CMOs need to own up to YouTube ad debacle

The YouTube ad placement problem, where ads were placed along improper content, got the ad community riled up.

Ad buyers started clamoring for better transparency and accountability. Google responded by saying the problem is "tiny," but is looking to use AI and promised better control. Meanwhile, others on the sidelines are saying that the walled garden approach to programmatic ad buying is ultimately flawed.

Sizing up the problem

For Jeff Finn, CEO, zvelo, a provider of content and device categorization, it is about brand safety. The real problem, he believes, is that many assume that ad platform providers are proactive about their brand safety. 

“Many CMOs are working with the assumption that demand-side platforms (DSPs) and supply-side platforms (SSPs) are taking proactive steps to ensure brand safety, and this is simply not the case,” Finn said.

It is a matter of economics. “Until now, brands have been reluctant to pay for brand safety, so the ad tech ecosystem has had little or no incentive to incur the additional costs associated with implementing a brand safety solution," Finn added.

Due to this, many DSP and SSPs typically add brand safety as an add-on feature. “Brand safety needs to not be seen as an add-on, but a default to align to the expectations of advertisers,” Finn said.

Also, many CMOs and brands assumed that by moving to a walled garden, where Google and Facebook control ad placement through algorithms, the brand safety concerns were no longer theirs.

“The move to walled gardens was made in a belief that certain publishers would not have brand safety issues and, therefore, could be trusted to deliver a brand safe experience. However, the issue of implementing tools and practices to ensure brand safety was not addressed. So, it’s really a combination of no market incentives or consequences for a failure to implement effective brand safety, plus a technically challenging solution,” Finn said.

Overcoming technical challenges

Admittedly, ensuring brand safety can be a technical feat. According to Finn, dynamic content changes, broad language coverage, diverse slangs across different languages, and the ability to detect and categorize videos make it difficult for proactively update brand safety categorizations.

“Finally, these categorization updates need to be streamed in real-time to the buy-side and sell-side platforms at massive scale and in a raw data format for ingestion into the respective bidding and selling systems, eliminating the need and latency associated with cloud or external database calls,” he said.    

CMOs need to take lead

To tackle these enormous technical challenges, CMOs and brands need to change how they value brand safety—and not just leave it to the platforms to figure it out.

Finn argued the onus is on CMOs and brands to make this change today. They need to demand brand safety from the platform providers they choose.

While enforcing it can be technically challenging, there are tools and techniques available, such as comprehensive page-level summaries, detailed data tools, and immediate alerts. These tools will also get better with the development of AI and better automation.

Time to incentivize

Most importantly, CMOs and brands must be willing to pay. They need to create the right incentives for ad-tech companies to consider effective brand safety enforcements.

“Without a brand having the appetite to pay for effective brand safety, the operating margins of buy-side platforms make it a non-starter for them to make the investments in brand safety technology. And without the buy-side platforms requiring and providing a similar financial incentive, the sell-side publishers have little reason to make the necessary investments,” Finn said.

In the end, it is the CMOs’ jobs and brand image that are at stake.

“So, it starts with the CMOs and brands. All of the legal agreements in the world won’t protect a brand’s image or the CMO’s job – brand safety has to be something implemented across the ad tech ecosystem at every layer of the buying and selling, through the technology, data, people and processes,” Finn said.  

Further reading:

Facebook gives CMOs more ad control

More programmatic ads found violating IAB guidelines

Google Ad controversy spreads beyond the UK