The brand safety fix
Experts have warned it will be another two years before the online world's brand safety issues are resolved as they outlined new solutions to a growing industry problem.
Speaking at Mediatel’s Publishers Conference, agency bosses, technologists and clients said the tools currently in place are not fit for purpose, and a lack of human oversight is even harming publisher revenues as context is ignored.
Mark Field, director, News UK's Bridge Studio, warned that context "is everything", but it has not always been the most important tick box within a planning process for some clients over the past few years.
"I think it’s becoming more important for agencies to be sure that they’re delivering the right solution for their clients," he said.
Meanwhile, Zoe Harris, chief marketing officer of price comparison site GoCompare, said the problem has been made worse because of an agency "obsession" with tech tools.
"It comes down to context and the relationship that readers have with newsbrands; when you rely on tech tools, you're saying that all eyeballs are equal," she said.
This problem was illustrated by John Cole, CCO of Ezoic (pictured, above), who noted that editorial about prostate cancer and relationship advice had seen ads banned against it on a keyword basis because systems deem it inappropriate. "These are nuances that you can't put in a tick box," he said.
"Perfectly safe websites can be wiped out because of a keyword - it's not fair on publishers or the audience and creates problems for everyone."
The limitations of the tech means, for now at least, the human touch must remain a key part of ensuring brands are safe online.
"We spend a lot of time with advertisers to check what we're delivering for them across all platforms," says Field. "Ultimately it's about suitability, context, environment and what the client wants to achieve - all of this has to be taken into consideration."
Laricea Roman-Halliday, head of digital media, The Specialist Works, said the current tools also lead "over-cautious" advertisers to miss certain KPIs within their budget as they are advertising in a smaller - and thus more expensive - pool of inventory.
"It's a huge problem," she said. However, there are other advertisers where volume and audience are the only concerns - making for a mixed bag of client needs.
"Every client is different and must be treated accordingly – and there’s currently no tech solution for that."
When a solution does arrive, however, John Cole, CCO, Ezoic, said other contextual considerations on the publisher side could even help price inventory in a more sophisticated way, leading to revenue boosts.
Cole said at present there was an “asymmetry” between what an advertiser knows about a user and the context of a webpage.
“Bidding technologies are good, but on the publisher side many don’t know how to price their inventory per page or time of day. This impacts how much money goes to publishers.”
Cole said that advertisers need to get smarter with how they bid while publishers will only boost revenues when they allow the bidding parameters to be totally open and safe.
To that end, they can show the context of the page, location of the ad and the amount of time a user has spent with that content.
“Then they can ask: ‘do you want to bid, yes or no?’”
For Roman-Halliday this hits the nail on the head, as it’s a tech solution that acts like real human oversight while catering to the different needs of an advertiser.
Harris warned, however, that adding in more layers of brand safety tech at different levels of the supply chain was likely to incur more costs.
“I already pay for lots of adtech and agency time – more money just to make something safe becomes harder and harder to justify,” she said.
What everyone does agree upon is that to alleviate brand safety issues, more communication and transparency is essential and publishers must hammer home their message about the value of their premium content and context.
"We're a few years away from a solution," said Roman-Halliday, "but these conversations are valuable and will help us get to where we need to be."