Brand safety concerns have shifted ad money away from news: John Montgomery, GroupM

The Global EVP of Brand Safety at GroupM talks on brand safety and ad fraud measurement & mitigation

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Sep 26, 2019 9:29 AM



The Indian advertisement ecosystem is getting more and more vulnerable to ad frauds. GroupM has been working towards mitigating ad frauds in the country. John Montgomery, GroupM's Global EVP of Brand Safety, talks to exchange4media on brand safety and ad fraud measurement and mitigation. 


 Tell us a little about how the conversation with clients has moved beyond contextual brand safety to public safety and accountability.

When we started the brand safety practice between 2016 and 2018, we put some processes in place. We called it the cornerstones of brand safety.

Firstly, we started off by measuring whatever the brand safety issue was, whether it was ad fraud, or visibility or contextual brand safety, because without measuring it, you can't mitigate it. So we made sure that we had measurements. The second thing we did was we benchmarked them. So the moment we knew what the level of ad fraud was, we could set ourselves a target to lower it. Thirdly, we wanted to optimise to those partners who delivered the best results for our clients. And then once we've got these three basic cornerstones in place, we started with compliance. 

The brand safety conversation with clients has become much more nuanced. Now, our clients are talking to us around broader consumer protection; what we are doing to make sure the consumers data is held safe and that their privacy is honoured. We are also having interesting conversations about things like risk tolerance.

We know that as much work as you do around brand safety, particularly on social networks, you can never guarantee that an ad will be 100 per cent brand safe. So when I have conversations with clients, we discuss the implications for their brand for taking an almost zero risk policy. We calculate implications for reach, for measurement and for the cost of media. For a huge group like Unilever or Procter & Gamble, there would be different risk profiles for different brands in their portfolio. So you have to have to have this conversation brand by brand. And once we know where your brand falls, we develop a brand safety strategy around that. 

 Can you define ad fraud for us and what are the things brands need to keep in mind to limit risks?

Actually, when you define ad frauds we prefer to call it invalid traffic because ad fraud has many different forms. There are two types of invalid traffic- one of them is simply invalid traffic, which you can counter with and exclusion list. The other kind is sophisticated invalid traffic, which is the detection of bots, malware, and all those kinds of things. That is where I think the real risk lies. So for brands, the most important thing to do is measure the degree to which their ads are exposed to ad fraud. 

If there is invalid traffic, the important thing is that we shouldn't be buying that. We can avoid that by using the measurement technology that is available to us to avoid bidding against those invalid traffic sources. So the important message that we have for the market here is if you mitigate against fraud, you can avoid buying it to a large degree. 

Tell us a little about limiting risks and improving trust and quality in the digital supply chain.

Although at GroupM, we started our brand safety practice at the beginning of 2017, we have been tackling risks in the digital supply chain on behalf of our clients for more than a decade. As digital media has grown and become more sophisticated, enabling precise and behavioural communication with individuals, so has the complexity and the potential risk of harm to advertisers. There are three main categories of risk which may be financial, reputational, and legal. Measurement of brand safety issue is vital in digital like any other medium and the measures taken are also pretty much the same like any other medium. 

How vulnerable is India in terms of brand safety and are players open to the idea of mitigating it? What is GroupM doing to help the cause in the Indian market?

People talk about how 15-20 per cent of impressions in India are invalid. However, that's an informal number. What we find in the Indian market is that local Indian clients are very sophisticated. They are aware of the risks, but it tends to be quite a cost conscious market and a ROI focused market as well. So, our job in this market, is to convince our clients that using measurement, and buying higher quality inventory is worthwhile and you could save yourself much more money than the nominal cost of measurement. 

We are launching a thing called ‘preferred marketplace’ in India wherein we will be dealing with partners and media that we know and have special business arrangements with. Hence a client would be buying in an environment that is much safer to start off with. And by doing that, you're buying in what we call a well-lit area, from trusted partners.

By using these brand safety techniques, does a brand limit the possibilities of where their ads appear?

We have measurement tools so that we can tell our clients the degree to which they are reaching their target audience. So we make sure that we achieve our reach goals, because we can measure them carefully. 

Areas of concern are places like news media.  News, as we know, many a times seems to be controversial. So what started to happen when clients became concerned about brand safety is that they started excluding controversial news and sometimes excluding news altogether for advertising. This has shifted money away from news organizations into social media. While brands became worried about brand safety, it had the unintended consequence of moving money away from news. We are trying to address that issue. With usage of tools, we can certainly make news a brand safe environment again because it is a very effective environment. So we're encouraging newspapers to do research to show the effectiveness of news so that we can take that out to clients and start moving money back into news. 

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