- November 17, 2020

When it Comes to Brand Safety for CTV, are we Doomed to Repeat the Mistakes of the Past?

Rachel Gantz
Rachel Gantz
Managing Director
Proximic by Comscore

It’s 2010 and programmatic buying has become mainstream and is a key part of every major brand’s media plan. Simultaneously, salivating brand safety provider sales reps are blasting marketers non-stop with instances where their digital campaign ran alongside unfortunate or, even worse, offensive content.

Marketers, in turn, are having to answer to CMOs, many of whom are still weary of the effectiveness of programmatic buying, as to how these marketers could put their brand’s reputation in jeopardy so carelessly.

As a result, the blocklist was born.

Brands begin instructing their agencies to abide by what was then referred to as white and blacklists, meaning lists of websites that were deemed safe to target for digital advertising and lists that were deemed unsafe and were to be avoided. And this practice of using target lists and blocklists became the norm. But then brands started having challenges meeting their reach and frequency goals. So, while many brands still leveraged their sacred blocklists, more and more brands began adopting pre-bid content-level brand safety solutions. These solutions enabled marketers to avoid limiting potential reach to a pre-defined set of websites and negated the need to constantly update those blocklists, which was not always happening with the necessary frequency it should. Instead, brands could now run across the gamut of content, excluding only that content that was deemed unsafe to their brand.

Fast forward, it’s 2020 and connected TV (CTV) has reached its tipping point of becoming a mainstay in media plans. According to Comscore, by the latest count there are at least 130 CTV apps in market with many more to come, each following the dollars to try to capture their share.* So once again, marketers are finding themselves in situations where their now much more expensive CTV ad campaigns are running alongside cat content on Cat Box TV which is just awkward for their latest ‘we hate cats’ ad campaign. So, what does the industry do? It turns to brand safety providers touting CTV app-level brand safety solutions, much like the favorable blocklists, to help marketers avoid brands appearing in content they would otherwise want to avoid, but all the while hindering reach and limiting the impact of the marketing campaign.

Comscore recently held the latest invite-only Programmatic Thought Leadership Summit where brands congregated (virtually this time) to share best practices and discuss new innovations in the world of programmatic. During these discussions, several brands mentioned that they knew of others that were beginning to experiment with these types of solutions with their CTV buys as a “better than nothing” solution. And those brands are right, blocklists and app-level brand safety are better than nothing.

However, with all of the technology available at our disposal today, it is time to raise the bar. As an industry we have the opportunity not to repeat our past mistakes and to get it right from the start. Recently, Comscore recently released content-level brand safety and relevance categorization solutions for Video-on-demand (VOD) and livestreaming content. Our CPG clients noted that they are looking for better ways to find the right CTV inventory for their ads that goes beyond targeting based only on genre. Similarly, Comscore’s auto clients tell us that they love advertising in news content, but that they try to avoid running their ads abutting a story about a car crash. App-level brand safety would likely block the entire news app and thereby hinder reach and impact for our auto clients’ campaigns. Comscore’s latest CTV contextual solution makes the necessary granularity and nuance possible to support such campaigns, which is better for marketers, better for publishers, and overall, better for the industry. So maybe this time hindsight can actually be 20/20 and we can correct our past mistakes. In a challenging year, we must take silver linings and bright spots wherever we can find them and Comscore’s pushing the industry forward with better brand safety and categorization of CTV content seems like one more way to make that happen.

*Comscore OTT Intelligence, Custom Reporting, 2020, US