Want to Solve for Brand Safety? Start by Protecting Your Budgets!

By Hulu InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: Want to Solve for Brand Safety?  Start by Protecting Your Budgets!

Adam Moser is an advertising operations veteran, having worked at MTVN, CBS and NBC.  For the past three years he has served as Head of Ad Tech & Platform Operations at Hulu.  He is responsible for overseeing the company's day-to-day advertising platform operations and strategic ad tech investments.  Since joining Hulu, Moser has been instrumental in maintaining a best-in-class advertising experience across the video platform.  His attention most recently has been on changing the conversation about brand safety within our industry, including clarification of the very term.  He recently spoke with MediaVillage about these concerns. 

Rob Beeler:  Adam, have you seen an increase in requests from buyers to provide brand safety?

Adam Moser:  There have been a number of headlines over the course of the last 12 months about brand safety failures across the digital advertising ecosystem.  The result is that a majority of marketers say brand safety is the most important thing to them, and if it's not the most important, it's the second most important thing.  It's absolutely top of mind for marketers and they have a right to be concerned.  They have a right to ask their publishers where they're placing their ad dollars and if their reputations and budgets are protected.

Beeler:  Is it clear what buyers mean when they ask for brand safety?

Moser:  It's clear that brand safety has become a popular buzzword across the industry.  It's also clear to our operations team that agencies and brands aren't talking about brand safety in the same way.  Hulu isn't the only publisher having these conversations; many other publishers are as well.  Brand safety means many different things to different players in the ecosystem.  With thousands of players across the digital advertising ecosystem discussing brand safety in so many different ways, we need to hone in on one definition and align our expectations as an industry.

Beeler:  How does this lack of clarity impact the industry?

Moser:  It's difficult for publishers to provide solutions to a problem that isn't clearly defined.  As the issue of brand safety escalates and its definition continues to be conflated, premiums for "brand safe" environments could easily emerge and create new currencies.  As an industry, we can't allow this to happen.  Brand safety is a commodity; it's not a paid privilege.  Brands and publishers alike must raise the bar and agree that the requirements for brand safety are table stakes that should protect marketers' investments.

Beeler:  What is your definition of brand safety?

Moser:  Brand safety is most commonly defined as the practice of ensuring ads are adjacent to content that does no harm to a marketer's reputation. But there are many factors at play that can be risky for a brand's reputation.  Ads should be viewable by a human and transparently displayed on a proper domain, not one that has been spoofed by a fraudster.  To ensure no one is grading their own homework, all of this should be verified by trusted third parties.  There is a real opportunity for the publishing community to level set what brand safety is or what it should be.  It allows us to incorporate not just the one or two things that people most commonly think about, but a multitude of issues that can impact a brand's reputation and, in essence, their budgets.

Beeler:  What was it like to talk to the rest of the organization and have them understand not only the brand safety issue, but then the potential solution?

Moser:  Hulu is a brand-safe environment.  We saw this as an opportunity to educate our sales team, so they could understand the many challenges and complexities surrounding brand safety.  They've since transformed how they're speaking to clients on the topic and in turn changing the brand safety conversation.  By changing the conversation, we're able to further emphasize why Hulu's a great place for brands.  We ensure that we protect our clients' reputations and budgets; we have premium, award-winning content; we lead the industry in video viewability, and we're certified against fraud by TAG.  Marketers can trust that their buys across Hulu are safe.

Beeler:  The unified thought is this concept of budget safety.

Moser:  Yes.  Everybody understands what budget represents.  Everybody can understand on all sides of the ecosystem that you want to protect it. Brands want to have a return on their advertising spend, and if that budget is at risk, you've wasted your dollars regardless of whether it was in a brand safe environment or not.

The idea of budget safety breaks down into six categories.  It's premium content adjacency.  It's having low or no fraud.  It's having ads that are highly viewable.  It's third-party verification as well as authentication from initiatives like the IAB's TAG.  Lastly it's domain transparency, which took an important first step this past year with the release of Ads.txt, giving buyers the ability to check the validity of their inventory and avoid fraudulent resellers.  Each one of these could really be its own definition of brand safety depending on the conversation, but they are all necessary components of one thing: budget safety.

Beeler:  You're talking to other publishers about adopting a similar strategy.

Moser:  I think it's impossible to expect the marketplace to change without the sell-side being aligned on how we're approaching to solve for this, otherwise we're all just going to keep picking up the phone and answering it 10 different ways.  The call to action to the publishing community is to redefine brand safety at their sales leadership levels and ultimately recognize how critical it is to protect their advertisers' investments.  If advertisers are concerned about their reputation being at risk, they should absolutely be concerned about their budgets, too.

Beeler:  What is the potential result?

Moser:  An environment is either budget safe or it's not; no contingency plan can change that.  Frankly, if you lack the confidence that the publisher you're investing your dollars within can ensure a budget safe environment, why spend there in the first place?  As publishers align on the notion of budget safety, they can offer their clients premium environments where ads are verified to be highly viewable and free from fraud.  These expectations should become the norm for marketers and agencies as they seek to protect their brand's reputation as well as their budgets.

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