Why video won’t reach its full potential until we get our standards straight

A suitable, agreed common framework is needed now to ensure robust, effective brand protection is in place by the time of the anticipated video boom.

Ross Nicol, VP EMEA at Zefr, looks at the need for industry-wide standards and assesses what’s already out there…

Earlier this year YouTube became the first digital media platform to receive an accreditation from the Media Rating Council, signalling that it was taking necessary and positive steps towards protecting brands from unsuitable content. In September, Facebook also reinstated its commitment to ad protection by revealing its new topic-targeting ability, while more recently TikTok announced a raft of new brand safety partners at its inaugural TikTok World event.

Despite these commitments accelerating progress for brand suitability, brands continue to remain at risk of missing out on key audiences, with many still applying legacy brand-safety techniques that no longer fit the bill. And with video a key driver of rising spend across the industry, reporting a 12.6 percent increase in the latest IPA Bellwether Report, every marginal gain matters. 

So how can marketers work to make the online video ecosystem safer ahead of its further anticipated boom in 2022?

A wave of content 

The modern video environment is subject to as many pitfalls as possibilities for video advertisers. Over 500 hours of video are uploaded every minute to YouTube alone – this wealth of ad space is a far cry from the limited options of traditional linear TV. 

It is often said that “if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million”. The complexities and subtleties that video can portray through sounds and movement often leave keyword and text-based algorithms floundering, unable to accurately understand if a video truly matches a brand’s preferences – causing the savings gained from a brand safety strategy to disappear.

Missing the point

Many brand safety protocols historically take the form of a one-size-fits-all solution, like blanket keyword blocking, and can lack the nuance needed to achieve true brand suitability. Though most high-risk content is avoided, issues arise when a company’s definition of suitability does not line up with existing frameworks.

For example, a lengthy blocklist installed to remove brand appearances adjacent to firearms and ammunition content may also block the latest blockbuster release or trending gaming video. 

However, by adhering to industry definitions of suitability as well as being able to choose risk thresholds for varying types of content, brands can save a significant volume of budgets by reducing spend on incompatible audiences. As for the audiences that are reached, these viewers will be more receptive to the ad. According to research, customers are 34 percent more likely to trust brands that align their ads with the content they are watching, while 37 percent would increase spend on well-aligned brands.

On the same page

So how can the industry overcome these challenges? Having a common outlook and working together to set standards for online video content is a start. There are currently several initiatives working to ensure ads are being seen in safe and suitable environments, including the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) and the IAB’s Guide to Brand Safety and Suitability.

GARM, for example, states that “you cannot address the challenge of harmful online content if you are unable to describe it using consistent and understandable language.” A cross-industry initiative established by the World Federation of Advertisers, GARM outlines common definitions for brand suitability to ensure content is categorised in the same way across the industry. By aligning themselves with these standards, marketers gain the language needed to not only granularly decide where their ads should and should not appear, minimising wasted inventory, but also have the knowledge to talk about online safety and help shape the conversation moving forward.

The IAB’s Brand Safety and Suitability framework concurs, stating in their report that “harmonised and common definitions are essential” for all stakeholders. In tandem, the industry body acknowledges that every brand has unique brand safety needs, and if they are going to achieve both safety and suitability in their advertising, they will need to spend time defining these boundaries. 

Both these frameworks have collaboration built into their core and are rallying the advertising industry to adopt a set of universal standards for video, understanding that if marketers decide to use their own standards and definitions, it will only cause more confusion and safety issues.

The next step

Ensuring robust brand protection in today’s digital media space can be tough, but it will be even harder for those operating across multiple definitions of suitability. Combine this with the vast room for interpretation of video content and it’s clear that balancing ad resonance and security calls for more than just blanket safety measures. Brands need to implement scalable and universal frameworks that eliminate the possibilities of error, minimising waste inventory while ensuring they make the most of every video.

Ross Nicol