Why Honest Relationships are the Key to Creating Brand Safety and a Fraud-free Environment

In this article, Andy Evans, Chief Marketing Officer at Sovrn, explains why working with partners who provide feedback gives publishers a chance to act and fix issues as they appear. He also discusses how there is more to transparency than simply identifying fraudulent activity, and how, because there is no ‘single button solution’, publishers must take a flexible approach and evolve brand safety measures as the technology grows

With 22.7% uplift in internet spending noted in the latest IPA Bellwether report, it could seem that collective efforts to clean up the digital supply chain are making a positive impact on budgets – and the confidence of UK marketers.

But there is a question mark over whether more could be done.

Fighting fraud and promoting brand safety should continue to be top priorities for the industry. That’s why, at Sovrn, only one in 100 publishers that apply to work with us make it through to join our portfolio.

One of the easiest steps to achieving these goals in the ad buying process is the importance of open and honest relationships. This point was brought to life for me during a fireside chat I hosted earlier this year with Infectious Media’s Optimization and Insight Director Rachael Morris. Among her biggest gripes with agencies was the lack of solid feedback to work from; a publisher was either bad or good for a campaign. But, if the opportunity to have a candid conversation about the problem existed – it would offer a chance to fix the problem. Often, what is assumed as a problem or negative result might not actually be what you think, so by overlooking the opportunity to have a brief one-to-on conversation, you might be missing the chance to fix a problem and still reach your goals.

So how should the entire chain be working with publishers to help build a brand-safe and fraud-free environment?

1. Communication matters for brand safety

Slack, WhatsApp, email – the multitude of ways to communicate digitally and quickly increases every year, but all too frequently, meaning can get lost in translation. So, let’s bring back the essence of traditional conversation; pick up the phone or arrange a video call to give publishers the best chance to collaborate on a solution.

Marketers should aim to work directly with publishers or ad exchanges that have direct relationships with publishers. Without these conversations, buyers could be writing off inventory that isn’t performing as well as it could due to simple technical issues – which could be resolved if the publisher was made aware of them. In the words of Jerry Maguire “Help me help you!

2. Check credentials to ensure brand safety

One of the biggest advances in the battle against fraud has been the adoption of ads.txt. To date, more than 95,000 sites have implemented ads.txt in total, according to Pixalate. But, worryingly, analysis of the web’s top 5,000 sites shows just 22.5% are using ads.txt – clearly overall application is growing, but deployment is still not universal at the top of the publisher tree. While some publishers have been hesitant to adopt for myriad reasons, it was also discovered that misspelt ads.txt files could also be to blame. An open and transparent conversation between the publisher and buyer will bring this problem to light sooner.

3. Ask questions about their commitment to quality

It’s worth asking publishers what exchanges they work with and checking whether they are audited by independent industry authorities. The most highly regarded standards that provide quality reassurance are those issued by The Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), JICWEBS, and the IAB – especially the Gold Standard. Complying with the rigorous processes set out in these guidelines proves that an exchange is acting in the best interests of both publisher and advertiser.

There are also numerous providers, and publishers and exchanges can work with those that offer verification around brand safety and fraud, such as Integral Ad Science and Moat. However, it’s worth noting that the concept of brand safety can mean different things to different people. Brands don’t want to appear alongside obviously sensitive content, including hate speech and extremist views, but there are also grey areas such as political views, which might be considered extreme by one reader but not another. Similarly, context is important; an article about flight delays might be a prime ad spot for an insurer, but not an airline. Therefore, it’s worth not overlooking specialist providers like Factmata and ADmantX that focus on brand safety from a semantic point of view.

Above all, it’s important that any tool uses intelligent technology, as well as human review and intervention. No brand safety technology or fraud solution is 100% accurate, because the challenges are constantly evolving, but if publishers can demonstrate their commitment to quality, buyers should recognise this.

4. Be honest

Quality costs money, so be realistic about budget, while also asking your agencies to be transparent about the process and honest regarding what good inventory costs. Likewise, be honest with publishers. Would you be willing to pay a higher price for inventory for increased viewability and engagement in a brand-safe environment?

Ultimately, if all links in the supply chain are willing to talk more about how they can collaborate and be realistic about what is possible, we can surely collectively progress towards shared objectives: increase inventory quality through viewability and engagement, fraud minimization and brand safety maximization. What’s important in any working relationship is knowing that partners are trying to do their best and will address an issue rather than pretend it never happened. We are mutually responsible for the future success of this industry, so, next time you are in doubt, pick up the phone instead of pinging a digital message, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you learn!

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