Following The Times’ investigation into Google, YouTube & brand safety online, the digital advertising industry has become subject to even greater scrutiny from marketers concerned about their ads appearing beside extremist content. But this is not new news; Google’s ad inventory has long been chastised for its opaque pricing, policies, and policing of both what it allows on its platforms and where ads can appear.
The fallout from Google’s strategy to monetise first and moderate later has been swift. More than 250 brands have now pulled their ad spend and boycotted Google’s services until the company provides assurances that their ads would not appear next to extremist and offensive content.
Of course, brand safety has always been a fundamental part of the conversation around the rise of programmatic advertising. As increasing levels of digital advertising inventory are bought and sold by real-time auction, rather than hand-sold processes, advertisers rely on their technology partners to enforce quality control. It’s not always enough, and this issue of inventory quality in programmatic exchanges is why AppNexus pulled advertising from Breitbart in December 2016.
We have a long-standing customer service policy to bar domains from our marketplace that promote offensive content with the ability to cause harm and incite violence. Our move is emblematic of a commitment that should be uniform across the industry to safeguard brands that transact in the marketplace. Implementing strong inventory quality policies and enforcing these consistently, in real-time, is a crucial step we must all take to protect our customers, brands and the broader public. While it’s not down to individual companies to police the internet, when possible we should exert pressure on publishers who fuel the monetisation of hate and discrimination.
These latest revelations serve as another stark wake up call; the chronic lack of transparency in the market that has been upheld by walled gardens must not be tolerated. We need to go further to protect advertisers and so, it’s been refreshing to witness such a public dressing down of Google & YouTube for failing to take the necessary steps to meet advertiser demands around viewability, measurement, and brand safety.
Given that these two media companies - Google & Facebook - command the overwhelming majority of spend and growth of incremental spend in the digital ad market, there should be no question about the need to build a more transparent marketplace. Even as the companies scramble to rebuild trust, with Google’s promise to review their ad policies and YouTube looking to third party integration, the damage is already done.
However, the crumbling of Facebook and Google’s empire offers a gateway for both advertisers and publishers to usher in a more vibrant, trusted programmatic exchange. Where ads are served to consumers through a transparent media supply chain that adheres to third-party auditor measurement standards, such as MRC or TAG. In such a marketplace, outcomes would drive media price. This means establishing a clear link between how well a piece of media works and how much is paid for it. Integral to this is challenging marketers’ focus on price in favour of exchanges that deliver better quality inventory on brand-friendly, credible websites.
Google and Facebook may have missed their chance to change. Trust must be restored. It’s a shame the controversy surrounding Google has overshadowed programmatic’s powerful ability to help brands deliver the best ads to their target audience at the right time. Programmatic advertising is flawed only when it accesses poor inventory and is used without policies and rules to keep brands and consumers safe. In a better programmatic marketplace built on trust, transparency and fair pricing for 100% safe, viewable transactions, creativity and innovation will flourish. This helps empower us to move towards a better internet for advertisers, their audiences, and publishers now able to monetise their content.