There’s no doubt that the automated buying and selling of digital advertising is revolutionising the industry for both publishers and advertisers. However, there are still headwinds along the path to growth and it’s crucial for marketers and agencies to be aware of these challenges and how to avoid them.

Concerns for brand safety were heightened earlier this year following The Sun’s expose, in which ads from major household brands were found appearing next to damaging inappropriate content. It’s no surprise that brand owners are worried. This was confirmed in a study by Undertone, in which having a brand safe environment was hailed as the number one safety or quality concern when buying inventory programmatically, specifically for 40% of marketers and 43% of agencies.

In response, the IAB issued a series of statements in August this year in which brand safety online was cited as one of the five biggest issues in the digital advertising sector. The industry body committed to “maintaining processes that ensure a safe environment for ad trading, thereby minimising the risk of misplacement, protecting the integrity and reputation of brands, and stifling the funding of content and services that infringe copyright”. And while this won’t happen overnight, there are some steps that can be taken now to remove the brand uncertainty out of programmatic:

Establish your target audience

Set clear objectives for your media campaigns that focus on the measurement of real ROI. Make sure you set your goals in terms of the audience or audiences you need to reach rather than making the common mistake of only concentrating on the numbers of impressions that your ads receive. Clearly define your required audience and work with your media seller to make sure it is being specifically targeted, so that you can be as confident as possible that you are reaching the right people, in the right environment.

Know where your ads run

Remember that your brand is accountable for where its advertisements are placed, so you need to make sure you know exactly where your impressions are running. This means that it’s important to get specifics on the URLs of the sites on which your ads are scheduled to appear before they do. It also pays to enlist a third-party to continually review and verify those URLs.

Follow IAB Quality Assurance Guidelines

It’s vital that the demand-side platforms (DSPs) you use to buy advertising are of the highest standard. It’s important to make sure suppliers comply with industry best practices around transparency. To help identify companies providing reliable and effective solutions, the Interactive Advertising Bureau has developed a set of Quality Assurance Guidelines (QAG) to help establish trust between buyers and sellers in today’s complex and ever-changing digital advertising ecosystem. Two tiers of companies are listed: those that are self-certified and those that have been certified by an independent third party. These latter organisations offer sophisticated DSPs that enable you to filter the inventory you buy based on the IAB’s guidelines. Therefore, using them is a big step towards ensuring authentic inventory.

Establish strong relationships with your media seller

It’s important to develop a good relationship with media sellers to build a reliable network. Trustworthy sellers should not have any problem backing up their claims about the quality of their media. The IAB recommends making sure you filter media sellers carefully before you buy from them, and once the campaign is up and running, you should check that your sellers are following through on their promises.

Verify third-party data

With a view to improve targeting and extend their reach, brands increasingly rely on third-party data providers for key audience information, such as detailed demographic breakdowns. This is then used in conjunction with their first party data to segmented consumers, such as people who are likely to apply for a mortgage, use a certain type of product or are from a particular economic group. The validity of this data is obviously key to ensuring brands are being seen by the right audiences so it’s important for brands and their agencies to evaluate how it was collected and how it will be used.

If approached in the right way, programmatic advertising can support brand safety rather than threaten it. If the right processes and frameworks are in place, rather than increase brand risk, programmatic technology can help buyers eliminate it. Working closely with supply partners to serve appropriately placements is essential to ensure brand safety.

Dora Michail

Dora Michail


Senior Director, Audience Solutions at Yahoo EMEA