Much has been said and written about brand safety in the past few weeks – there’s no need to rehash. A number of smart, clued up individuals have already weighed in, shared some great insight, and we’re seeing steps taken now to rectify what is a hugely important issue across the board.
In an ideal world, this issue should have been an important learning curve for our industry – a chance to adapt, fine tune and improve. Instead, the situation descended into a flurry of finger pointing and blame assignation; energy wasted driving division rather than seeking a solution.
What should have been a pragmatic conversation has instead turned into an opportunistic one that trades largely on fear, with the reality of the situation sufficiently muddied as a result.
We seem to be forgetting that digital is still a channel in its relative infancy – much of what we do has at least a component of test and learn to it. To be fair, the same could be said for any of the offline channels during their formative years. When it works, it’s exciting and incredibly powerful for brands. When it doesn’t – and it didn’t in this case – we see living proof of the fact failure is most certainly an orphan.
I am in no way mitigating Google’s responsibility, nor am I minimising the impact on clients. I completely understand those that have chosen to temporarily suspend advertising on YouTube. Their brands are their most important asset and it’s imperative that all custodians – marketing, agency and media – do their utmost to protect it.
It’s absolutely right that we stop and take stock of whether or not our current approach is the best one, with a view to improving the way we do things, especially when it comes to the digital duopoly that is Facebook and Google.
The fact remains, however, that brand safety is not just a Google issue and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Brand safety can mean something entirely different to each and every brand. No blanket rule, whitelist, blacklist or updated algorithm can offer a foolproof guarantee.
Digital is a channel unlike any other in both its risk and reward. For better or worse, no other channel moves and evolves at a comparable pace. For that reason, we need to look at it through an entirely different lens. It’s unreasonable to expect we will ever be able to completely eliminate risk for brands on digital – it’s simply changing too fast.
This isn’t a reason to shy away, but rather one to step up our efforts. We need to be working closer than ever with digital publishers to mitigate risk as best we can, and respond swiftly and effectively when situations do arise. Put simply, we need to be open to the fact that, when it comes to digital, the nature of the channel means the rules will always need reworking, rewriting, tweaking.
To find the silver lining, the recent issues with YouTube have driven Google to make a number of positive changes to their platform. This includes limiting advertising to channels with more than 10,000 lifetime views – a great way of balancing the needs of their ‘creators’ with their responsibility to advertisers.
It has also emphasised the importance of third party verification as no longer a ‘nice to have’, but rather an essential additional layer of security for both brands and agencies. Pressure is already mounting on Google to make changes to allow for this on their platforms.
As much as we all might like to wash our hands of it, or hope for a day when we can put brand safety firmly in the ‘job done’ category, we won’t make any headway without the commitment and input of the entire industry.
We’re not going to get it right every time, but if we want to keep doing work that pushes boundaries, that’s something we’ll need to accept.
My hope is that next time an issue arises, we’re able to respond in a more constructive way – one that takes into account the challenges unique to the digital space, and balances them with its vast opportunities.
Sarah James is the chief digital office of Carat Australia.