Brand safety drives need to measure digital advertising beyond the click

GroupM and Twitter dive into the evolving impact of brand safety and responsible marketing strategies on digital advertising strategy

Basing digital media ROI on pure performance metrics is no longer cutting it for advertisers as brand safety and responsible marketing practices increasingly take centre stage.

That’s the view of GroupM APAC investment director, John Miskelly, who joined Twitter global head of brand safety strategy, Caitlin Rush, for a session yesterday held by the social media platform around ongoing efforts to improve brand safety for advertisers.

Speaking from his experiences of the early days of digital media buying, Miskelly said the genesis of an advertising approach was performance, or “dollar in, dollar out”.

“It was highly countable – though not necessarily accountable – and advertisers could measure what was deemed to be the ROI of performance of their campaigns. That’s not good enough anymore for advertisers,” he said. “It’s not only a case of performing well. Advertisers also want to make sure they’re investing responsibly, as well as rewarding publishing platforms trying to do the right thing.

“Everyone wants to crack measurement beyond clicks and acquisition.”

In response, GroupM globally has created a Responsible Investment media buying framework to try and tackle this issue.

“What we’re trying to do is go beyond performance and factor in other metrics to how we measure the quality of placements that prove platforms and publishers are doing right thing from an environmental, social and corporate governance perspective,” Miskelly said. “As we make sure we allocate dollars, we want to factor that in, rather than just the output of cost per acquisition or cost per click.”  

For Rush, heightened emphasis on brand safety from an advertising perspective also reflects growing consumer desire to support brands that are behaving responsibly from an environmental, societal and cultural point of view.

“It’s almost as if we’re seeing the same conscious consumption habits from the consumer side coming over into media investing and buying,” Rush said. “Brands and agencies are wanting to invest and buy from partners they know they have shared values with.”  

In this vein, it’s not enough for those providing the publishing, digital and social platforms advertisers use to just build tools that enable advertisers to avoid harmful content, Miskelly said.

“Clients are concerned their investments into social platforms, whether adjacent to harmful content or not, support their brand values,” he continued. “With things like GARM [Global Alliance for Responsible Media], we can at least point to progress and tangible transparency. From a platform perspective, clients want to make sure they’re doing as much as they have to get rid of these harmful factors off platforms all together, rather than just create tools to avoid it.”  

As Miskelly explained it, modern conceptions of brand safety are diverse, going beyond concepts of appearing next to harmful content or in “bad” environments. He described brand safety as a catch-all term for a wide array of financial risks for clients, from fraudulent activity to reputational risk, suitability, viewability, environments that brand ads appear in, legal risks around consumer privacy and more.

“It goes beyond where ads appear into a plethora of other elements of risk around digital advertising,” he said.

Brand safety concerns are also different across the Asia-Pacific region. For example in Australia, a highly developed market with more Web-based, journalistic content, clients show big focus on brand safety and suitability elements of digital advertising, Miskelly commented.

By contrast, in China, where it’s difficult to measure some of these things, brand safety and suitability aren’t as significant as considerations as ad fraud. And in South East Asian markets, where there’s less desktop-based, journalist-led websites and more content consumption goes on in mobile apps, it’s trickier to measure things like brand safety.

“So these advertisers are looking at viewability, completion rates and things that are more performance of campaign than financial risks,” Miskelly said.  

Largely, it’s table stakes to assume ads are in brand-safe environments. Advertisers lose confidence when there are breaches or high-profile examples of harmful content occurring in platforms, Miskelly added. In response, GroupM’s approach is to first try and educate clients on what their risk appetite is, he said.

“We try to guide them so from day one, and calibrate their needs and requirements based on the appetite for risks so it doesn’t shake their confidence in digital advertising,” he said.  

Read more: Brand safety in a changing digital landscape

What heightened social platform scrutiny means for brands in 2021

Twitter’s brand safety push

It's clear Twitter, like all social media platform providers today, has to be very conscious about the choices it makes to balance free speech with cultural and society sensitivity and responsibility in order to continue to keep up with consumer values. Yet these steps are equally vital for advertisers on the platform. 

According to recent research undertaken by Twitter in partnership with EyeSee, advertising appearing next to content that was ‘sensitive’ or ‘divisive’, such as negative news items or controversial politics, experienced barely any noticeable impact on brand favourability or consideration (67 per cent versus 68 per cent, adjacent versus not adjacent).

“While it’s encouraging to know heated conversations won’t impact what people think of a brand, we know brand safety is about much more than content adjacency,” Rush said. “We know brand safety is not just about brands, but about people. It’s about protecting public conversation and the people having it. When we focus first and foremost on the safety of people, we also protect brands from the reputational damage of supporting things like hate, abuse and misinformation with their ad dollars.”

To achieve this, Rush highlighted three areas Twitter is pursuing in the name of brand safety across policies, product and partnerships. From a policy perspective, she noted Twitter’s evolving rules dictating what is and isn’t allowed on platform.

One change made earlier this year was to explicitly not allow language de-humanising others based on religion, caste, age, disability, race, ethnicity and national origin. Twitter also publishes regular transparency reports on a global level, now as an interactive platform where users can track data and changes over time, plus metrics around Tweets removed. More recently and stemming from growing concerns around ads on physical and mental health plus body image, Twitter updated advertising policies to restrict promoting weight loss content, specifically prohibiting targeting minors.

Among recent product innovations, meanwhile, are the introduction of prompts against potentially harmful or offensive language on Twitter. Rush said 34 per cent of people prompted ended up revising their initial reply or not sending the Tweet at all. A nudge feature has also been introduced to encourage users to read articles past the headline. This has driven a 33 per cent increase in consumers opening articles before retweeting.

In beta right now is a ‘birdwatch’ feature, where people publicly provide context to Tweets they think might be misleading.

“This is about putting power into the community’s hands to provide context and perspective,” Rush said. “We’re also testing a feature to allow people to report Tweets they think are misleading. While we may not be able to action every response in this experiment, it’s providing valuable input to identify trends to improve the speed and scale of our broader misinformation efforts.”

Twitter earlier this year also announced a ‘responsible machine learning project’ taking responsibility for algorithmic decisions. It’s a step towards ensuring equity and fairness of outcomes based on these algorithms, providing transparency around decisions around algorithms and enabling algorithmic choice for agencies and people using Twitter, Rush said. The project is being led by Twitter’s ethics transparency and accountability team, a cross-functional group of engineers, researchers and data scientist.

The third pillar is external partnership, and Twitter has partnered with ad verification parties, Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify, to provide independent reporting on the context which ads appear across its platform. It’s also completing the pre-assessment process with Media Rating Council auditors around multiple pillars including brand safety.

“These are complicated challenges, and we believe our industry needs to work together to drive meaningful change,” Rush said. “It’s about developing a broad coalition for safety regionally and globally.”

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