As More Brands Demand Transparency, Publishers Must Answer The Call

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Susan Panico, senior vice president of strategic solutions at Pandora.

Unilever CMO Keith Weed made headlines at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting when he threatened to pull advertising investment from online platforms that create divisions in society. As a brand-led business, Unilever needs to ensure consumer trust above all else, Weed reasoned, likening the current digital supply chain to a swamp in terms of transparency.

Unilever controls more than $8 billion in advertising annually for consumer brands such as Dove, Lipton and Vaseline, so when he speaks, the industry stands to attention – but who’s really accepting the call to action?

There are groups stepping up. From Facebook’s fake news concerns to Google’s brand-safety controversies, marketers realize that with fraud, transparency and brand safety, standards have been too lenient.

Platforms have also begun to make strides. Google, for example, has tried to create a safer environment with Adblock for YouTube.

But blocking the ad isn’t a magic solution. A good ad could still be surrounded by bad or inappropriate content.

For large-scale change to be made, the entire advertising industry – brand marketers, agencies and publishers – must rally together if we’re ever going to clean up the digital supply chain. We need collective action and commitment to change from publishers and advertisers. At the same time, the industry must put a few critical protections and guardrails in place.

Committing to content curation

Publishers must first commit to delivering high-quality content – and the best way to ensure this is human curation and content approval.

Algorithms, machine learning and big data have given publishers the tools to customize experiences for millions of users, but human curators are still needed to make judgment calls and enforce advertising policies that ensure ads are brand-safe.

A recent study found that more than two-thirds of US marketers have been exposed to a safety issue at least once. To combat this issue, YouTube plans to hire 10,000 new employees to monitor for hateful and offensive content, which is a step in the right direction.

Bank of America also announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona plans to hire a brand safety officer to ensure that the bank’s advertising does not appear next to offensive online content. Lou Paskalis, a senior vice president at Bank of America, said the new role was a reaction to growing fears in the company that advertising could be seen as a net negative to the company.

Keeping technology human

The rise of bots and unverified accounts is a growing contribution to the overall fraud issue.

Publishers should closely monitor ad fraud with independent third-party measurement audience verification and validation partners to ensure ads are being delivered to real humans and not fraudulent bots.

Allowing consumers to control their experience

To make the digital ecosystem a safer and more user-friendly place, we need to return our focus to prioritizing the consumer experience. Personalization is one of the keys to this – it’s about understanding where brands are reaching a consumer or what the consumer is doing in that exact moment. When people have the ability to control what content they see, it allows them to determine what is most relevant to their tastes.

To succeed in the quest for a more accountable industry, we must make a united and systemic commitment to consumer safety. Responsible publishing is a necessity, and platforms must be committed to ensuring a safe, secure environment for consumers – especially youth. If we don’t unite toward a goal of being 100% committed to ensuring the digital integrity of advertising, we’re at risk of alienating consumers altogether.

Follow Pandora (@pandorabrands) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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