Time for Another Brand Safety Conversation

We haven’t seen any attention paid to brand safety lately in any of the industry publications. There are some hard and fast rules that media buyers do follow, but much finer grained targeting is now possible, and marketers ought to be willing to pay a bit more for it. And yet, with programmatic having largely taken over the market and brand loyalty at an all time low among consumers that advertisers most want to reach, we were stunned to see a mobile email alert from the Wall Street Journal this morning about an earthquake hitting central Italy near Rome. Under the alert was an ad from TravelZoo for a Tuscan vacation. It takes a great deal to make us see an ad at 6AM as we are blowing through our email, but the poor taste exhibited in this one stopped us cold.

We also don’t pay much attention to who serves ads in mobile email, unless they are ours, but this was so egregious that we stopped to find out that these ads are powered by LiveIntent. Later, when we returned to try to screen shot the ad, it had been replaced by one, also from TravelZoo, for a Mayan vacation.

We’ve got nothing against either TravelZoo or LiveIntent, but we do know a fair amount about brand safety. It would have been easy enough, using existing text matching software, perhaps from comScore, to have used page-level contextual information that scans the page quickly for contextual insights and makes sure an ad for Italian travel does not appear on the same page as a story about an Italian earthquake.  We’re curious whether the advertiser knew about this, or the Wall Street Journal caught it. No one would have intentionally done this. Yet it happened, because we now live in a real time environment.

This kind of haphazard real time ad targeting doesn’t make consumers like advertising more, and it doesn’t help advertisers reach people who are in the market to buy. It would have been better to see an ad from a different industry segment this morning, rather than one from the travel industry.

Until we start serving the right ads in the right context to the right markets, we are going to keep having low performance rates in mobile advertising and high consumer dissatisfaction.