Jerry Daykin on Bridging Brand Integrity and Ad Tech Evolution

The importance of safeguarding brand reputation within the complex web of online advertising has never been more critical. Jerry Daykin, a seasoned brand-side marketer with a career spanning roles at Diageo, GSK, and Mondelēz, delves into the challenges and opportunities facing brands in digital advertising today, drawing from his current roles as a World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) ambassador and Adfidence advisor. Daykin sheds light on the intricate balance between brand safety and the pursuit of innovative ad tech solutions, offering a glimpse into the future of conscious media investment.

What key obstacles do organisations encounter in safeguarding their digital advertising reputation?

The days when you could open a magazine or turn on the TV and see exactly where your advertising was running are long gone. Modern marketing campaigns run across thousands of different sites, in uniquely personalised and targeted ways.

There’s a lot of great content and rich media environments out there, but there are also those who out of greed or more nefarious reasons want to take your advertising dollars. Some of these sites might simply be low quality or ineffective, but in other instances you can be directly funding hate speech, misinformation or illegal organisations.

Most major advertisers took serious actions almost a decade ago to adopt brand safety policies and bring in impression level verification trackers. This was a huge step forwards, but there’s a risk of having a slightly naive view that this in itself totally solves the risks of brand safety.

In the first instance, these approaches are only as good as their practical implementation, and not all global media leads have really dug down into the exact campaign settings they require, let alone continually audited to make sure those are always in place.

Verification tags can be a last layer of defence, but on most walled gardens or big ad tech partners the campaign setup is where the real brand safety battle needs to take place. If you don’t have that governance hard wired, then you are relying on dozens or hundreds of individual media buyers to always perfectly follow your principles and never make any human errors. Many of them might be working across multiple different clients with different limits and expectations.

Beyond that, there’s a big opportunity for the industry to evolve from just ‘fixing the basics’ to progressively and positively investing in high quality media and a better ecosystem of the future. I’d call this approach ‘Conscious Media’, which involves looking to directly invest in high quality media, diverse publications and with environmental sustainability in mind. Handily enough, doing so tends to land you the highest quality and most effective media inventory along the way.

How have social media platforms and user-generated content influenced the way companies strategise ad placements to protect their reputation?

People’s experiences of social platforms reflect their own personal interests and connections. They end up reflecting many of the most wonderful, emotional and creative moments in our lives, but of course also reflect a lot of hurtful, adult, and hateful commentary that is out there.

If you choose to advertise on a social platform at all that effectively means you are funding it as a whole. That doesn’t make advertisers in any way responsible for every single thing that happens on such platforms, but at a base level you need to agree with the theoretical policies and practical actions that platforms take to keep their spaces safe.

Brands will rightly have different levels of brand safety tolerance depending on their own industry or principles, but there’s certainly no reason why every brand needs to advertise on every platform. I think advertisers, through initiatives like the WFA’s GARM (Global Alliance for Responsible Media), do play a role in pushing social platforms to be more accountable and to continually raise standards and deal with new threats in this space.

Within social platforms themselves there are always safer settings, adjacency controls, and other ways to minimise your specific risks - I’m always very cautious of products which extend your advertising onto wider off-platform networks with very different risk profiles.

Although there are some verification partners which provide a degree of brand safety, reporting in social platforms it tends to rely largely on self-reported platform data.

What are the essential elements of a mindful advertising strategy that ensures a brand's integrity while meeting its marketing goals?

Every time I’ve seen a brand pay more attention to the quality and context of its ad placements, I’ve seen it deliver better marketing results.

A journey to a more conscious media approach does start with foundations and fixing basic considerations in brand safety and responsibility. There’s no silver bullet but it requires strong direction, oversight, governance and ultimately a clear message to your partners that this matters.

From there you can build out a more advanced agenda - paying attention not to just the basic metrics of your ad spend but the true context. Could you be accidentally buying ‘dirty attention’ in made for advertising websites or even funding disinformation? How can you push your buys to get ‘diamond attention’ in the most premium and category relevant spaces?

A true conscious media approach looks not just at how your advertising is fuelling your own brands, but ultimately how it’s investing to build and support the positive media ecosystem of the future. Advanced companies are exploring their carbon footprint, their investment in inclusive content, and how they’re rewarding the sites offering the best consumer and advertising experience.

What is the role of advanced technologies and data analysis in improving the measures taken to safeguard a brand's online presence and advertising choices?

There’s a caution about being too reliant on algorithms and technologies. Ultimately, humans need to make key safeguarding decisions and implement those in campaigns. You need to strategically align on what matters to your brand.

A truly brand safe approach often starts by saying ‘no’ to some of the products that spread your media too far and wide, even if they seem to offer cheap reach in the process. Most advertisers would benefit from moving more towards deliberate inclusion lists rather than active exclusion ones, though you need to balance this with an effort to include smaller quality minority publications.

That said, technology clearly does play a huge role and it’s been positive to see many vendors, in part driven by the pressures of GARM and advertisers, to develop better tools and services in this space. In fact, my passion for this tech is exactly why I’m using some of my time out to advise Adfidence.

By the time you’ve connected accounts to make sure you can deliver consistently on brand safety it becomes easy to also then oversee other areas such as naming conventions, or wider media best practice - I wonder how many millions of dollars are wasted on campaigns that don’t have the right frequency capping or core flighting principles enacted. Having simple transparency over your campaign setup is an immediate solve for that.

What emerging trends or technologies do you believe will significantly impact conscious media investment in the next few years?

It’s easy to get complacent and think of brand safety as an issue that was largely solved over the last decade, but the reality is it’s a burning and fast-moving challenge that needs an evolving solution.

Whilst an incentive still remains for click bait websites to share shocking content to attract views advertisers can all too easily become part of the problem. You don’t need a crystal ball to see that with elections, political disruption and culture wars around the globe, 2024 is going to create many opportunities for bad actors to stir things up. That is a huge external trend that advertisers need to face into before it’s too late.

It’s not all bleak of course - all it takes is for advertisers to start asking more questions, applying more pressure and using simple tools and governance to start lifting the whole industry. As the WFA’s media charter laid out, that’s a combination of immediate advertiser action and interest, but also a call to arms for ad tech firms to offer more in this space.

Chairing the WFA’s Diversity Task Force, it’s been great to see media rise up the agenda as a serious consideration. Most global member companies are not just considering brand safety but also building out deliberately inclusive media approaches. That includes both finding minority owned and operated media, but also incentivising all media to positively tell diverse stories.

We need the big social and tech platforms to step up further in their use of AI to truly shape a brand safe media ecosystem, because we know for sure that those wanting to misinform or cheaply profit will be trying their best to do the same.