There’s no escaping today’s “brand safety” discussion within the advertising industry. Reports of ads appearing on fake news sites or alongside extremist content are continuing to make worldwide headlines, and advertisers are increasingly demanding more control and visibility into where their content appears.
Digital has borne the brunt of these brand-safety issues. And while there has been much talk about offline taking cues from online to improve ad measurement and optimization, in the case of brand safety, digital can learn a lot from TV.
In the meantime, some broadcasters have actually seen ad spend increase, as advertisers have flocked back to TV as a safe haven for their brands. For instance, Channel 4 saw record revenue following the YouTube scandal, as advertisers turned to TV for its consistent power and control over ad placements.
While Channel 4 acknowledged that the revenue increase is likely a temporary jump, it helped Channel 4 reach just shy of GBP1bn in annual revenues (up from GBP995m in 2016). Now, let’s be fair — TV is not immune to brand safety risks. But as digital continues to iron out the creases when it comes to brand safety, we may see some slowdown among advertisers shifting ad spend from TV to digital. In fact, in the short term, we may even continue to see a reversal — with global brands following the likes of P&G and coming back to TV after digital ad experiences that were far from ideal.
“TV is dead” will always make for an attention-grabbing headline, but the reality is that the medium isn’t going anywhere. Commercial TV reaches 91.9% of the U.K. population each week, and the average viewer now sees 45 TV ads per day. According to eMarketer, the average U.K. adult is spending about 3 hours with traditional TV each day, and it still takes the lion’s share when it comes to video, with digital viewing at only 53 minutes per day.
TV provides a guaranteed audience, content protection, and — thanks to new technologies and real-time measurement — targeting and optimization. Advertisers can be sure how much bang they are getting for their TV bucks.
YouTube’s brand safety struggle has served to highlight the iron grip that advertisers have on their image with TV. Why? Because with TV, advertisers buy content and context; with digital, they buy the person.
The ability of digital to target audiences and follow customers around the web by “chasing the cookie” has been enticing for advertisers until recently. While traditional media buying remained content-driven, digital was focused on the person and — when done right – the payout can be significant. However, advertisers now understand they are also potentially giving up control over where and when their ads appear across the web.
With widespread propagation comes minimal regulation and increased risk of oversight — which is evidenced with the open ad marketplace, where advertisers buy inexpensive inventory but lose command over where and when the ads run. This means that many digital advertisers have been left wondering exactly how their content ended up targeting people on sites with fake news or explicit content.
With TV, the advertiser expects content protection. In the case of prime-time shows, the advertiser may even have access to episode descriptions in advance. They can purchase with the knowledge that there are stringent content approval processes in place, so they are unlikely to receive any unwanted surprises.
The Holy Grail for advertisers is to create a positive brand association with the right audience, around the right context — it’s not all about messaging. For both offline and online channels, this is just how brands are built. It’s now time for digital to step up when it comes to brand safety.
While Channel 4 said this increase in ad spend marks a temporary spike, TV as an industry should be more optimistic as it has much more than brand safety to offer advertisers. We may not continue to see huge revenue spikes, but digital’s brand safety woes could ensure a boost to TV ad spend in the long run — or at least become another prompt for the slowdown in migration to digital advertising.