Programmatic is not the problem.

I doubt Google will be spending many of their advertising dollars with News International after todays front page headline in The Times that read ‘Big brands fund terror’. The article showed several examples of big brands ads appearing over the top of videos which promote hate speech, terrorist organisations and pornographic content on Google’s YouTube site.

Google have done a decent job over the last 10 years of convincing marketers to spend on UGC (user generated content) which helped Google significantly grow their advertising business at YouTube but this article is likely to set them back. Advertisers used to be very skeptical about advertising on UGC in the early days, and this unwelcome story is bound to cause a re-think for at least some marketers.

Not only are Google accused of allowing videos from terrorists to run free on the social media site, but it suggests that the revenue from those campaigns is funding terror organisations which is likely to be uneasy reading for the marketers of the many brands mentioned. The author also points a finger in the direction of media agencies, suggesting that the main reason media agencies push digital media in the first place is because of the profits they are able to generate by ‘marking-up’ the cost brands pay.

It paints programmatic advertising in a fairly dim light, but programmatic advertising is not the issue here. Programmatic advertising is a set of tools, and like any tools they are only as good as the people using them. Done right, programmatic can offer an advertiser a great deal of control. Its about understanding the DNA of the sites and apps that you are buying, and only signing off on the ones that are ‘brand safe’. A brand like Google may be being slammed as the supply vendor in this article but they are also a mighty advertiser and they would, I am sure, insist that they know exactly which sites and apps every single impression they buy is delivered on.

If I were a marketer I would insist that my media agency only use advertising exchanges that were properly vetted and towards the top of the Pixalate Trusted Seller Index. I would insist on seeing a complete list of site and app store url’s that the exchanges partner with and make sure a human checks each and every one of those sites and apps properly before accepting sites onto my brand whitelist. If you approve sites that allow UGC then you are clearly taking a risk. You need to decide how big that risk is and is it worth it?

The content make-up of sites and apps is is key. Advertisers should build a large whitelist of sites over time that have been checked, verified and passed as ‘brand safe’ by the marketing team. I mean an actual human visiting the site before accepting it onto the whitelist.

Ask questions like What is the main genre of content for the site/app and does that content change in response to external triggers. For example, quality news sites often offer brand safe, professionally produced content and are rightly considered safe environments for brands to communicate with consumers. However, if a plane crashes and the story dominates news sites and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter then they are probably a bad environment to advertise cheap flights for example. So even news sites offer a small element of risk. Is the reward worth the risk? If not, don’t buy the news sections of these sites. There is so much quality content out there that brands can afford to be picky and slowly but surely put together a whitelist of sites and sub-sections of sites that offer a huge potential audience, in brand safe, quality environments.

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