Ad Fail: A User-generated Problem

Programmatic advertising is only as good as the people managing it, says Mike Nicholson, director, business development, mobile, at OpenX

Mike NicholsonI doubt Google will be spending many of its advertising dollars with News International after yesterday’s front page headline in The Times that read Big brands fund terror. The article showed several examples of big brands’ ads appearing on Googles YouTube site, over the top of videos which promote hate speech, terrorist organisations and pornographic content.

Google has done a decent job over the last 10 years of convincing marketers to spend on UGC (user-generated content) which helped Google significantly grow its advertising business on YouTube, but this article is likely to set them back. Advertisers used to be very skeptical about advertising on UGC in the early days, and this unwelcome story may cause a re-think, for some marketers at least.

Not only is Google accused of allowing videos from terrorists to run free on the social media site, but the article suggests that the revenue from those campaigns is funding terror organisations, which is likely to be uneasy reading for the marketers of the many brands mentioned. The author also points a finger in the direction of media agencies, suggesting that the main reason they push digital media in the first place is because of the profits they are able to generate by marking-up the cost brands pay.

The article paints programmatic advertising in a fairly dim light, but programmatic advertising is not the issue here. Programmatic advertising is, in essence, a set of tools, and like any tools they are only as good as the people using them.

Done properly, in addition to delivering the right audiences at scale in real time, programmatic can offer an advertiser a great deal of control over where their ads appear. It’s about understanding the DNA of the sites and apps that advertisers are buying, and only signing off on the ones that are brand safe. A brand like Google may be slammed as the supply vendor in this article, but it is also a mighty advertiser, and would, I am sure, insist on knowing exactly on which sites and apps every single impression it buys is delivered.

If I were a brand marketer, I would insist that my media agency only use advertising exchanges that are properly vetted and towards the top of the Pixalate Trusted Seller Index. I would insist on seeing a complete list of site and app store URLs with which the exchanges partner, and make sure there are human checks on each and every one of those sites and apps before accepting them onto my brand whitelist. If the advertiser approves sites that allow UGC then they are clearly taking a risk. They need to decide how big that risk is and if it’s worth it.

The content make-up of sites and apps is key. Advertisers should build a large whitelist of sites over time that have been checked, verified and passed as brand safe by their marketing team. I mean an actual human who visits the site before accepting it onto the whitelist.

Ask questions like: ‘What is the main genre of content for the site/app and does that content change in response to external triggers?’ For example, quality news sites often offer brand safe, professionally produced content and are rightly considered safe environments for brands to interact with consumers. However, if there is a plane crash and the story dominates news sites and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, it stands to reason that they are probably a bad environment to advertise cheap flights.

So even high quality, legitimate news sites can offer a small element of risk. ‘Is the reward worth the risk?’ If not, dont buy the news sections of these sites. There is so much quality content out there that brands can afford to be picky and slowly but surely put together a whitelist of sites and sub-sections of sites that offer a huge potential audience, in brand safe, quality environments.

Mike Nicholson is director, business development, mobile, at OpenX