Protecting Brand Safety Goes Far Beyond Inappropriate Content

Malware has the entire ad ecosystem on red alert – and for good reason. We've consumed significant bandwidth ourselves, discussing how damaging malware is for the digital ad supply chain. But bad ads aren't a one-trick-pony, so, like an incredibly toxic rainbow, they come in several shades of destructiveness. And while unwanted ads don't get the publicity of their malware cousins, they can torpedo even the strongest brands in no time flat.

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Thankfully, there's plenty that publishers can do to safeguard their good name, even when the fraudsters have them in their sights. So on that note, let's take a closer look at unwanted, misleading, and contextually bad ads, how they impact brand safety, and what publishers can do to protect themselves without sacrificing advertising revenue.

The Nuances of Brand Safety

When people hear the term brand safety, they most often associate it with inappropriate content, and that's certainly a big part of the problem. For instance, if you're on a children's educational website that's seen a dramatic rise in traffic thanks to homeschooling, an advertisement for an "adult" website can slam the brakes on growth and success in a hurry.

Read Next: A Comprehensive Ad Fraud Tool Should Be Able to ID, Analyze & Block  Bad Ads

Likewise, brand safety has been in the headlines lately with publishers leery of running ads for COVID-19 related products next to their content, with many of them actively blocking ads having anything to do with the coronavirus pandemic. It's very similar to the dynamics involving political ads, where a conservative publisher won't want to run a left-leaning ad, and vice versa. 

But brand safety is a lot more nuanced than just inappropriate or misaligned ad content that misses the target audience. Another huge susceptibility for publishers stems from competitors' ads, something that seems like an obvious error but happens far more frequently than it should.

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Can you picture the impact of a Bloomberg ad running on the NY Times’ homepage? Or Lowes squeezing in a banner ad over the top of Home Depot's site? It's the sort of thing that keeps stakeholders up at night but, unfortunately, continues to be a reality. In fact,
63% of marketers now list competitor adjacencies as the most common type of risk to brand safety, beating out hate speech, violence, vulgarity, and other significant threats to a brand's reputation.

Ads Slip Past the SSP Goalie

So how does something that seems so obvious occur in the first place? Much of it comes from the vastness of the ecosystem itself. In a perfect world, SSPs would have every single ad categorized properly and nothing would slip under their radar. However, as we all know, this is not a perfect world and such things can and do happen.

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Perhaps there's some blame to place at the publisher's doorstep, too. Granted, it's certainly not their fault that a competitor's ad, for instance, squeezes by an SSP and lands on their domain. However, the complicated nature of programmatic advertising isn't exactly a secret, and neither are the fraudsters, ad fraud, or the way the black hats have managed to tie the digital advertising environment into a tightly-wound pretzel. Put another way, with so many moving parts, trusting that an ad partner like an SSP will always be on the ball is setting yourself up for failure.

Defending Your Brand Guidelines

Something as subtle as an Amazon ad on an eBay page isn't likely to make headlines, at least when there are more malicious bad ads to vilify. But just because competitors' ads and their impact on brand safety don't get an exhaustive exposé in Digiday doesn't mean they lack a special kind of destructiveness.

So how does a publisher establish a sound brand safety strategy? Well, it starts with finding the right partner, one that evolves with the times and has the flexibility to pivot when needed. And that begins with a holistic and comprehensive approach, a solution that doesn't rely on just one technique but several, all in one fell swoop. That's how a publisher covers its brand safety behind – by using a solution that's up to the task.

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Zooming in even further, publishers need ad quality tools that are smart enough to read between the proverbial lines. A blocklist that banishes ads without looking at the underlying contextual meaning can cut-off ads – and, therefore, revenue – that suit the audience and content perfectly well. Once again, a nuanced issue needs tools that read and react to those many nuances.

Download: The 2020 Guide to Blocking Bad Ads & Ensuring Ad Quality

Lastly, using a holistic ad tech approach like Ad Lightning that both scans and blocks in real-time isn't just beneficial for brand safety, but for any of the several different flavors of bad ads as well. One solution for many evils – malware, IAB noncompliance, data leakage, unwanted ads – that's what a truly comprehensive ad quality solution provides. Publishers can protect their brand's reputation while also warding off fraudsters and their unpleasant bag of tricks that, collectively, cost the advertising industry more than $1B every year.