June 2021

What It Will Take To Foster A Responsible Media Ecosystem

By Ross Nicol, VP EMEA, Zefr

This article is sponsored by Zefr.

The Global Alliance of Responsible Media (GARM) suitability standards represent a sea change for the industry. To this point, polarizing opinions about what counts as appropriate content created debilitating and often damaging confusion. This became especially apparent in the use of blunt keyword blocking tactics that created false positives and curbed opportunities on all sides: cutting campaign reach for buyers and revenue for quality publishers.

While the industry consensus is that blunt keyword approaches are antiquated, there has been little incentive for behavior change without a better alternative. Now, the arrival of objective standards that can be widely activated and measured against brings new clarity to a previously undefined situation. But before the industry can begin to reap the benefits of these new standards, it is essential to pin down the basics – in which brands, agencies, and ad-supported platforms all play a critical role.

To do so, every media player will need to accept accountability and take action. Here are some of the steps each industry player can take to achieve a responsible media ecosystem.

Brands must scrutinize their tech providers

Brands are well aware of the growing connection between success and responsible activity. In a climate where trust matters more than ever – now ranked as the third biggest purchase motivator – and consumers have growing expectations for the brands they use, robust reputational management is critical. Most brands are therefore paying more attention than ever to whether their ads are adjacent to brand-safe content.

For brands, the GARM standards represent an opportunity to reset their assessment of the digital supply chain and ask hard questions to their vendors – from understanding the channel differences between open-web vs. platforms, to asking for content-level data transparency. With a common rubric in place, it will be much easier to identify which vendors can accurately meet your brand responsibility goals.

With the right tools in place, brands can get back to their primary focus: building long-term value and increasing sales and not playing brand safety whack-a-mole. It’s time for brands to analyze the tech stacks they rely on to adjudicate brand safety and brand suitability, and demand tools that prioritize the GARM industry standards.

Ad-Supported Platforms must lean in on responsibility

Forming the bedrock of online advertising, it almost goes without saying that platforms bear sizeable responsibilities. At their core, platforms face an incredibly difficult challenge: balancing creator needs, audience interests and brand advertising needs. Increasingly, there is also the rising expectation for first and third-party reporting on platform progress.

Platforms have largely answered the call, with YouTube recently becoming the first platform to be accredited by the MRC for Brand Safety based on the GARM Brand Safety floor. Additionally, just last month, major platforms reported their progress in reporting and removing harmful content – a welcome signal of adoption of the industry standards.

Although these developments are positive, the work is not over. The sheer volume of content requires deep investment from the third-party ecosystem to ensure measurement is accurate and trusted. With a combination of first and third-party reporting options, the dominant ad platforms are showing immense progress in ushering in a more responsible future.

Agencies must activate brand suitability strategies

To a large extent, agency and brand obligations are closely tied. Agencies frequently hold the purse strings for brand campaigns, so it follows that making sure spend flows to the correct environments – and avoiding unwanted or negative associations – also sits under their remit.

Agencies have taken a leadership position in responsible marketing – from GroupM’s Responsible Investment strategy to IPG’s first-of-its-kind responsibility index. These agencies must take on the complex challenge of navigating diverse media channels and meeting specific suitability parameters, without compromising on speed, scale or results. Waiting for a monthly spreadsheet of curated content to bid against won’t work for programmatic buying.

Consequently, the actual activation of brand suitability strategies lies with agency teams and programmatic traders. Implementing common suitability definitions is step one. Adopting software to easily and quickly action on these standards is needed to turn policy into practice.

The path to responsibility requires collaboration

The bottom line is that driving positive change calls for a concerted push. Increased enthusiasm for GARM standards, and the development of sophisticated data solutions represent an encouraging step forward. But the industry needs more than conversations about how we can ensure responsible distribution of media investment and achieve accurate results. The hard work has started, but it’s going to take immediate and ongoing effort from brands, platforms and agencies to develop a sustainable strategy that benefits everyone.

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