How B2B brands can manage brand safety in the new, programmatic world
The following guest column is by Sanjay Castelino, vice president of marketing at Spiceworks in Austin, Texas.
Automation is the industrial revolution of today and advertisers, media agencies and media owners have all jumped on the train with guns a-blazing. The ad industry is buying and selling access to audiences programmatically, relying on machines to navigate a now cluttered supply chain of data suppliers, middlemen and publishers in an effort to automate where ads are placed based on where the target audience is browsing. The machines were built to be smarter, more agile and adaptive, delivering ad placements with greater efficiency and accuracy.
But recently many advertisers have been asking themselves, “have machines failed us?” Consider reports in notable publications like The Wall Street Journal, citing glaring failures of programmatic media buying when it comes to brand safety. You may recall recent examples of Nordstrom ads running in Breitbart and JPMorgan Chase creating a list of preapproved (whitelisted) sites to avoid a similar situation, which further highlights the heightened sensitivity to brand safety.
Let’s Talk Brand Safe Environments
Brand safety is not new. The issue first came up in the 1990s, at the beginning of the commercial web. A company called Tripod.com was one of the first to leverage data to target audiences with pop-up ads. But they discovered their client’s ads were running on sites with racy adult content. Tripod.com’s solution: the pop-up ad.
As we know now, this was a flawed attempt to ensure brand safety that led to greater repercussions. But since this incident, audience targeting and brand safety technology has improved drastically. Companies like Integral Ad Science have deployed technology that examines page-level content to provide brand safety when placing ads. Ad exchanges, like SpotX, pre-vet publishers before onboarding them into their platform. But the problem hasn’t been completely resolved. With intense political and social movements occurring around the world, as well as fake news, politics and brand preference have become the new hot topic in brand safety since many companies are reluctant to take a stance on political issues and don’t want their ads to speak for them.
Advertiser preference, beyond what is broadly agreed to as unsafe, can only be managed by human-to-human communications. Understanding what conversations or movements a brand wants to be a part of, or dissociate with, is not easy to employ without a two-way dialogue between people. Building a blacklist is an option, but in order to ensure nothing slips through the cracks and ads don’t end up adjacent to controversial subject matter, there needs to be a continuous curation of domains and page content added to that list. The communications between the media planner, media buyer and trading desk all need to be in constant sync. Whitelisting is another option, but the industry is waiting to see if it is a sustainable practice. Whitelisting comes with a lot of manual heavy lifting. Just ask the intern from JPMorgan Chase who pre-vetted 5,000 domains for their new whitelist.
Beyond whitelists and blacklists, advertisers can’t deny the power of buying direct through trusted, premium media owners or programmatically through private marketplaces. Companies like Hulu on the consumer side, and Spiceworks on the B2B side, are both examples of media owners that advertisers can work with directly and focus on creating premium experiences for their visitors, which can translate into higher viewability, brand safety and fraud-free impressions.
The Halo Effect of Premium Publishing Sites
For both B2B and B2C audiences, context matters to the perception and actionability of an ad. Comscore recently published a whitepaper on the value of working with premium publishers to drive higher ad effectiveness. In the world of programmatic advertising in B2B, many business-related products and services are served to working professionals in consumer environments at times when these professionals are not in the “work” state of mind.
There is value in a brand remaining omnipresent with an audience anywhere on the internet, but the value of an impression in a contextually relevant, high-quality environment is much greater. The Comscore study showed that the halo effect of premium publishers drives significantly higher brand lift among visitors.
The fact is that B2B audiences are limited in comparison to B2C, which means there is greater scarcity for ad inventory on relevant, premium B2B sites. This translates into media transactions being more relationship driven, with ad inventory mostly available through direct buys or programmatically through private deals. This also means impressions come at a higher cost, but you get what you pay for.
An Honest Broker
I know what you’re thinking: a media planner cannot rely solely on direct relationships to meet the strict KPIs they’re held to. But as ad tech progresses, there’s no doubt the issues of brand safety, viewability and fraud will all be addressed in due time. Perhaps the solution is a blockchain approach to regulate the complexities of the ad tech supply chain. But until the issue is resolved, the answer for quality programmatic inventory, in B2B specifically, may lie with the publisher trading desk.
It all comes down to a mutual interest and responsibility to advertisers and the audience. Media owners are the gateway to a circle of trust they’ve built with their audience. They own unique datasets and know the audience better than anyone else. Premium media owners are also sensitive to the experiences they deliver. Publisher trading desks act like any other trading desk, ingesting blacklists, or even deploying whitelists, but they’re fueled by a unique set of data for more accurate audience targeting, which ultimately eliminates the potential for fraud.
Having a mutual interest in the success of the advertiser and the experience of the user sets the publisher trading desk apart as being more of an honest broker in the programmatic buying world. If more premium publishers continue to invest in their trading desk capabilities and work closer with media agencies to onboard first- and third-party data, they can be the safer channel for programmatic ad buying in the near term.
Programmatic advertising is still in its adolescence stage. It’s bound to mature with time, but until then, human-to-human interaction in the media landscape is still paramount to ensure quality experiences for the advertiser and their target audience. A healthy mix of direct media buys from premium media owners and strict governance over programmatic buying with people-driven oversight will be any advertiser’s best bet for quality control in the foreseeable future.
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