingly toxic reputation as a company that interferes in and affects society and politics, and it is likely that many users deleted their accounts in disgust, particularly in the UK where Cambridge Analytica was based.

    Another challenge for Facebook this year has been the implementation of GDPR in the EU, which set guidelines for the collection and processing of the personal information of individuals within the European Union. It is believed that GDPR was directly responsible for the loss of 1 million of Facebook’s monthly active users in the EU, with many possibly choosing to opt out instead of confirming assent to Facebook’s new data collection practices.

    Facebook, as with all media largely consumed via mobile phones, has of course been affected by the growing concern among consumers of the effect that spending a lot of time on smartphones and social media is having on their mental health and concentration. Across the world people are choosing to cut down on the amount of time they spend on their phones.

    Scandals, data protection and switching off aside, it may be that saturation is Facebook’s most serious long-term issue. Of the 3.5 billion internet users globally, 2.5 billion use at least on Facebook app, which means that user growth in many places, especially in mature markets, has naturally stagnated – there simply aren’t many people who don’t use Facebook, at least occasionally. This means that the business model must focus on increasing revenue per user, which Facebook has struggled with – newer initiatives such as Stories (Facebook’s answer to Snapchat) have proven difficult to monetise compared to the Newsfeed. And compared to Google’s parent company Alphabet, Facebook appears to be over-reliant on ad revenue: $13 billion – over 98% of its overall second quarter revenue of $13.2 billion – was from advertising, compared to 86% of Alphabet’s. This is thanks to Alphabet’s more diversified product offering, which includes hardware, the Google Play Store and Cloud services that are non-ad revenue. This discrepancy could be part of the reason that Google appears more resilient than Facebook, despite the fact that its record isn’t squeaky clean either.

    All is not as gloomy as it seems

    Despite the recent doom and gloom around Facebook’s latest financial reporting, the future isn’t too bleak for the social network. While the financial and user growth figures didn’t meet investors’ expectations, they’re still extremely healthy, particularly considering the storms that it has had to weather. The furore around its Q2 report is rooted in the fact that its growth has slowed, rather than in any actual crisis. Facebook has announced that it is investing billions into safety and security initiatives; these will future-proof the company but do eat into profit margins in the shorter term. Perhaps Facebook’s real problem is that it has been the subject of – and purveyor of – too much optimism and exuberance in recent years: it’s now time for it to settle down and accept its responsibilities as one of the world’s major technology companies.

    Thumbnail image: Wachiwit/Shutterstock.com 

  3. The power of transparency in programmatic

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    Programmatic is growing up

    Programmatic has finally come of age. It is celebrating a decade of existence with ever-increasing prominence in the advertising sector. In the US, eMarketer has projected that by 2019 83.6% of digital display ad dollars will be spent programmatically – that’s not far short of $46bn. It is also finally maturing, becoming more stable and reliable as the major players start to take responsibility and drive transparency.

    Scandals, scams, wastage and a lack of understanding

    It was not always thus. Programmatic has long been seen as the wild west of advertising: while advertisers see and have enjoyed the benefits, many have major concerns around a perceived lack of transparency, leading to issues such as wastage and a lack of brand safety. Some sources believe that up to 60% of investment in programmatic was being lost by the time it reached the publisher, while Digital Market Asia estimates that 80% of ad dollars are ‘lost’ to the programmatic chain: SSPs, third party data, trading desks, exchanges and the DSP. Ad fraud scares such as the Hyphbot scam, and the brand safety scandals of 2017 did nothing to help the reputation of the sector.  

    At ECI, we believe that a key issue has been a lack of understanding on the part of the advertisers, who often don’t know what data to request and how to scrutinise and analyse it. This allows agencies and ad tech providers to play faster and looser with their clients’ investment than they might otherwise. As they say, ‘mystery means margin’.

    Forcing programmatic to be more responsible

    In the last 12 months or so, advertisers, agencies and even governments have forced ad tech suppliers to start taking their responsibilities seriously. Armed with knowledge and the right talent, they have been taking ad tech providers to task – P&G, for example, announced earlier this year that it would slash its digital spend by $200m,

    having identified last summer that, in Q2, $100m of their digital investment had little appreciable impact on their business. Meanwhile, GroupM took heed of advertisers’ concerns by updating its viewability standards for display and video ads, and the Guardian sued an ad tech supplier for failing to disclose fees earned from advertisers that appeared on the publisher’s site.

    New initiatives are driving transparency and trust

    In short, advertisers and agencies are pushing for more control over media performance and what it costs, meaning that they are demanding better targeting, better viewability, less wastage, less fraud and improved brand safety. Suppliers are delivering, with initiatives such as ads.txt and first-price auctions providing more transparency, and mergers between ad tech vendors and content providers eliminating many of the middlemen who make the process so murky. ECI strongly recommends set-ups where advertisers have full rights to all the data related to their buying; we have established a comprehensive set of best practice guidelines on how to buy programmatically in a selective way that minimises risk and costs, while maximising value. These guidelines have been proven to solve issues around transparency, viewability and quality, often dramatically improving ROI.

    Transparency will drive success for advertisers, agencies and ad tech providers

    Transparency is a real business differentiator – not just for advertisers, but for those providing programmatic services. As is so often the case, trust and openness are absolutely critical, and those agencies and tech providers who guarantee transparency will be the winners in this lucrative area. For advertisers, the win will be in choosing the right partner for great performance and transparency, and having a thorough understanding of the data and processes.

    Thumbnail image: Best-backgrounds/Shutterstock.com