Brand risk was up in 2020. Where is it heading now?

Digital ad verification platform Integral Ad Science (IAS) went through data from trillions of events in 20 countries to produce their Media Quality Report for the second half of 2020. They found overall that fraud rates had dropped globally, ranging from 0.3% to 0.8% in various regions. This success shows that marketers are increasingly adopting ad fraud solutions. But how did they do in mitigating brand risk in what proved to be a perilous and contentious digital climate?

IAS Chief Marketing Officer Tony Marlow had some thoughts to share about how brands responded, and what they can do now. “The pandemic and political climate of the past twelve months not only transformed our daily lives, it impacted the nature of digital content and news cycles,” Marlow explained. “Regardless of whether brand risk will rise or fall in 2021, marketers are now better prepared with solutions to navigate societal events that can be difficult to anticipate.”

Ad fraud vs. brand risk. According to the IAS study, “adult content” was the primary driver, followed closely by hate speech. Mobile web video remained the safest inventory for ad fraud (0.3%), but it was the most hazardous when it came to brand risk at 8.6%.

“As 2021 unfolds, it’s critical that marketers understand how to mitigate elevated brand safety risk effectively,” said Marlow.

But how?

“The most important first step a marketer can take when navigating brand safety and suitability is to know what their brand stands for,” Marlow stated. “This is the North Star of any brand safety effort. Once this is clear, they can then work with the right partners to find those contextual adjacencies that best represent their brand while avoiding those that don’t.

Mitigating adjacency risks. He added, “When it comes to avoiding certain risky channels, such as sites that repeatedly purvey misinformation, that is just one part of the equation. It’s also important to be able to navigate more opaque scenarios such as user generated content and social media where the high volume of content generated also stems from a wide array of creators. This requires a more sophisticated level of control to mitigate adjacency risks based on the content.”

With IAS’s reach, brands can get more control back in some of these more opaque scenarios, which threaten to overwhelm marketers in an increasingly fragmented digital landscape. But marketers need to look at a more comprehensive strategy that includes risk as only part of the overall goal. That goal is “quality.”

“Beyond brand safety, right now digital advertising is all about understanding digital media quality, what we call ‘Quality Impressions,’” Marlow said. “The highest quality ad placements allow brands to better connect with the right audiences in the places that represent their brand values and campaign objectives. They can also avoid low quality media adjacencies, such as hate speech, that don’t align with what they represent.”

Why we care. If the pandemic accelerated a brand’s need to ramp up e-commerce, the political climate during a campaign year placed a comparable priority on brand risk. Public health issues, as well as political calls for justice and equity, aren’t going away in 2021. Last year set the tone for creating a better digital playbook that is necessary to meet existing and new challenges ahead.

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