What the Google Ad-Blocker Can Teach Brands About Relevance & Safety

Google's decision to equip their Chrome browser with an ad-blocker has caused controversy. What is seen as an all-too-easy solution for users to avoid exposure to ads is also a way for Google to eliminate their competition for ad dollars. However, the Chrome ad-blocker may also be an opportunity for Google’s competitors – at least when it comes to reevaluating their relationship with consumers, argues John Snyder (pictured below), CEO, Grapeshot, in this exclusive piece for ExchangeWire.

Last month, Google introduced an ad-blocker for its Chrome web browser in an effort to improve the user experience by preventing 'annoying' and 'intrusive' ads from showing. Google, a member of the Coalition of Better Ads, is working to bridge the gap between brands and consumers by facilitating better quality and more relevant experiences on the web. In doing so, it’s also acting on behalf of brands and saving them from their own bad habits. No longer can brands deliver bad ads on the Google Chrome browser, else they risk being blocked. But, whilst the standards have been raised, brands cannot simply rely on a browser-level plug-in to keep their brand safe. They need to take effective action and own the relationship with consumers.

So, let’s use Google’s ad-blocker as a reminder of the new rules of brand safety in 2018.

Message & creative is important, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg

John Snyder, CEO, Grapeshot

Firstly, let’s dismiss the notion that brand safety only refers to the act of avoiding harmful content. There are myriad ways in which brands risk their integrity through digital – either through the content their ad appears next to, the message it’s delivering, or the manner in which it appears. All these factors, and more, contribute to brand safety.

As marketers, we’re acutely aware of the need for the message and creative to be relevant, meaningful, and of high quality. There’s no faster way to erode the consumer relationship than by delivering intrusive or poorly targeted ads. In this respect, Google’s ad-blocker is doing advertisers a favour by preventing 'bad' ads – a classification they assign – from serving. But the value delivered onto consumers doesn’t begin and end here. To ensure a good experience, advertisers not only need to deliver a quality ad, but ensure it appears alongside appropriate content, is aligned with that content, and is targeted to a relevant audience. The challenge is doing this at scale.

What works for one brand might not work for another

Brand safety requires a more tactful approach than standardised, broad-brush tactics implemented at a browser or URL-level. It’s easy to identify and block harmful content when high-profile events take over the news, such as global conflicts or political unrest. But in other cases, brand safety issues are harder to plan for.

Consider the individual news cycles that brands operate within. What’s deemed ‘unsafe’ for one brand may be fine for another. For example, news of a passenger being dragged off a plane is an obvious red flag for the airline industry, but safe for auto and technology brands. Each brand lives in a specific environment with its own set of brand-safety checks and balances. We need to account for those parameters by implementing custom solutions that cater to the individual brand.

The depth of meaning in language means there is too much ambiguity to implement a broad, top-level approach to safety. Advertisers need the opportunity to go deeper with content and be able to analyse the relationship between the words on the page. In doing so, they can reveal the true nature of the content being presented. This can’t be ignored, or else we lose another opportunity to connect with the consumer.

Pre-bid reduces risk

The power of pre-bid is in its ability to ensure advertisers get what they pay for. Some brand-safety solutions report on the results of a campaign after you have paid for the media and served the ad – only to block that inventory due to harmful or unsavoury content. Pre-bid solutions empower advertisers by ensuring content and inventory is checked before buying. In hundredths of a second, these solutions analyse the advertising environment based on the predefined keyword segments and capture the meaning behind a page, so you can place your ad effectively. It’s important to note that the ad will only run if the inventory is deemed safe. If this is not the case, no bid is placed on the impression, and the advertiser does not spend any money. And, perhaps more importantly, does not put its reputation on the line.

Transparency & control are keys to success

P&G’s Marc Pritchard threw down the gauntlet at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting last year, challenging the advertising industry to be more transparent. Fast forward a year, and transparency is still a major talking point, but the removal of fraud has moved on to the need for safety. And simply ensuring brand safety is not enough. The driving need behind transparency today is to reveal ‘why’ specific content is deemed unsafe. It’s this form of end-to-end accountability that advertisers and brands are calling for on the part of technology vendors.

Transparency becomes even more apparent as forces like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) come into effect. The questions asked of data providers become: “How are you making this data?”; “Do you have the rights to make this data?”; and “Can we use this data legally?” Transparency here is paramount to ensure brands don’t fall victim to the massive consequences imposed by government and regulatory bodies.

In the context of brand safety, the transparency discussion is based on having a clear brief and establishing the link between it and the reasons why specific content is categorised as safe or unsafe. The point is – the direct link between the brief and the action needs to be transparent.

Brand safety is a multifaceted issue

Google might be trying to ‘clean up’ the digital advertising space by installing an ad-blocker, but brands need to take control of their own fortunes. This is simply a further sign that times are changing – consumers have more control and power, and they’re forcing a change for good among advertisers.

Advertisers now need to be on top of all facets of ad delivery to ensure safety standards are met. And, whilst there’s no way to keep brands safe short of ceasing all advertising altogether, if they put the correct practices in place, they give themselves the best shot of connecting with a relevant audience without compromising their reputation.