How the New Normal has Changed Brand Safety 


The pandemic has tested the industry on a number of fronts, but as with everything else, this has resulted in new ways of working. Brand safety was one of the issues that quickly came to the fore early on, and here Lisa Kalyuzhny, Senior Director, Advertiser Solutions at PubMatic, explains how the industry has been adopting new ways of working that are likely to endure beyond the pandemic. 

Over the last four months, consumers around the world have adopted a new home-centric mode of living, resulting in changes in terms of the types of media content consumed and the way we consume them. As advertisers and publishers adjusted to this ‘new normal’ there were large shifts in supply and demand, which has resulted in higher than usual CPMs across connected TV (CTV), mobile web, and in-app. 

However, whilst consumers have turned their attention to connected TV and in-app gaming, fraudsters have adapted and developed new ways of penetrating these channels to take advantage of both the increased supply and higher CPMs. This has resulted in two significant changes in the way that media buyers are approaching fraud detection and brand safety, and whilst simultaneously providing insight into how advertisers might adapt to a cookieless world.

Mitigating against fraud in CTV

Although still in its infancy, CTV is already extremely fragmented with multiple ways to access inventory – direct to publisher, multi-channel platforms, and aggregator platforms being the main gatekeepers of supply. The challenge for advertisers is to understand how these disparate sources prevent fraud and facilitate performance measurement. 

There are already certification programmes from trusted, independent vendors such as DoubleVerify and ads.txt protocols can be applied to CTV. When buying programmatically, advertisers need to ensure that they only buy CTV supply from sources that can prove that they filter 100 percent of ad opportunities pre-bid – this needs to be seen as the minimum standard. 

Next comes measurement which isn’t currently standardised and varies widely across the CTV sell-side. Advertisers need to push sellers to be more transparent about how they measure CTV and to ensure that performance can be compared to other channels. 

If this is not possible, two issues arise. Firstly, vendors are marking their own homework, which tends not to end well. And secondly, media buyers find themselves in the dark when it comes to optimising budget across channels. Ultimately, CTV is a quality game, not a quantity game and advertisers need to ensure they are working with DSPs and SSPs that understand this and can collaborate to enable CTV supply chain optimisation (SPO).

The keyword blocking conundrum 

Advertisers have always been cautious when it comes to the type of content their ads are displayed against. In the online world, keyword blocking has helped advertisers avoid content about natural disasters, plane crashes, and violence, to name but a few.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, some advertisers wanted to avoid content related to the mass death, tumbling economics, and controversial political opinions. In some cases it would have been advertisers specifically choosing not to appear alongside pandemic-related content, but in many situations those keywords would have been selected before they had even heard the word coronavirus mentioned. 

So what happens when pretty much everyone in society is suddenly glued to the news? The advertiser sees a massive drop in reach, the publishers loses revenue, and important journalism goes unfunded at a time when it is more valuable than ever.

The first few months of the pandemic prompted the industry to evaluate existing keyword blocking lists and current affairs content.  What emerged was that many keyword blocking lists were outdated and too restrictive for the current climate.

Armed with new insights, advertisers, publishers, and technology companies have pulled together to update keyword blocking lists to reduce the level of blocking while maintaining advertisers’ and publishers’ standards against serving ads against negative news content. 

This is an encouraging example of industry-wide collaboration working quickly to protect the media and advertising industry. Another positive effect of this change in strategy is that publishers who invest in quality content triumphed, whilst advertisers saw high levels of viewability and engagement, with low levels of fraud. 

Cookie free environments are already thriving 

During the lockdown period there has also been a significant rise in mobile app usage, especially gaming and fitness apps. Due to the fact that cookies simply don’t exist in apps, advertisers have always had to seek alternative measurement solutions such as unified IDs.

The acceleration in app usage has spurred advertisers and app developers to find better buying, measurement and verification solutions. 

We’re not there yet, but the future is bright especially as the industry has moved away from a siloed approach to in-app and shifted to a committed unified approach based on accountability, ownership, and shared responsibility. The insights we’re gathering during this time will be extremely valuable in the future as cookies vanish from the online ecosystem. 

Undoubtedly, as lockdown restrictions ease (and potentially tighten again in the winter) we will see multiple ‘new norms’ emerge which will again require flexibility and agility from all sides of the industry. We will need to continue to collaborate and find creative solutions that enable both advertisers and publishers to thrive. This will require a continued focus on people, relationships, and processes to enable us to move in lockstep with the needs of both industry players and the consumers we serve. 


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