Social media will never be completely brand-safe and ‘premium’ may have to be redefined

Brand-safety is a problem, and the onus is on publishers and their partners to develop the necessary solutions to protect client investments

Marketers have spoken: they have had it with ad fraud and brand safety risks. Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed memorably described digital advertising as a “swamp”, while his counterpart at Procter & Gamble, Marc Pritchard, described transparency as, “murky at best, fraudulent at worst” – and slashed his digital advertising budget by millions.

The industry has made notable progress in its ability to guarantee a brand-safe environment for marketers, but as advertisers look to build brand-safe marketing plans, they may need to reconsider their definition of ‘premium’ and their perception of publishers, specifically social media networks. Let’s take a look at the state of viewability and brand risk in Asian markets, new brand safety measures, and how publishers can take steps to preserve brand safety in their marketing.

Data reveals a mixed picture of brand safety in Asian markets

Viewability and brand safety remain major concerns for marketers, and these concerns are eroding brands’ trust and budgets – across Asia and worldwide. Data compiled by Integral Ad Science (IAS), an ad measurement firm, paints a mixed picture for Asian markets.

In the second half of 2017 viewability across Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan hit almost 59%, surpassing the global average of 55.8%. It was as high as 69% in Malaysia at 69% and 64% in Singapore, but Hong Kong lagged behind with a viewability rate of 50.7% – the lowest in Asia.   

Brand risk in Asia was relatively low, at 3.5%, compared to the global average of 7.9%, but again, there were stark local variations. Brand risk in Indonesia and Thailand was quite high, at 9.1% and 8.6% respectively, whereas Malaysia and Singapore were comparatively safe with risk calculations of 2.2% and 2.5%, respectively.

“Indonesia has a huge population and there are a growing number of media touchpoints, so the problem is not a surprise,” says Alberts Hendrajaya, head of digital in the territory at Johnson & Johnson. He adds that Indonesia is particularly susceptible to brand safety risks given the huge problem of fake news. “There are many platforms that just sell inventory and look for clicks and impressions and don’t care about the quality of the article or the inventory.”

The industry makes strides

Although brand safety is still top of mind for marketers, the industry has made some progress.  Tom Simpson, VP of brand and Exchange, APAC, AdColony, describes the criticism from high-profile marketing executives as “rallying calls,” adding: “Marketers voiced their concerns and the industry had to come together to provide solutions around brand safety.”

Simpson believes marketer fury has led to “huge strides” in tackling issues around transparency, including the release of the Open Measurement Software Development Kit (OM SDK). The software, which allows marketers to monitor the viewability and brand safety of their ads in third-party apps, was created in partnership by in-app ad platforms and the IAB Tech Lab. Simpson sees the SDK as a big development and “a response to the criticisms of major marketing figures such as Keith Weed and Marc Pritchard.”

Independent measurements platforms will be key to brands ability to identify brand-safe environments and measure campaign performance, says Simpson, adding that brands may also consider doing more direct deals with trusted publishers, as opposed to buying in the open market.

“We can’t afford to risk our brand with random publishers or inventory that is not pre-assessed,” concurs Hendrajaya. “As a company, we need to make sure every dollar we are spending is with a partner that has high-quality inventory.”

The truth about social media

In addition to embracing new tools, advertisers also need to rethink their definition of “premium”. They often use the term as a testament to a publisher’s cache. For example, many marketers perceive news companies like the Sydney Morning Herald to be premium, but these publishers lack scale.

Social media networks, on the other hand, have volume, but they are actually at high-risk for brand safety issues. Social media channels like YouTube and Facebook primarily contain user-generated content, which makes them harder to police than other types of sites and apps.

“They [social media networks] have algorithms and teams of people trying to address these problems, but it’s a problem that won’t go away,” explains Simpson.

Perhaps advertisers shouldn’t see the “premium” label as a nod to a publisher’s reputation or size, but rather, to its ability to provide brand-safe ad experiences. Gaming apps are not historically perceived as “premium, but they are increasing in popularity among users and marketers alike, and they typically afford a predictable user experience, which means buyers know what they are getting. Brands may want to think beyond social and consider gaming apps, and others, such as video streaming and other entertainment apps, when devising their in-app marketing plan.     

It is worth noting that human and technical errors also contribute to the brand safety problem. Serving the wrong ad format or poor quality creative can have as detrimental effect on the user experience as serving the ad alongside non-brand safe content, says Simpson. Viewability also plays a role. For some in-feed video ads on social platforms, viewability is as low as 20%, he explains. “That’s not because anything ‘dodgy’ is going on, it’s just a format limitation. Consumers scroll past the ad so fast it doesn’t get a chance to be seen.”

In addition to the brand safety advantages of in-app ads, there are opportunities for brand marketers to have fun with their audiences. “Why have a flat video ad? Why not create something interactive or include augmented reality or a gamified element. The most recent episode of Black Mirror on Netflix, Bandersnatch, is a great example of how to do more with the video format. There is so much cool stuff you can do with a mobile device and integrating that into ads, and making them user-initiated, all helps with viewability. Your ad is literally in the palm of a consumers hand and that gives you so many opportunities to engage with and delight consumers”

Brand safety is an industry problem, and the onus is on publishers and their partners to develop the necessary solutions to protect brands’ investments. But that said, it is worth publishers rethinking their definition of “premium,” particularly their perception of social media, and considering an in-app advertising strategy that is based on other app verticals, including gaming and entertainment.

In addition to the brand safety advantages of in-app ads, there are opportunities for brand marketers to have fun with their audiences. Why have a flat video ad? Why not create something interactive or include augmented reality or a gamified element.

The most recent episode of Black Mirror on Netflix, Bandersnatch, is a great example of how to do more with the video format. There is so much cool stuff you can do with a mobile device and integrating that into ads, and making them user-initiated, all helps with viewability. Your ad is literally in the palm of a consumers hand and that gives you so many opportunities to engage with and delight consumers.

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