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A Brand Blacklist Isn’t Always a Black-and-White Issue

May 10th, 2017   ||    by Susan Kuchinskas

Brands today run more of a risk than ever of inadvertently advertising on websites of which consumers disapprove. In just one example, Google is losing hundreds of millions of dollars in ad spend after featuring ads for Volkswagen and Heinz, among others, on YouTube videos and other content produced by extremist organizations, according to a Business Insider article.

Because even one ad on a dodgy site can quickly go viral, digital advertisers often create a blacklist and whitelist of websites for their ad buys. Sleeping Giants, an anonymous Twitter account, has built itself a reputation for calling out brands whose ads appear on sites like Breitbart News, an article in The New York Times points out.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy for brands to make sure their ads only show up in safe places. With programmatic buying accounting for an ever-greater proportion of digital ads, it’s largely inevitable some will get through.

There’s the Internet—and Then There’s TV

As television ad buying becomes more automated, should brands adopt a similar strategy for TV and create a blacklist and whitelist? It’s certainly a strategy advertisers and agencies should consider when evaluating programmatic TV platforms, according to media buyers at Quigley-Simpson, an agency appearing at MediaPost’s TV Insider Summit.

However, it’s important to remember that automated TV buying is quite different from programmatic advertising, and brand-safety tactics such as blacklists don’t translate perfectly between the two. Web publishers tend to have political and cultural continuity, but TV programming changes throughout the day, from news in the morning to sweet children’s programming midday to violent or sexy network fare at night.

Like programmatic digital advertising, automated TV buying targets audiences with specific characteristics. The ads therefore follow a person, not the content. The difference is that online programmatic ads are brokered and distributed by many entities, including ad networks, affiliate marketers, and ad agencies. Even when a brand puts a particular site on its blacklist, The New York Times article explains, it’s almost impossible to make sure none of its ads actually run on that site.

Inventory on automated TV buying platforms, on the other hand, is offered and managed by broadcasters and local station groups. You could think of this as creating a de facto whitelist of programming that advertisers can buy into. If a brand is worried about the content on a particular station, it can simply decline to purchase that station’s inventory—just as a media buyer would do today.

Tighten up Targeting

Automated buying platforms incorporate the benefits of programmatic while maintaining the value of local television, explains Brad Smith, senior vice president of revenue and operations at Videa. Local television offers a strong connection to local audiences and good value for ad dollars. Automated buying platforms then add the innovations that make programmatic advertising so successful: accountability, real-time stewardship, and advanced data analytics on audience segments.

To make sure their ads appear alongside appropriate content, Smith suggests that advertisers using automated TV buying platforms tighten up their targeting to include more than just standard demographics. Including psychographic and behavioral components—such as political affiliation, travel, memberships, and family composition—when targeting an ad increases the odds that it will show up in a safe spot.

As the ongoing gaffes in programmatic display ads illustrate, brand safety will likely never be a simple matter of creating a blacklist and whitelist for an agency or a brand. But for TV advertisers, the evolution of platforms for automated TV buying is creating better tools that marry the targeting of programmatic digital with the trusted medium of television.

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