Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

A new global brand safety standard for digital advertising

By Nick Stringer, VP of Global Engagement & Operations at TAG and Jules Kendrick, Managing Director of UK and Europe at TAG (previously CEO of JICWEBS).

The COVID-19 crisis continues to be a profound global challenge: to human health, to our every-day lives and working routines, and to businesses, employment and economies. It is certainly a challenge to the advertising industry, and global advertising spend is forecast to decline precipitously as a result of this crisis. In this environment, brands face a range of challenges – from finding suitable ways to promote their businesses, to ensuring that their digital ads are not placed next to inappropriate content.

However, as the world has moved indoors and online since the spring, criminal activity in digital advertising, such as ad-supported piracy and fraud, has increased. This has made brand safety an even more pressing challenge for industry: and we are all aware of the potential backlash from consumers when brands do not take appropriate steps to prevent their ads from running with inappropriate, unsafe or simply irrelevant content.

Uniting To Meet The Challenges

But the industry is fighting back against these challenges, and – as digital advertising is increasingly cross-market – only a truly global approach can be effective.

The merger between two of the leading brand safety self-regulatory organisations, the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) and the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS), could not have come at a better time: uniting to raise the bar and to meet the challenges our industry faces. As of the 1st September, there is now one leading global cross-industry not-for-profit self-regulatory organisation to tackle criminal activity and promote brand safety in digital advertising: offering one set of international standards, one set of ‘seals of compliance’, one compliance process (i.e. audit) and one price-point (the TAG / JICWEBS merger is estimated to save industry nearly half a million dollars).

A Robust New International Brand Safety Standard

On the 10th September, TAG launched the digital ad industry’s first global brand safety self-regulatory standard. Building on the UK’s leadership with JICWEBS’ Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG) brand safety principles, the new standard is designed to significantly reduce the risk of the misplacement of advertising on digital media of all types, so all companies can help protect brand safety and strengthen the integrity of digital advertising. The programme also promotes the flow of advertising budgets to companies that set high standards and support the industry’s framework for brand safety, and it creates a brand safety framework for sellers that increases the value of complying sellers’ inventory.

Specifically, the new standard requires that:

  • Every direct buyer (i.e. advertiser/agency), direct seller (i.e. publisher) and/or intermediary (i.e. ad tech company) must ensure that all new and updated agreements for digital advertising services adhere to the standard’s principles, including specific brand safety criteria, policies, and procedures, as well as takedown, monitoring, and compliance requirements. Contracts must also require the use of independently validated Content Verification (CV) services or inclusion/exclusion lists.
  • Every direct buyer, direct seller and / or intermediary must ensure that 100% of its monetizable transactions are reviewed by one or more independently validated CV services or inclusion/exclusion lists as defined in its digital advertising agreements.
  • Every direct buyer, direct seller and / or intermediary must document the specific policies and procedures it has to minimize the risk of ad misplacement.
  • Companies offering CV services meet rigorous standards, including technical standards and disclosure requirements around the classification and blocking of ad serving on media properties which contain content deemed inappropriate by an advertiser, as well as capabilities around the categories and types of content it can utilize in its services.

At launch, 112 companies have been certified through the programme, including 31 that are certifying their global operations. Among these 112 companies are Amazon, The Guardian, Facebook, Google, Financial Times, GroupM, The Telegraph, Havas, Sky, Thomson Reuters, Twitter, ESI, eBay, News UK, The Trade Desk, TikTok, Bauer, Verizon Media, Immediate Media and TripAdvisor – many of whom were complying with the JICWEBS DTSG programme. The new brand safety standard replaces the JICWEBS DTSG standard in IAB UK’s Gold Standard.

Working with Brand Safe Companies

Buyers can now determine which companies are the most ‘brand safe’, and increasingly, brand safe at a global level. As with its initiative to show how standards in combating ad fraud are lowering levels in the ecosystem, TAG will be embarking upon research to show advertisers and agencies that working with brand safety ‘certified’ companies will result in more appropriate and relevant ads, resulting in more effective advertising and a better experience for consumers.

The self-regulation of the UK digital advertising industry has been a success to date and the continued adoption of standards is key. All companies, across the whole supply chain operating in single or multiple markets, need to play their part and get involved ( in this initiative.