Ensuring brand safety is more than a box-ticking exercise – it is empowering. By installing quality checks about where your brand’s adverts are seen, you can boost confidence and create a better bottom line.
That might be easier said than done, as ad tech is fast-paced and always evolving. Advertisers play a constant game of catch-up to understand where consumers spend their time. Two things that never change about ad tech, however, are that investment always follows audiences and fraudsters always follow the money.
A recent DoubleVerify study found a 194% increase in mobile app brand-safety violations over the past year, perhaps unsurprisingly as mobile apps continue to grow in popularity among advertisers and consumers. Video has an unparalleled ability to reach and engage audiences, but as with all digital marketing channels, there are some bad actors and practices out there which can cause brand-safety and fraud problems.
Fortunately, there are some very simple steps that advertisers can take to protect themselves while reaping the benefits of an effective video campaign:
Define what is safe for your brand
Although there is the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) UK standard definition of brand safety, no universal definition exists for the term ‘brand safe’ – and that is because each brand is unique. What works for a high-end Champagne brand will not also work for a baby clothes retailer (and vice versa). So advertisers need to start by defining what they consider inappropriate content to be placed next to.
Tech providers can help with this by enabling advertisers to better protect themselves using whitelists, blacklists, keywords, and preferred publishers. There will, unavoidably, be a trade-off between safety and scale or reach, which leads to the next point…
Prioritise context and content
Focusing on context is not just a question of brand safety; it also ensures a more effective campaign. If a high-earning millennial woman regularly consumes yoga-related content, but is browsing luxury ethical clothing at the time an ad is delivered, then advertisers need to take context into account. Generally speaking, she is likely to respond to a deal on a new yoga studio opening nearby; but in that moment she would be far more receptive to a sale at an organic cotton fashion company.
To be brand safe is to use context effectively. To do that, brands must analyse the context of pages and videos with as much accuracy as possible. For example, some tech providers can analyse the automated transcriptions of videos, which is more likely to provide an understanding of the content than the URL of the page. By drilling deeper into context using advanced technology, there will naturally be a reduction in reach – but at the same time, targeting becomes a much more finely-tuned tool.
Understand your traffic
According to DoubleVerify’s report, the majority (54%) of fraud taking place in mobile apps involves advertisers being misled about impressions or traffic. So, the best way to be fraud free in an increasingly smartphone-focused environment is to analyse and understand your traffic. This is also the best way to avoid wasting ad spend on impressions seen only by bots.
The digital advertising industry, led by the IAB, IAB Tech Lab and Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), continuously take new measures and develops new technologies to identify and eliminate fraudulent activity and promote transparency across the digital ecosystem. In the last two years, significant strides have been made in the digital video space to standardise and safeguard the buying and selling of digital video inventory, including mobile.
The IAB Tech Lab, along with their technical working groups and committees, which include players from across the global advertising ecosystem, have released a few notable standards for safeguarding mobile video inventory by helping buyers understand traffic. A few of these standards include:
- txt, introduced in June of 2017, IAB’s Authorised Digital Sellers specification was released to assist media owners with a standardised means to publicly declare to buyers the companies they have authorised to sell their desktop and mobile web inventory on their behalf to prevent “bad actors” from profiting from counterfeit inventory.
- Apps-ads.txt, in March 2019, the IAB Techlab released an extension of the ads.txt standard, called Authorised Sellers for Apps, for mobile app and OTT inventory. Also known as apps-ads.txt, the specification allows app developers to disclose who is allowed to sell inventory, eliminating any app spoofing or unauthorized selling of inventory.
- cert, the latest specification, which hinges on the adoption of OpenRTB 3.0, increases transparency by exposing if any details from the original ad request were modified or tampered with at any point in the supply path. The specification aims to give buyers peace of mind that the ad opportunity is being correctly represented in the bid request.
- json: A specification in the closing stages of development, Sellers.json, aims to continue the broader efforts to eliminate bad actors within the industry. Simply put, Sellers.json is a mechanism to allow buyers to know what business entity is getting paid for any given impression.
- SupplyChain: Another specification in the closing stages of development, SupplyChain, will allow buyers to see the full chain of custody for a given impression. In other words, the programme aims to show every time an impression opportunity changes hands and who is within the chain.
- Open Measurement: Until recently, mobile in-app traffic was difficult to measure (IVT, Viewability, etc.). This was largely due to technical limitations that are unique to app environments and app developers having to support individual verification SDKs on a one-off basis. This issue has been addressed by the IAB via the Open Measurement Software Development Kit (OM SDK). This single SDK can be installed and any verification can run within this SDK.
These specifications apply to digital video inventory across the board including mobile, desktop and connected TV inventory. Along with the help of these standards, TAG certifications and third-party verification companies like DoubleVerify and MOAT, the mobile video industry has achieved operational efficiencies, increased industry transparency, and even unlocked advertiser spend due to an increase in confidence in their mobile video investments.
If brands ensure that they consistently monitor fraud levels using preventative methods – which seamlessly integrate their brand safety measures, too – then they can authorise inventory and help eliminate bad actors and entities who are not adding value to the ecosystem. Everyone needs to work towards an ad tech ecosystem that is open, honest, and transparent. Thankfully, the tools and techniques to do so are now plentiful.