Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Brand Safety Uproar - Google's Issues

Advertiser concerns about brand safely have become increasingly louder and more public in recent months. On March 23, 2017 the Wall Street Journal published an article that firmly established the issue in the mind of the digital advertising and publishing industry. The article has a good graphic explaining programmatic advertising and balanced treatment of the main issues. It was, however, only a summary of what had  been going on for several months.

•    In January 2017 P&G announced efforts to “bring transparency to the media supply chain” with CMO Marc Pritchard calling it “murky at best, fraudulent at worst.”
•    On February 9 2017 The Times of London published an investigative article under the headline “Big Brands Fund Terror Through Online Adverts” with compelling graphics. The article points out that high-traffic videos can generate substantial income through advertising and that advertisers are not pleased with the performance of their digital advertising.
•    On March 22 the WSJ published an article stating that AT&T and Verizon, along with many other consumer brands, had pulled all non-search ads from Google. The subhead of the article was “Carriers also aim to compete with Google for ad dollars.”
The politics of the situation are so byzantine that one author compared it to Game of Thrones. However, brand
 safety is not a new concern as shown by data presented by Marketing Charts. 

The most compelling example of corporate action to date is that of JPMorgan Chase. According to the New York Times the story begins in March 2017 when the NYT brought to the bank’s attention one of their ads appearing on a site called Hillary 4 Prison. JPMC had already made the decision to oversee its own programmatic advertising with a specially created digital agency, Roar. Apparently it was not too difficult to extend the “whitelisting” of sites practice already begun on other channels to YouTube. In short order, the bank had reduced the 400,000 sites per month on which digital ads were appearing to 5,000. No long-term results are available, but no immediate impact was apparent. The reason? According to Kristin Lemkau, CMO, “Of the 400,000 web addresses JPMorgan’s ads showed up on in a recent 30-day period. . . only 12,000, or 3 percent, led to activity beyond an impression.”

If ads do not reach the intended target audience, they are not seen as relevant and not acted upon. Further, if the viewer is not in the appropriate mind set, no action is likely to be taken. That is reminiscent of the “context” advertising research of the 1990s. A study of print advertising reported in the Journal of Advertising in 1992 summarized the relevant literature as saying, “The effectiveness of an advertisement, in other words, may depend partly on the informational context in which it is embedded,” a statement that appears to apply to all media channels.

Is that at least a part of what is going on here? It’s too early to say for sure, but the next few months should tell the story of whether large brands cutting off ads that land on “objectionable” sites will harm—or perhaps help--their marketing ROI.

Google, of course, is not sitting idly by while advertisers pull ads. A first step was to require a channel have at least 10,000 views before it can accept ads. That will demonetize sites with small fringe audiences, but it is far from a long-term solution. The company has signed with ComScore to provide brand safety reporting using its proprietary measure of the context in which ads appear.

Google is not alone in experiencing issues with the safety of its own brand. Facebook has also experienced problems in recent months. Watch this space for a recap!

Related Updates

Burger King ad Forces Google Home to Advertise the Whopper but it didn't last long. Then BK tried again.
Google Tweaks Search to Combat Fake News
Google filter for intrusive ad formats
Google warns publishers with experience tool
 P&G cuts digital advertising $; sales rise
More on P&G and brand safety 
What major brands are doing about brand safety
2017 overview; need to define brand safety
YouTube brand safety in the wake of the Japanese Suicide Forest video
Unilever to cut digital advertising
More on P&G digital ad cuts with 4 minute video
History of programmatic advertising
Take-down of a major maladvertising effort 

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