Home On TV & Video Digital’s Brand-Safety Woes And Lessons From TV

Digital’s Brand-Safety Woes And Lessons From TV


On TV And Video” is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in advanced TV and video.

Today’s column is written by Kevin O’Reilly, chief technology officer at TVSquared.

Digital has borne the brunt of recent brand-safety issues. While there’s been a lot of talk about offline taking cues from online to improve ad measurement and optimization, in the case of brand safety, digital can learn a lot from TV.

TV advertisers still have enormous power and control. That was made abundantly clear earlier this year when Mercedes pulled its ad spend from “The O’Reilly Factor” following disturbing allegations of sexual harassment against host Bill O’Reilly. More than 50 other advertisers followed suit, and despite the program bringing in nearly 20% of the network’s ad revenue, Fox ousted O’Reilly after 20 years.

While digital continues to work out the brand-safety kinks, we may see some slowdown among advertisers migrating from TV to digital. In the short term, there might even be a reversal – with global brands following the likes of P&G coming back to TV after disappointing digital ad experiences.

But while “the death of TV” makes for a great headline, the reality is that the medium isn’t going anywhere. For advertisers, TV provides a guaranteed audience, along with content protection and, more recently, real-time measurement, targeting and optimization.

TV may have had a bomb go off with the O’Reilly scandal, but it also highlighted the iron grip that advertisers have on their image with the medium, because with TV, advertisers buy content and context. With digital, they buy the person.

The Content Conundrum  

Digital opened up a whole new world for advertisers with targeting, allowing them to “chase the cookie” and follow consumers around the web. While traditional media buying was content-focused, digital wasn’t – it’s all about the person. Benefits of such targeting, when done right, are significant, but advertisers also potentially give up control over where and when their ads appear.

With mass dissemination comes minimal control. This is the case with the open marketplace, where advertisers buy inexpensive inventory but lose command over where and when it runs. Digital advertisers are often left wondering how their content ended up targeting people on sites with fake news or jarring content.

When an advertiser buys traditional media, they get content protection because they know exactly what they’re getting – and in the case of primetime shows, they even get visibility into episode-level details. There are stringent content-approval processes in place by networks too, so in general, there is very little surprise.


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When scandals occur with on-air personalities or there are breaches to the moral clauses contained in most TV ad contracts, advertisers can quickly remove ads without penalty, and content producers respond in kind to accommodate them. It takes one call to a network, and a brand can disassociate itself from the issue at hand.

Level The Brand-Safety Playing Field … At A Cost

For an advertiser, the key to success isn’t all about messaging. The holy grail is to create a positive brand association with the right audience, around the right context. It’s how brands are built, and it applies to both offline and online channels. Just like TV had to catch up with real-time measurement and optimization, it’s now time for digital to level the playing field with brand safety.

Digital verification services such as DoubleVerify, Integral Ad Science and White Ops have emerged, providing rating systems to ensure the “safety” of sites where ad content appears. Digital publishers, from mega technology firms to startups, are also taking on responsibility around content, with more stringent curation, add-on services and filtering tools.

Follow TVSquared (@tvsquared) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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