(Brand) safety first


Ed Blakeway

Head of Programmatic


Programmatic advertising performs at its best when we target audiences, regardless of the sites they are visiting. However, with that comes a few challenges.

Context does need to be managed and there will be occasions where ads appear on sites that may not be a great fit or are deemed off-brand for a client. Lately, these cases have made front-page news. However, there are several measures that can be put into place to prevent ads from appearing in compromising situations.

Why is it a problem?

Well, in recent examples where extremist groups such as ISIS have created content online, the issue has been that they have monetised their content. This means that if the content is popular enough to show ads before it, they will receive a portion of the advertising revenue generated. Google and YouTube have been criticised for letting this happen and for creating a platform that indirectly lets brands fund and promote terrorist organisations.

What is being done?

The industry has invested heavily in technical solutions to pre-empt controversial situations from occurring. Big players such as Google and Facebook have guidelines, policies, and teams of people working on ways to filter unsuitable content, but sometimes the content itself is deemed suitable to be published but a brand would label it unsuitable to appear against. For example:

Content: An article about a plane crash (awful, but appropriate on a news site)

Advertiser appearing next to it: A package holiday company

Together? Completely unacceptable.

The tools that are free to use are useful but basic. They will categorise web pages into topics such as tragedy, profanity and adult content and you have the option to exclude these pages but with very little customisation other than negative keywords.

What are we doing?

Here at Search Laboratory, we know that more needs to be done. We utilise a number of tools including (but not limited to) Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify, as well as bespoke verification rules that we build into our self-serve platform. We do this because it filters results at a pre-bid level, meaning that before a request is put in for ad space, we will vet the page it is about to show on and assess the suitability of it. This is a more favourable method because we don’t have to learn from our mistakes to improve the quality of the inventory we use.

Whilst we feel that Google and publishers have a responsibility to provide us with platforms to buy ad space in a suitable environment, as an agency, we advise our clients on the latest industry updates and best practice, whilst being transparent when buying media on their behalf. All clients should be able to challenge their agency on where their ads are showing, how often and how much it cost them to get there.

How we can help

If you want to find out more about protecting your brand whilst making the most of your advertising spend, please get in touch to speak to our expert Programmatic team.