Last week, I shared Marc Pritchard’s manifesto on the state of digital advertising and some of the hazards of a murky and fragmented programmatic media supply chain. One of the challenges is the uncertainty about where digital ads show up.
Jaguar Land Rover temporarily halted all UK digital advertising a few weeks ago after learning that one of its ads had been running next to a pro-ISIS video. The Times ran a feature investigation that major brands, including Waitrose, Marie Curie, and Mercedes-Benz, had been “supporting” terrorism through digital ads. By the time Jaguar learned of the problem from The Times article, the ad had been seen over 115,000 times.
Brand safety has been a simmering issue for years. Jaguar’s plight is one of many soul-searching moments for marketers who lack confidence that the content next to their ads will be a good fit for their brand. The Sun wrote a similar article in 2013 that ads from major brands were appearing next to pornography.
Bethan Crockett at GroupM, diagnoses the situation as a byproduct of brands’ fixation on the lowest media buy price:
“Would you buy a car from a reputable garage, that can prove where it has come from, that it has a MOT and isn’t two cars welded together? Or do you go to the guy round the corner that you haven’t heard of because he is offering cheaper cars? That’s the decision for the marketer to make.”
Pete Edwards at Engine UK, put the onus of brand safety on brand owners:
“The levels of abdication of ownership of the digital ad space by some clients is shocking … Marketers must rule tech or be ruled by it.”
In the wake of this latest brand safety scandal, industry groups are working feverishly to tighten standards. And brands are conducting full-scale media reviews.
But aside from the extreme cases of ads appearing next to content from extremists and pornographers, I think this situation is also a reflection of just how much brands have given up control of “context” in media buying.
As John Battelle put it a few years ago, “programmatic has torn audience away from its contextual roots.”
Here’s a related cartoon I drew a few years ago on the importance of context in media placement.
“Programmatic Advertising,” November 2014