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How A Pro-Active Approach To Brand Safety Avoids Advertising Against Undesirable Content


Google has come under intense pressure in recent days over concerns around their brand safety settings via the Google Display Network and video platform YouTube. A recent investigation by The Times found that many major brands including Mercedes-Benz, Waitrose and Argos were serving ads against sites funded by ISIS and other political extremist organisations. This follows reports that government funded organisations including the RAF, TFL and the BBC were also serving ads across these undesirable sites.

Following news of this investigation, Google were summoned to meet with the Government at the cabinet office to discuss these concerns and many major advertisers including L’Oréal, TFL and Channel 4 have pulled their advertising from the platform. This was accelerated further when network agency Havas joined the boycott and suspended advertising with Google across all of their clients.

This could have a huge impact upon advertisers who were running advertising campaigns with Google as they look for alternatives to the platform. There are plenty of other media suppliers in the market with scale, however, YouTube is the second largest search engine in the UK. The Google Display Network is also the largest ad exchange in the UK and reaches over 88% of users online. This is a risky strategy, by cutting out quality inventory this will potentially have a negative impact on advertisers’ campaigns.

It’s crucial to ensure that you aren’t serving ads against undesirable content. There are a number of steps you can take when building campaigns and proactive campaign management tasks to ensure that you control the content your ads are being served against across the Google Display Network and any display or video ad exchange.

  • USING NEGATIVE PLACEMENTS – When setting up new campaigns it’s important to add known negative sites. By generating a list of common sites which often appear in the ad exchanges you can exclude your ad from appearing on these sites.
  • USING NEGATIVE KEYWORDS – By generating a list of negative keywords you can exclude sites displaying content about negative or sensitive subjects.
  • USING CATEGORY EXCLUSIONS – Google manually categorises all sites added to the Google Display Network. There are new sites joining the platform daily. Sites are categorised by the type of content they serve against. To ensure you aren’t serving against negative sites you can exclude negative or sensitive topic areas as well as excluding sites not yet categorised.
  • PERIODICALLY REVIEWING YOUR PLACEMENTS – By regularly reviewing the sites your ads are being served against, you can ensure there are no instances where your ad is served against negative content as you continue to build your negative placement list. This also helps improve campaign performance as you blacklist non-converting sites.
  • THIRD PARTY VERIFICATION SOFTWARE – Using third party ad servers such as DoubleClick is a great way of monitoring the sites and content which your ads are served against. There are also several third party brand safety partners available through many DSPs, such as Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify, to ensure that extra safety net is in place across your campaigns.

Change is needed in the industry to counter ad fraud and further improve brand safety, however, this is something which affects advertisers across ad exchanges other than Google. This includes recent concerns around brands serving ads on far-right news site including Breitbart. There was also the exposure of the ad fraud scam Methbot, which saw advertisers serving ads to bot traffic on premium video sites including ESPN, Fox News and the Economist.

It’s important that media suppliers continue to help crack down on negative sites and ad fraud. However, proper campaign verification and an effective brand safety strategy can ensure that brands keep control of the content they are displayed against. For more information about how twentysix can help you improve brand safety across your display or video campaigns contact us now.

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