Brand Safety: To Protect and to Ad Serve
In this article Mary Corcoran, Ad Operations Manager, RTÉ Media Sales discusses RTÉ's approach to ensuring brand safety for their clients with the launch of Ad Sentry.
Reach Vs Safety
Right now, as I type, there are approximately 1.3 Billion websites in existence so it has become an impossible task to know where your brand could appear, not to mention whether the sites they appear on are reputable with content appropriate to your brand message. This is a problem, and it should raise alarm bells. In an age of automation and seeking to deliver and improve efficiencies, the industry has allowed some bad practices to creep in.
Unfortunately, with some automation technologies, clients give up control over where their ads appear. The potential damage to a brands reputation should not be underestimated.
Brand trust is hard fought but so easily lost
Brands want to reach potential and existing customers wherever and whenever online, but by seeking reach they are potentially leaving their campaigns exposed to appearing alongside content that does not adhere to their brand values. Increasingly and currently, brands are not willing to take that risk. By now we are all too familiar with the recent high-profile ad scandals on YouTube, with brands placed around terrorism footage and other examples of display ads appearing around numerous fake news sites. Brands are cautious about where their ads will surface and now more than ever they are demanding safety and protection for their brand.
The World Federation of Advertisers states that “70% of brands believe that the importance of brand safety has escalated in the past 12 months. It’s now ranked as the second-highest priority behind transparency, but ahead of viewability and ad fraud."
A primary focus at RTÉ is continuing to be the most trusted source of independent Irish news and current affairs. This core responsibility can involve distressing breaking news, harrowing investigative articles and hard-hitting journalism. RTÉ provides a public service by letting our audiences know what's factually happening without filtering or sugar coating it. Our reputation is built on the quality of our output.
We recognised that to ensure a brand safe environment for our clients we needed to develop a solution that would allow us to deliver on a client's KPIs without adversely affecting the client’s brand. With that in mind, we developed an in-house solution that ensures our clients can rest assured that their branding is appearing in environments that they are happy to see it appear in. We have been beta testing the safe delivery of this advertising solution for several months now, and I am delighted to announce we have officially launched Ad Sentry across all of our display platforms, on browser and in-app within all published articles.
So how does Ad Sentry work?
Prior to this, we were reactionary to content published on our platforms. RTÉ uploads approximately 300 articles on any given day. From an ad operations perspective, we had to react to sometimes harrowing news published on our properties by manually blocking advertising from appearing around this content. This rapidly became a burdensome exercise that was inefficient and unsustainable.
We needed to become proactive, by knowing what to avoid, and ensuring we could cover all areas, and that is what we have achieved. We have built an algorithm into our Content Management System (CMS) that captures information in real time as the journalist is typing the article.
This information, collectively, will determine whether the article will be suitable for advertising even before it is published. As more and more content is added to our site, the algorithm is learning what is and what is not appropriate. The process removes all pressure and reactionary responsibility from the ad operations team who before this, were on standby to track potentially harmful content. Fundamentally, it ensures that RTÉ.ie and RTÉ News Now are safe locations for our clients and their brands to appear in.
Quality Vs Quantity
RTÉ has always endeavoured to be a trusted environment for advertising. We don’t buy extra audiences elsewhere. When you advertise with RTÉ, you advertise on RTÉ and nowhere else. RTÉ is an environment where brands should have no safety concerns.
However, RTÉ is just one location, and many clients also want reach. This can be a fair demand, but in the online world, we believe brand safety trumps reach. There are no barriers to entry in creating a website, nor are there controls of the content or audiences (real or non-human) within those sites. Quality should trump quantity every time. In 2017 J.P. Morgan famously cut the number of websites it advertised on from 400,000 a month, to just 5,000 pre-approved websites after seeing one of its ads on a site called Hillary 4 Prison. That’s a reduction of over 98%. JP Morgan’s CMO Kristin Lemkau noted they saw "little change in the cost of impressions or the visibility of ads".
It is my opinion that in an online world, reach is a metric which can be very cheap and can be meaningless in isolation. There are only so many hours in the day for people to browse online, only so many sites a person can browse and consequently using reach as a measure is fraught with danger from fraud as well as brand safety. This most recent advancement by RTÉ is the latest of many improvements to our ad environment for our clients and users alike. In May 2017 we shut down multiple ad formats which were viewed as annoying or intrusive. This latest step to ensure brand safety for our clients is a proactive approach to an ever-changing digital advertising landscape. We take the responsibility of being a JICWEBS signatory very seriously and believe that by upholding the standards set out, we will stand out from the competition and the murky world of the open internet.
RTÉ provides quality content for our consumers, day in, day out and with that task we need to ensure that the brand safety of our clients does not get left behind.
As the MasterCard CMO Raja Rajamannar, puts it in a New York Times article aptly titled: Advertising’s Moral Struggle: Is Online Reach Worth the Hurt? "I would much rather pay a little premium as a brand and go for verified sites.”