Here's Why the Effects of Advertising's Brand Safety Crisis Will Be Permanent
Does the brand safety crisis that ripped through the advertising industry this year now show signs of settling down? With some advertisers who pulled out of YouTube now coming back, there might be a sense that the worst is now over.
The fact is, however, in a certain sense things will never be the same. That's because marketers who took a break from their usual buying practices got a glimpse of the world outside the ad duopoly. This means that the long-lasting effect of the brand safety crisis will be that the industry will be more open to alternatives to Facebook and Google.
The brand safety crisis really was a big deal
The fake news crisis that emerged first laid the groundwork for the YouTube brand safety crisis in February. As commenters analyzed the fake news crisis, they discovered that programmatic advertising was at least partially to blame because brands bought ads that were placed randomly across the web, often with little concern for context.
By the time The Times of London found pre-roll ads for Mercedes-Benz and other A-list brands appearing before objectionable fare, the stage was already set. Just a week before, P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard had called on the digital ad industry to clean up its act.
But that's not the whole picture. In the second quarter, YouTube's direct ad spend fell26%, according to the Standard Media Index. As P&G and other A-list brands pulled out of YouTube, smaller marketers also saw the value of brand safety and began to look for ways to get exposure that wouldn't jeopardize their brand image.
Brands began experimenting with less scale
Some brands, like Verizon, did leave YouTube but eventually returned, albeit with the help of a third-party auditing firm. Some, like P&G and JPMorgan, advertised on fewer sites and didn't see much a difference in their results.
Consumer products giant Unilever also cut its ad spend, hurting profits at ad holding company WPP. But in a chat with analysts in August, WPP CEO Martin Sorrell said that he believed that since volumes are down at Unilever, ad spending might creep up again. Across the industry, it's an open question as to whether the effects of the brand safety crisis will be long lasting or whether things will pretty much revert to the way they were before.
The crisis made a case for Google/Facebook alternatives
If the latter is the case then for the roughly 50% of the ad tech market not controlled by Google and Facebook, this was their moment to shine. I believe this has made a lasting impression on marketing executives and shown that there are benefits to working outside the duopoly, including transparency, more control over placement and the opportunity to work with top-tier publishers.
For the long term, that means that while marketers will continue to buy Facebook and Google, there will be more experimentation with other partners, and the independents of the ad tech world will begin to make inroads against Facebook and Google's persistent growth.
Some have done so by offering guarantees for safe placement. Others have made their case merely by delivering strong results to advertisers without the formerly ever-present brand safety threat. Some advertisers have discovered that what they thought was scale was actually an illusion, based on fraudulent traffic. By targeting fewer consumers but in a targeted, contextual way, the reach became a non-issue as the results spoke for themselves.
In other words, 2017's brand safety crisis has left a positive legacy for the ad tech industry.