Recent concerns around brand safety are casting all of digital video in a poor light. It’s a sledgehammer approach to a problem that requires a scalpel says John Tigg, SVP at Videology.
The row over brand safety rumbles on in our industry. The recent scandals with advertising appearing against unsuitable and in some cases criminal video content have damaged the whole industry, not just those platforms responsible.
Publishers, many of whom have invested heavily to create the kind of professionally produced and editorially controlled content that advertisers love, have suffered as advertisers have swung the axe indiscriminately. What’s going on?
In recent months over 300 brands either stopped or paused their video ad spend as a whole in an effort to get a modicum of control over where their ads are appearing.
One of the great ironies here is that the news outlets that broke the brand safety story have inadvertently become victims of a mass over-reaction by marketers. Of course, no marketer wants their brand to appear next to Jihadi content but the recent widespread caution applied to all video is over the top.
The reason why the contagion has spread so far is that when marketers asked publishers and their agencies for the data that shows what content their ads appeared against, most couldn’t provide it.
Their tech stacks weren’t designed to record that information or even to ‘rate’ that content for its brand safety – just as advertisers have different audience profiles, clearly, different brands will naturally have different levels of comfort on what content they are happy to appear alongside. Adopting the principle of better safe than sorry, many simply pulled video spend altogether.
Digital is an amazing industry, it has huge talent for invention but in this case the solution to the problem is not simply to turn to another tech supplier purporting to solve the brand safety problem. The tricky thing is that brand safety is both subjective and objective in nature. One of the biggest problems is that companies are using different tech providers with different interpretations of what is ‘safe’. Unless the industry can coalesce around a single standard, the problem will persist.
Why not look to an older industry for a solution here? Look no further than TV, or more specifically at Clearcast, the organisation that ensures TV ads always appear in the right kind of content in the UK, giving advertisers and content owners a single, agreed standard to adhere to. It may not be perfect – but it works.
The application of Clearcast’s rigorous and extensive advertising classification and restrictions process, working within the framework provided by the code of broadcast advertising (BCAP), combined with the judicious management and classification of television editorial content, means that the likelihood of an airline ad appearing in an ad-break with close proximity to a news bulletin regarding an air accident, while not fool-proof, is almost entirely mitigated.
Clearcast-type systems can work programmatically today – although many TV broadcasters review codings manually because the regulatory consequences of getting it wrong can be so severe – including in the UK the loss of their licence to broadcast.
The key here is that the demand and the supply side have a single set of rules around which they can make informed decisions. That allows brands to transparently understand the content their ads appear against, and makes publishers accountable at the same time.
I also feel that we could make more emphasis of the fact that a simple automated solution for editorial meta-data tagging can provide the necessary taxonomy for content. That can then be passed in an ad-call, providing the necessary details so that context, content and ‘rating’ can be considered when the ad-allocation process is being undertaken.
At Videology we’re already working with Clearcast as part of our role in delivering programmatic video advertising to broadcaster VOD and live broadcasts over IP. In real time, that means before we work out which brand qualifies for a given impression, we also work out which brand can and should be delivered based on the context in which it might appear and any Clearcast restriction that may apply.
It’s time for digital video to learn the lesson that TV has acquired in the many decades of linear broadcasting. Because that’s the standard that clearly makes marketers feel safe and secure in allocating their media pounds, Euros and dollars.
However, it’s not enough for one publisher to get this right, the whole industry has to get it right. Reassuring marketers that it’s safe to invest in video is everyone’s job, collectively.