Brand Safety Basics: Programmatic Advertising and Brand Protection

A few weeks ago, I was asked to represent the Point It Programmatic team on a call with a client who was interested in revamping their display media efforts. I joined the call with a fresh PowerPoint deck locked and loaded, ready to espouse all that I know about the far-reaching capabilities of a well-managed programmatic ad spend.

But instead of getting grilled on the different tactics that we use, or how we go about bringing performance, the first question I was asked was, “What’s all this I’m reading about Chase Bank and programmatic brand safety?”. What followed was an unexpected and candid conversation about not only online brand safety, but how we at Point It, are set up to protect our clients’ ads from appearing next to brand damaging content.

Essentially, we have the process broken down into three steps:

Step 1: Use a Pre-bid Brand Safety Filter Like IAS

The first step, and quite frankly the easiest, is to partner with a brand safety technology company like Integral Ad Science (IAS). IAS buckets websites into different categories of risk based on different content criteria that they scrape from the site. After you’ve decided your brand risk threshold and set those parameters inside the platform, the pre-bid filter will stop you from even bidding on any site that passes that threshold.

IAS also offers a post-bid filter that does a final evaluation of the possible landing place after a placement is won. If it doesn’t pass the smell test on the second check then the ad won’t serve. You get a second round of safety here, but risk losing ad dollars to blank placements.

Step 2: Centralize your Ad Buying

The second step is to centralize your ad buying. There are 2 options here.

  1. Using a singular DSP that offers targeting and reporting features designed to help easily identify and block brand damaging content.
  2. Using an ad server or measurement platform, like DCM, who can verify your viewability and site placements.

We use a few different DSPs here at Point It, but rely heavily on The Trade Desk as our main buying platform for that exact reason. The Trade Desk offers us a library of pre-screened data sets to leverage, continually updated blocked site-lists and the ability to upload our own blacklists that are tailored to our clients’ specific brand identities. If you have noticed the GDN in the news lately, it has probably been related to poor brand safety. This is a great example of a media buying solution that does not put these practices as a top priority. You can read more about the pitfalls of relying on the GDN in a previous article I wrote here.

For whatever buying method you choose, make sure you have a deep understanding on how to maximize all the features that they offer in regards to brand protection.

Step 3: Manual Checks

The reality is, even with all this ad-tech in place, things can still fall through the cracks. With 10,000 new websites being launched on the internet daily, we’re in a constant uphill battle against clickbait and damaging content. Moreover, the people who create this content have become far savvier in how they can sneak it past the machines. To combat this, we regularly pull site lists and comb through them to remove anything harmful.

And as the creators of this content have become savvier, so have we in regards to what we’re searching for. Words like ‘family’, ‘patriot’, and even ‘America’ have all produced results that have ended up on our blacklists. This is how Chase got into trouble and ignited this conversation in the first place. They put all their faith in the tech and didn’t do any of the manual work that ensures that these things don’t happen.

As someone who works in programmatic, I see Chase Bank’s error as bittersweet. The bitterness stems from the cloud of doubt that they’ve unfortunately cast over the programmatic industry as a whole. But there’s a sweetness in the sense that it exposes a lot of underlying issues surrounding this dilemma. It brings up issues of supply-side accountability, and forces all of us to take a far more comprehensive look at how and where we’re buying. Maybe sometimes you have to burn away some of the trees to get a better look at how you can strengthen the roots?

Knowing Your Audience

Overall, the key here is knowing your audience and making sure you base your criteria on where your ad is going to have the most positive effect. While most major national brands don’t want to be viewed on any radical political fringe sites, there are some brands whose customers openly embrace that kind of content.

So, start shopping around for different brand safety providers and find the one that you feel provides the best overall protection. Lean on them to ensure you’re getting the full capability of what their platform offers. When it comes to something as fragile as your online brand presence, accountability is key.

Learn more about Programmatic Display Advertising:

Programmatic advertising doesn’t have to be complicated. Check our our Resource Library for great tools put together by our experts!

Al Lepow About the author
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