Play it safe: Need-to-know strategies for brand safety in an era of fake news

Marketers know better than most that building a brand’s reputation can take years of effort and considerable investment, while diminishing it can take a nanosecond – writes Verizon Media’s Deepti Phatak

The argument that fake news is a new problem is itself fake news. While it is undoubtedly a more commonly used-phrased today, the fact remains that the spreading of deliberately false information has always happened.

The difference today, however, is that the volume of fake news and the speed at which it can spread has increased exponentially in a hyper-digitised and interconnected world. This helps explain why an Ipsos survey in Singapore found that 55 per cent of respondents admitted to being duped by fake news, while 90 per cent incorrectly identified a fake news headline as being genuine.

Undoubtedly, social media has played a major role in the proliferation of fake news, with research undertaken by esteemed academics in the US finding that a staggering one-in-four Americans visited a fake news site during the five-week study period. They concluded that Facebook was the biggest driver of clicks, at 22 per cent, followed by email providers at 6 per cent.

While this is undoubtedly a society-wide problem, with significant consequences for the traditional media, social platforms and digital publishers alike, it also needs to be a major concern for brands.

Marketers know better than most that building a brand’s reputation can take years of effort and considerable investment, while diminishing it can take a nanosecond. That’s why we have crafted three top tips on how to ensure brand safety online amid the deluge of fake news.

  1. Work with trusted partners

The advances in digital and programmatic advertising have given brands immense opportunities to reach the right audience, at the right time, and at scale, But it has also created huge challenges when it comes to ensuring that campaigns are appearing on high-quality, and not highly-dubious, platforms.

At Verizon Media, we focus on combining providing premium content and exclusive ad placements across our own inventory, and also forging partnerships with other premium content providers and publishers.

We also use Ads.txt, which is a pre-formatted index of authorized sellers that publishers can post to their domains. Programmatic buyers can then use these files to screen for fake or misrepresented inventory to prevent the sale of counterfeit and unauthorized impressions in programmatic transactions.

This combination of exclusive content, overseen by experienced editors, coupled with stringent and proactive policies for tackling flagged material, can give brands peace of mind that they will not be exposed to potentially damaging and objectionable content.

However, I also encourage brands to closely assess the policies and quality controls put in place by publishers and platforms, as well as commissioning brand safety partners such as DoubleVerify. From a technical perspective, pre-bid targeting in demand-side platforms (DSPs) can help ensure ads appear on safe environments by targeting away from risky content through the use of whitelists, blacklists and keywords.

Meanwhile, in addition to shortening the route from sellers to buyers, supply-path optimisation (SPO) is also helping to weed out poor quality and possible duplicate inventory, thereby reducing the risk of fraud and enhancing transparency.

  1. Enforce transparency 

Transparency is all the more important in an era of fake news. Brands and media buyers need to be especially well educated on how to handle campaigns to assess and ensure meaningful performance.

To do so, brands can and should demand transparency from agencies and publishers they work with. Make a stand internally within your organisation that transparency is a priority and require partners to show concrete steps in displaying transparency. Develop a list and protocol of checks in place that can help you with this.

Brands can begin by ensuring that your agencies provide monthly reports and disclose how ads have been served. This can be done by requesting for important reports such as a website placement report on a monthly basis, whether from the in-house team or the agency. It is important to understand where ads are being placed to verify against dubious content.

When working with publishers, check that they are running JavaScript tags that will allow the highest level of page URL visibility and brand safety protection.

  1. Tap into emerging tech 

Artificial Intelligence offers considerable promise in the fight against fake news, although algorithms that can understand context. While it may not be a 100 per cent fail-safe solution, advances such as machine learning, natural language processing and semantic classification, can offer vital contextualisation that the programmatic landscape is lacking today.

For example, ML can intuitively analyse how users approve or blacklist content and use these insights to judge whether content is appropriate or offensive. NLP and semantic classification, meanwhile, dig deeper into the context of a page beyond the level of keywords and domain names to make similar assessments.

These AI tools have the potential to quickly and effectively analyse huge volumes of data, and when combined with the power of programmatic, can allow brands to simultaneously benefit from scale, targeting efficiency and safety. Therefore, it’s no surprise that eMarketer found that 60 per cent of global marketing leaders said AI would have a transformative effect in the next five years when it came to “delivering the right message on the right channel at the right time”.

Away from AI, we are also investing heavily in next-generation detection techniques and human controls that make it harder than ever before to game the system. Tools such as AdFeedback and celebrity detection will help in detecting fake news and objectionable content and this will be rolled-out in compliance with the domestic and international laws around usage and storage of biometric information.

  1. Develop clear and concise guidelines

For brands to benefit from strong relationships with trusted partners, and to tap into the emerging tech developments, they also need to have solid foundations in place in the form of internal brand safety policies.

There should be a clear, and company-wide, understanding of what the brand deems appropriate or offensive. This means brand safety rules need to be re-examined periodically as content, context and meaning in the online space evolves. 

Brands can also strengthen their safety credentials and reputation for responsibility through consistently demonstrating their authenticity, relevance, and quality through content marketing. This track record in the mind of consumers can go a long way to minimizing the fall-out from any misplaced inventory.

We firmly believe the above recommendations can help brands stay safe, maintain trust and benefit from effective programmatic advertising at scale. And that is absolutely not fake news.

Deepti Phatak is sales project and programme lead at Verizon Media


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella Asia newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing