Brand Safety: Do Advertisers Really Care?

2 minute read

In the abyss of the brand safety meltdown in the advertising world over the past month, the one thing that continues to perpetuate the influx of fake news, the Breitbart’s et al is the advertising which feeds them. This is the ultimate irony of this brand safety controversy; the very advertisers pulling ads due to raised concerns have been the root cause allowing undesirable content to be monetised and thrive. It is only now, in a heightened post-truth and fake news era are brands starting to reconsider the kind of content they’re being placed next to.

The internet has disrupted the traditional models of advertising — ad exchanges have created abundance, doing away with the scarcity which existed in antiquated forms of media. Programmatic ad networks have assisted in driving efficiency at scale, using multiple layers of data. Yet, this came at the expense of premium placements as the power of the cookie allowed advertisers to serve relevant ads to users, no matter the quality of the environment.

In the heat of this brand safety fiasco, Google has promised to introduce new measures which will ease concerns surrounding brand safety. However, in a paradigm of internet advertising, the lowest cost-per-acquisition will always win over quality. Will brands or advertisers really be prepared to pay more to ensure their ads are only served next to ‘premium’ content? It seems unlikely, especially in the era of the ‘click’ whereby all media channels play an important role in the conversion funnel, and ultimately delivering a return-on-investment to advertisers. After all, Australia’s major sporting codes are fighting a Government crackdown on newly proposed restrictions against gambling advertising on television, despite the fact that this would benefit problem gamblers. It seems these business decisions become easier, especially when the bottom line is at stake.

Another key question to consider is who is to determine quality on the internet? We can easily draw parallels with cases such as the ‘right to be forgotten’ where the European Court foolishly made Google the judge of what information should be seen – ultimately compromising natural search results in Europe. If none of us agree that Google should be adjudicating what is considered ‘premium’ content on the internet, then who should? Publishers I consider accountable and trustworthy might be very different to those who hold differing political and social views. If brand safety is going to be the ultimate goal which everyone agrees upon, then a methodology over responsibility of determining good from bad needs to be established.

Unless advertisers are going to be willing to pay more and a way in which quality is determined, brand safety will never be achievable. Are advertisers prepared to see a reduction in ROI as a result of a new online scarcity?