2020’s tumultuous first half spurs new brand safety opportunities, challenges: GroupM

Dive Brief:

  • WPP’s media agency group GroupM introduced a playbook to help marketers manage brand safety best practices as a number of developments in 2020 across the political, social and technological realms are leading to new opportunities and risks, the company announced in a press release.
  • Brand safety concerns are being felt more broadly beyond programmatic digital and social media as more channels undergo digitization and others transform rapidly, requiring new guidance, including connected TV, digital out-of-home, location data, audio and gaming, according to GroupM.
  • At the same time, issues like the coronavirus pandemic, GDPR/CCPA, fake news and third-party measurement challenges as cookies die off are also having a significant impact on brand safety concerns as how media is consumed evolves and the infrastructure behind digital media evolves.

Dive Insight:

Brand safety has always had its complexities, and those have been compounded by recent events including the pandemic, tech and privacy developments, as well as protests around racial injustices.

“In the first six months of 2020 alone, CCPA has taken effect, Google announced they would be phasing out third cookies [sic], the home stretch of the 2020 presidential campaign has come into full focus — increasing the attention on fake news — the world has been hit with a global pandemic and most recently protests related to racial inequality,” said John Montgomery, GroupM global EVP of brand safety. “Each of these events marks a unique opportunity to continue to challenge our brand safety practices.”

Keyword blocking, a brand safety tactic that has emerged to help brands curtail ads appearing alongside objectionable content, has become a double-edged sword as the news cycle has included coverage of crisis after crisis this year. As a result, brands using keyword blocking may not be getting their name out enough while reducing ad revenue supporting reputable news organizations. For example, when the pandemic first hit, brands blocked ads running alongside serious news content about the virus. That approach has waned recently as advertisers have pulled back on blocking “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” related content in May, according to Integral Ad Science. The company recently reported an 88% drop in keyword blocking of those two keywords in the U.S. and a 77% drop in the U.K.

More recently, there are indications that keyword blocking is being used in relation to content about racial injustice protests, according to an Ad Age story citing Vice Media data.

Marketing services providers are beginning to find ways to help brands address these complexities with keyword blocking. For example, Comscore and Kargo each recently released new tools that help advertisers avoid advertising around certain content while still supporting high-quality publishers.

A separate concern brands are facing this year is navigating independent third-party measurement without cookies, according to GroupM’s report. If content categories or URLs are seen as a source of personal data, marketers may only be able to access data in aggregate from publishers and not directly, which could result in measurement that is less impartial.

GroupM also points to emerging areas where marketers need to be paying attention to brand safety, including connected TV and gaming, both of which has seen usage spike amid the pandemic. This creates a challenge for measurement at viewership is increasingly fragmented across devices and publishers. Gaming — esports in particular — offer a big opportunity for advertisers but brands must learn to navigate adjacency risks, per GroupM.

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