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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Fostering quality journalism through a brand safe open web

November 26, 2019 | By Eric Shih, Chief Supply Officer - Teads @Teads

Almost half of comScore’s top 100 Web properties in terms of audience have some news component to their content offering. So, it is clear that news continues to represent a dominant share of online traffic. However, brand safety fiascos for advertisers on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook have swung the pendulum towards a conservative approach to advertising within news. The divisive political climate (and impending 2020 US elections) combined with increasing coverage of violent events, etc. further exacerbate potential risk for brands. It is now critical that publishers work with both advertisers and technology providers to balance their scale with a sound brand safety strategy to maintain and grow advertising monetization.

At Teads, we launched our global brand safety policy earlier this year to foster a sustainable advertising and media ecosystem. And we continue to advocate that publishers adopt constructive philosophies around brand safety. In addition to developing a brand safety policy, we have a few key best practices for every publisher to consider when developing a brand safety strategy.

Brand-safe best practices

1. Standardizing and enforcing brand safety processes

Although brand suitability will always be a subjective interpretation for individual brands based on their values and audiences, the industry first needs to define a lowest common denominator for universal brand safe content in order to develop scalable solutions. For example, most would agree that brands should not appear in or around content describing terrorist attacks or mass shooting events. News publishers have an opportunity to be proactive in defining relevancy standards and implementing a brand safety guarantee for their advertisers and audiences. Publishers can and should join initiatives that meet to evolve industry standards and best practices such as the Global Alliance for Responsible Media.

2. Technology and AI

There are tools available to publishers that allow them to more efficiently guarantee brand safe environments for their advertisers and even block risky content pre-bid. The key to success is seeking technological solutions that can optimally balance scale vs. quality. Keyword blacklists are currently the preferred (though blunt and rudimentary) instruments for many agencies and brands. Let’s call this “Brand Safety v 1.0.” Frankly, these tactics are a necessary evil for the application of brand safety in the absence of more efficient solutions. These days, publishers can also leverage technology tools to better target/anti-target contextual segments or leverage machine learning and natural language processing for their content filtering needs.

3. Educating the ecosystem

News publishers are already seeing advertisers shy away from news content in general and becoming the victims of blocklists applying to the entire news category. The problem with blacklisting hard news is that it eliminates a significant portion of online audience and scale for advertisers.

Publishers need to be proactive and implement solutions and processes to regain the trust of advertisers. It’s clearly more advantageous to block the minority of unsafe content vs. losing monetization on news traffic altogether, which is the current industry trend. We have to work together to advocate and educate brands and agencies that not only do ads perform better in news but also consumers trust premium news outlets (a positive halo that extends to ads on those properties).

If the industry does not coalesce around news publishers and continues to shift advertising budgets away from them, then we are ultimately on a path to defunding quality journalism and jeopardizing a free press. The result will be more disinformation, more advertising in the context of fake news and unsafe environments. It also reduces potentially massive quality audience reach for advertisers given the consumption of online news. That’s a scary proposition. Combining appropriate brand safety enforcement with premium editorial environments can not only effectively connect brands with relevant consumers, but also ensure that we support our democratic society at both a local and national level.

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