Originally published in MediaVillage, August 5, 2019
by Louis Jones, 4A’s
Burglary, phishing, identity theft: as you confront these everyday criminal activities, your safety may depend on having the full support of your community and associates. The same holds true for brand safety.
Piracy, malware, and unsafe adjacencies are persistent perils for advertisers and the agencies managing their campaigns. And as all media increasingly digitize to engage consumers, the dangers continue to emerge and move into new forms of media, like over-the-top (OTT) platforms.
If your brand appears adjacent to violent, offensive, or otherwise unsafe content, seven out of 10 of your customers will take umbrage to your presence there. Many will assume you’ve placed your ad there on purpose: a tacit endorsement of dangerous and distasteful content, even if that content couldn’t be further from your brand’s values.
Fortunately, agencies are well positioned to help brands prepare ahead of time—and, just as in a community, lock arms and barricade brands against the bad actors.
It takes a village
A year ago, at the 4A’s Advertising Assurance Forum, an agency participant said, “When I’m doing brand-safety checks for my brands, I see other brands that I know shouldn’t be there. Is there a way I can pick up a phone or send an email to tell another agency to get their brands out of there?”
That question led to the birth of the 4A’s Advertiser Protection Bureau (APB). And with the APB in place, we have worked extensively with publishers, platforms, and ad verification/brand safety vendors to lay out a framework to better manage the industry’s expectations for acceptable content for consumer brands.
All this work has culminated in the new Brand Safety Playbook, which we published this summer with the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) and IAB Tech Lab as part of a larger effort to fight cybercrime and make content choices relevant based on brand and company preferences.
The playbook is a living document that agencies can use immediately. It runs through five steps you can take at once to protect your brands and your consumers—before your next crisis unfolds.
1. Establish a brand safety and suitability profile
In the event of a crisis, one key to recovery is following your response process: how you’ll notify team members, who will reach out to media partners, which details to communicate, and so on.
Establishing this process ahead of time involves creating not just a clear line of communication but also a clear set of communication goals. Decide on the outcome you want to accomplish—then accomplish it.
2. Now structure your profile
This means structuring your buys and terms. Among other things to consider, make sure you’re placing media buys with safe partners. Work with those who are TAG-certified and meet the most stringent policy requirements, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (which takes effect Jan. 1, 2020).
For programmatic buys, you can select and prioritize authorized sellers by using the online tools ads.txt to verify the safety of browser-based inventory and app-ads.txt for mobile app inventory.
3. Manage your accountability
To manage brand safety and metrics including invalid traffic and viewability, work with an ad-verification vendor accredited by the Media Rating Council (MRC). Understand your publishers’ verification technology acceptance policies.
You can only manage risk you can measure. Stay mindful of current video standards, such as VAST 4.1, an upgrade some publishers and vendors may not yet have implemented. Make sure you work with partners that are up to speed.
4. Evaluate, optimize, and replan
This might involve adjusting your programmatic buys to consider vendors according to their safety and standards. Take note of vendors with a history of violations, sites that are difficult to manage or show evidence of unsafe or unsuitable content, TAG certification, and other attributes that may help you decide whether to rethink your media buy.
5. Don’t quit while you’re ahead
Keeping a few steps ahead of cybercriminals is an ongoing, never-ending effort. Your mission is to keep pace with the tools and rules that help you keep your brand out of trouble—the latest versions of technology standards, compliance training, and certifications.
This all sounds daunting, but the good news is that you’re not on your own. Awareness of the problem keeps growing, and other newer media alternatives are establishing their own defenses. The APB is now working on a better understanding of OTT and connected TV’s (CTV) risk of fraud and contextual brand safety.
Bad actors, unfortunately, are as creative and resourceful as they are dangerous. We need to be even more creative, thoughtful, and collaborative to keep them at bay. And as an industry, following brand safety guidelines can help us keep a step ahead of what can become unfortunate circumstances—for brands and consumers.
Louis Jones is EVP–Media + Data at 4A’s.