Using curated marketplaces to ensure brand safety in digital ad buys

When Forrest Gump’s mother famously told him that “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get,” she just as easily could have been talking about digital ad placements purchased programmatically.

Unfortunately, real-time bidding (RTB) is a real problem for advertisers, as the recent boycott of the Google Display Network and YouTube by a slew of frustrated big brands has proven.

This mass shunning was precipitated by revelations that Google has been less than effective at ensuring advertisers aren’t placing their brand names alongside decisively brand-unfriendly content (hate speech, terrorist videos, etc) via programmatic ad buys.

Incidents where ads are run in juxtaposition with offensive content – or even content that doesn’t fit a brand’s carefully crafted reputation – can quickly do real harm, even if clearly inadvertent.

The need for transparency

Given the reality that the non-transparent “box of chocolate” being purchased through programmatic RTB ad buys may turn out to be a lot of assorted “something-else”, advertisers require a much more transparent method where they always know what they’re going to get.

Google’s recent troubles have, in fact, propelled advertisers toward an alternative: direct programmatic ad buying from curated marketplaces.

What advertisers want is straightforward: to reach real viewers who might be interested in what they have to offer, while keeping their brands away from unsavory content.

curated marketplaces offer brands the ability to purchase pre-screened ad inventory from vetted publishers

To serve these goals, curated marketplaces offer brands the ability to purchase pre-screened ad inventory from vetted publishers.

The key to curated marketplaces is accurate categorization.

Curated marketplaces both vet and classify publisher inventory by the audience demographics as well as the contextual specifics they exhibit. This enables brands to meet their needs around brand safety but, more than that, to also ensure that content viewed alongside advertising is indeed an acceptable fit for the brand.

Already brands are realizing the advantages of programmatic direct ad buying, which now represents 56 percent of total spend on programmatic display ads while the share of programmatic purchases made via open exchanges is declining.

For clear reasons, curated marketplaces that increase brands’ abilities to select and control precisely how and where their ads appear are a popular and growing option.

Mitigating risk

Our own internal data illustrates the significant risks driving brands to fully understand the online ads they’re buying.

Of the more than 150 million domains and 5 trillion monthly page-level URL requests where we have insight, approximately 10-12% of URLs are recognized as not being safe for all brands because they include content that is adult, violent, or similarly inappropriate.

Worse, approximately 1-2% of URLs include malicious content, ranging from scams to malware to ad fraud in the form non-human traffic. Further, these URLs represent a disproportionately high volume of impressions.

10-12% of URLs are recognized as not being safe for all brands 

Given the large scope of these issues – where potentially greater than 1 in 10 sites are not brand safe and generate an even higher volume of impressions – it’s clear that brands would be smart to make sure their ad placements are executed thoughtfully, rather than rolling the dice with brand reputation.

Of course, the likes of Google do have tools in place to reduce these risks, but they still leave much to be desired. More than 250 brands involved in the boycott have acknowledged this by shifting their investments.

In contrast, vetted publishers are certain to exclude malicious pages, to provide an audience of real human eyeballs rather than fraudulent non-human traffic, and, most importantly, to effectively safeguard the brand safety of advertisers.

By offering these features, along with category and contextual insights into exactly what ad buyers will receive for their investments, curated marketplaces offer a way to mitigate the risks of undesirable (if unintentional) brand associations.

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