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Perspectives

Ad Vantage Points: Four Digital Advertising Risks, and Ways to Safeguard Brand Reputation

2020-03-31


The massive growth of digital advertising has introduced new risk to brands. Here are warning signs that brand reputation may be in danger — and steps to take to safeguard it.

In the past decade, digital advertising spend has grown exponentially, now accounting for more than 50% of the total U.S. media spend, according to eMarketer. This surge into digital channels also elevates the potential for new risks to impact brand reputation. Programmatic advertising, third-party ad servers, and proliferating channels have made it more difficult than ever for companies to maintain control of where their brand messages appear, how messages influence audiences, and how campaigns and results should be monitored and measured. Thus, it’s no surprise that there are some common mistakes that organizations make when working with digital advertising companies, including oversights that might put their brand reputation at risk.

With that in mind, here are some common digital marketing miscues — and ways to combat them:

A unified view of customers becomes more elusive.

Many businesses struggle to stitch together their consumers’ interactions across all digital and physical touchpoints to effectively map the journey. This holistic view is essential to develop and aim relevant messages. Increasing data complexity and changes to compliance and tracking practices can strain traditional methods.

Solution: Implement a true 360-degree solution to this pervasive problem:

  • Emphasize first-party “owned” data for ad targeting. It’s important to recognize the value of the company’s own data and put it to use safely and effectively. Protecting and preserving in-house data sets is vital, as this is a brand’s most important information. Use data collected from interactions to map the customer journey and then to identify their precise location in the lifecycle. Gather information from first-party data to build user segments for increased targeting. Finally, with this first-party data, use lookalike modeling tools to find new consumers who share profiling characteristics with existing customers.

    Given recent developments in data privacy regulations, brands also must ensure that they are prepared to comply with as well as accommodate further legislation.

  • Mindfully use third-party audience data. Third-party data lacks robustness and is often inefficient to apply. It also can be expensive to procure and use, leading to a poor return on ad spend (ROAS), since its cost is included when calculating efficiency performance. Additionally, third-party data is sourced and compiled by external partners, and brands most likely lack full transparency on its exact contents and characteristics. Finally, this data does not contain details as granular as that of first-party audience data; third-party data sets are generally packaged as homogenized clustered segments, whereas first-party data sets extend down to the individual-user level.

  • Reduce reliance on cookie-based tracking. New built-in web-browser restrictions are forcing advertisers to change their method of user web-activity tracking. For example, Apple's ITP 2 policy and Google Chrome's coming third-party cookie restrictions will severely inhibit online tracking, making it more difficult to maintain effective attribution of online marketing and advertising activities.

Programmatic ad buys prevent certainty where ads are placed and when.

Ads may appear adjacent to content or articles that are offensive or conflict with the company’s intent — picture, for example, an ad for a luxury resort set next to an article about homeless encampments.

Solution: Establish overarching governance at the time of the media buy and throughout the campaign lifecycle.

Regardless of which party is responsible for the media buy, it is critical to ensure visibility and clarity regarding where ads are being placed, their duration, and any placement changes in real time. This will protect the organization against the possibility of ads running in inappropriate settings or on fraudulent websites designed to artificially boost traffic. When media buy insertion orders (IOs) contain a catch-all clause for publishers to close placement gaps at their discretion, it’s important to confirm and approve all underlying sites in those ad packages and enforce any restrictions as necessary. An added benefit of this sort of governance, beyond protecting brand reputation, is the proactive monitoring of delivery to ensure that what is purchased is actually being served as contracted.

Sites may not be scrutinized closely enough.

Attracted by potential bottom-line impact, many businesses don’t sufficiently vet the sites where ads will appear. Volume spikes or bursts in site traffic may signal that ads are being placed on fake or risky sites. Ad fraud is a comprehensive industry issue; not only does it waste advertiser money (as much as $100 billion by 2023, according to Juniper Research), but can also result in legitimate companies being tangled in the shady world of botnets, spam and malware distribution.

Solution: Institute proactive site-traffic monitoring and real-time investigation for validity in volume bursts.

Identifying and understanding spikes in traffic requires expertise and a trained eye; it’s a critical skill to ensure that appropriate action is taken when necessary and that brand reputation remains safe. One Fortune 50 retailer, skeptical about end-of-quarter traffic spikes, enlisted a third-party vendor to confirm the cause of those spikes: fraudulent traffic purchased by ad publishers. Armed with transaction-level reporting from the vendor, the retailer was able to reclaim most of the spend it had lost to non-human impressions. By proactively monitoring site traffic for source, type and frequency of visitors, along with non-human impressions, businesses can act in real time to alter their digital marketing ads and operations if invalid spikes in volume are identified. Leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning tools can be an effective way to identify invalid sites and traffic as well, leaving human associates to focus on more complex analysis and digital marketing campaign strategy and optimization.

Ad hoc campaign monitoring hinders ongoing optimization.

Malicious activity like memes that parody ads, or negative social chatter around them, grows, and the company only learns about the problems after they have gone viral.

Solution: Create around-the-clock campaign support and optimization.

By monitoring digital marketing campaigns 24x7 instead of following a “set it and forget it” approach, businesses gain the ability to update and shift campaigns in real time. One important governance component often overlooked is active social media monitoring. Offensive or inappropriate ads often “go viral,” embarrassing the advertiser; close attention to social media can guard against these problems. By always having skilled resources on board with the expertise to manage any issues that arise, companies can prevent minor problems from spiraling out of control. Real-time monitoring helps the cause in myriad ways. It allows businesses to fine-tune their targeting, drop underperforming ads and catch changes in buyer behaviors and sentiments, all of which protect brand reputation. Keep in mind that this isn’t as simple as pulling an ad. It requires understanding the complexity of the issue, along with the nuances of the digital advertising platforms, to be able to bring in the right stakeholders to address the problem, and right-size the response as per impact, so as not to over- or under-react.

The miscues noted here are very real; we’ve seen examples like these and worse, often causing genuine harm to global brands. As brands seek to control their messages in a world that may feel like the “Wild West,” always be on the lookout. In a related article, we will explore ways to maximize the return on investment (ROI) of digital ad spending.

For more, visit the Marketing Operations section of our website, or contact us.

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Ad Vantage Points: Four Digital Advertising Risks, and Ways to Safeguard Brand Reputation