Programmatic ad buying has been a boon for companies looking to gain more efficiency from their digital marketing efforts.

However, with this rapid adoption and growth of programmatic buying, challenges around brand safety, ad fraud and viewability have emerged.

Thought pieces and tips on tackling brand safety are often highly technical or go deep into the weeds on specific areas of brand safety technology, leaving those looking to make their first move a bit bewildered.

This post provides advertisers and agencies with broad actionable steps they can take to start to define, implement and adjust protective measures, in light of both brand and business requirements.

1. Define your programmatic brand safety policy

A clear, unambiguous policy helps your vendor and agency partners execute brand safety measures more accurately and effectively. It is key to align your programmatic brand safety policy with your business goals, marketing goals, brand values and industry/sector considerations and then translate these into practical scenarios.

For example, having an airline appear alongside or in content linked to an aeroplane accident, terrorist attack or delay would not engender trust in the brand, but instead risk the brand's reputation through association and miscommunication.

Understanding the tradeoffs of enforcing these policies and their impact on your marketing goals is vital. You’ve got to ask yourself if they are at odds, or if there is a compromise you are willing and able to make.

When formulating and documenting your policy, ensure there is someone present with a good understanding of the programmatic buying landscape to provide input on the likely implications of enforcing a policy, on implementation, pricing and delivery of media.

Don’t be scared to tweak it, learning as you go along; capturing updates will only reinforce your commitment. But be careful not to forget to share your policy with all your media delivery partners, especially with any amendments you may make – you and your partners should remain accountable.

Additionally, strong communication, i.e. keeping your media delivery partners up-to-date, may prevent any costly misunderstandings.

Lastly, in order to fully understand where success lies: when your brand is safe, find the right metrics to measure your policy. Calibrate the measurements with any historic data you may have, and be ready and willing to adjust based on guidance from agencies and vendors on industry benchmarks. For example, you may measure the percentage of blocked ads that fell into brand-sensitive categories.

2. Tips to help shape and enforce your policy

When shaping and enforcing your policy, consider your agency and/or vendor’s best practice and trade body memberships. Ask yourself, have the adtech vendors, programmatic trading partners and media owners you work with defined their own policies and frameworks to protect your brand? And are they audited and accredited by trade bodies such as JICWEBS in the UK and the Media Ratings Council (MRC) in the US?

Additionally, to strengthen the implementation and enforcement of your policies, ensure any media partners are able to show how they will implement and enforce them, as well as comply with your metrics, measuring well against your standards. Having a holistic implementation and enforcement across a much wider audience will act as a testimony to your policy’s strength.

It important to keep in mind what technology is being used by your vendors and agencies to ensure brand safety as well. A plethora of brand safety technology is now available to provide you with transparency on where your ads are being seen.

Consider owning this adtech vendor relationship yourself so you can control and monitor your brand safety with more standardisation across your media plan. And for companies undertaking the programmatic media buying on your behalf, ask for their internal human processes on areas such as inventory selection, black and whitelisting, audit processes and peer review.

Don’t underestimate the human element in the implementation of technology – when used efficiently it will do nothing but benefit you.

Whether you own the demand side platform (DSP) relationship or your vendor or agency does, be sure to understand what that company does to filter the inventory before it becomes available for buying. Question how they categorise their inventory and what measures are built into their buying platforms to ensure your policy can be implemented – consistency amongst all operations, inside and outside of your company, is key!

You should therefore also ensure your vendors are able to provide you with ongoing reporting and data to help you evaluate implementation – this will allow you to make adjustments and benchmark your policies on all fronts.

3. Implement internal and external measures to enforce your brand safety

Appoint someone to be accountable for programmatic brand safety.

This person should lead on the distribution, implementation and adjustment of your policy, keep up-to-date with industry best practice and technological developments, measure vendors and agencies on their ability to adhere to your policy and respond in a timely and efficient manner when there is an extraordinary event such as negative press, a world event or controversial issue.

Having someone accountable for programmatic brand safety will provide clearer lines of communication on a day-to-day basis, allowing for speed-to-market on brand related issues and acting as an incentive for said person to be an advocate for best practice inside and outside of your company.  

In conclusion... 

The devil is in the detail, but building a clear framework of what your brand stands for, what your goals are and in turn what your brand safety policy should reflect means you can find the right partner fit across all areas of your media activity.

Furthermore, these partners will then have a clearer idea of how they need to be prepared to work with you both through process and technology.

For more on this topic, see:

Ray Jenkin

Published 28 September, 2017 by Ray Jenkin

Ray is Chief Strategy Officer at Affectv and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with him via LinkedIn.

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