Why Digital Advertising Needs to Rebuild Trust — Part One

Brand Safety: Navigating Walled Jungles

What is a Walled Jungle?

If you’re familiar with digital marketing, you’ve probably heard the term, “walled garden,” referring to Google or Facebook’s closed ecosystems. As marketers continue to spend more and more on programmatic advertising, it’s obvious the ad-tech game is all about data.

Facebook works with 6 header bidding partners to serve targeted ads through its Audience Network (via AdAge), and recently, Google removed 3rd-party pixels from YouTube (via ExchangeWire). By restricting access to valuable, proprietary insights, Facebook and Google maintain their dominant positions in the industry.

YouTube will probably generate over $18 billion this year, but where does all that money end up? AdSense takes 45 percent from creators, and they clearly don’t want elite users comparing how much they make.


As part of the duopoly, YouTube might seem invulnerable. However, hundreds of brands (represented by agencies within a few holding companies) recently pulled millions of dollars from Google’s open exchange.

Meanwhile, Facebook just began to share ad revenue with users. They’re currently testing mid-roll video formats, not to mention Instant Articles for publishers…

Ultimately, these gardens have grown into jungles. There are so many creators involved, and the algorithms underlying each platform are not available to the public. However, advertisers care about context of ad placements and where their money goes. Transparency seems like an obvious response, but neither Facebook or Google are willing to break down their walls.

First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem…

The Wall Street Journal sparked this movement — first exposing PewDiePie’s anti-semitic jokes, then reporting that big brands like AT&T had pulled spending from YouTube because ads were appearing before objectionable content. As a follow-up, Jack Nicas released this article, calling out Coca-Cola, Toyota (pictured below), Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Starbucks and even Google’s own YouTube Red.

Here’s one of the screenshots from the Wall Street Journal, featuring a Toyota commercial before a questionable video.

As a result, YouTube lost approximately $750 million, which they could not ignore. In response, Chief Business Officer Philipp Schindler released this blog post, Expanded Safeguards for Advertisers, which promised “safer defaults for brands, simplified management for exclusions, and more fine-tuned controls.”

Naturally, media buying agencies took advantage of this ‘boycott.’ Following a heated speech by WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell, who said Google should “step up and take more responsibility,” GroupM partnered with OpenSlate to develop a quality score for YouTube’s ad inventory. Soon after that, Omnicom and IPG joined the party.

Other measurement firms threw their hats into the ring too. Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify presented options for brand safety, with support from the Media Rating Council, comScore won a partnership with YouTube. Here’s the only description provided: “This technology continuously monitors patterns within text content to identify the brand safety of a given ad context” (via The Drum).

Contextual Targeting to the Rescue

Honestly, it seemed like advertisers were just resisting the duopoly, but public discourse quickly justified their concerns and shifted consumer perspective. AdWeek discovered that 36.2 percent of people thought ads placed around offensive YouTube content were actually endorsements. That figure probably grew as the story developed and spread.

Programmatic Guaranteed

Finally, Google gave up its last-look privileges and began to improve DoubleClick, allowing publishers to transact fixed-fee deals programmatically. Hopefully, this “leads to improved efficiencies, by assisting with workflow tools such as credit checking and invoicing” (The Drum).

Video-level transparency is the solution, but Google can’t break down the walls of its data jungle. Now is the time for publishers and creators to retake control.

Next in the Series: Impressions are Garbage

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