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Research released last year by Inskin Media found that the publisher branding has more of a catalytic effect on display ad effectiveness than the editorial content around it, creating doubt as to whether high concern around some elements of brand safety is as black and white as the industry thinks.

Brand sensitivity to being placed around any content that’s deemed controversial or negative is at an all time high, due to high profile issues, including YouTube placing ads on videos from religious extremists. However, in a news context, Inskin Media research found  that being on a site that has a  strong publisher branding helped boost effectiveness, whereas being served against potentially damaging editorial content had less of an effect.

To discuss how this fitted into the Asia Pacific region, Inskin invited L’Oréal and Publicis Media onto a panel to debate the issues around brand safety, content and context.

Inskin Media commercial director Steve Doyle described the feeling in the industry as “The context crisis” in that “advertisers have become obsessed with buying audience exposure without regarding the context that they’re in.”

Another issue outlined by the audience is that the definition of ‘premium’ had become very broad, so almost all suppliers were trying to define the inventory they are selling as premium. Inskin Media Asia general manager, Angeline Lodhia, said: “We’re in a world where everything in this industry is premium.”

In relation to the research findings, having a stricter picture on what premium meant was key to understanding where brands could get more effectiveness from their display ads.

However, for Publicis Media, the definition is quite broad. Marc Langenfeld, precision lead for Publicis Media in Singapore, said, “Our definition of Premium should be; is it human, is it viewable and will it deliver a positive impact on your brand?”

For L’Oreal, Sheenum Kumar said that, particularly for premium brands, the brand safety issue is very sensitive and it extends beyond media placements. She said, “It takes months and years to build brand reputation, but only a moment to bring it crashing down. So you need to ensure at every level that checks are being made,” and added, “Asia is a little more sensitive to these issues and so it really should be a priority over the next few months for brands to fix.”

Lodhia, however, said that in some cases the sensitivities can be limiting, “We’ve had agencies who want to implement 8000 key words blacklist, which means a brand won’t be reaching a very large audience.”

While brands and publishers are keen to buy and sell on brand safe, premium terms, a key factor in doing so is cost. In order to have highly viewable ads against premium content, it’s not going to be cheap but many brands aren’t yet willing to pay more and are still using metrics that encourage cheap inventory. This was one issue that the entire panel agreed on.

From a brand perspective, Kumar said the risk of investing was tough but it was important to learn. “It can be a challenge to have the confidence to invest in premium environments ,” and added, “It’s not a return on investment it’s a return on learning. We need to encourage the test and learn approach. Having investment in this space is how we’re going to learn.”

Langenfeld said that the way digital has developed, around being incredibly measurable, has led to some of the metrics being looked at incorrectly. The benefits of digital were now some of the negatives holding it back, he said: “When digital came to fruition it was about making things measurable, particularly programmatic. Brands are looking at the wrong metrics. Lower CPMs and lower click through rates, which incentivise buying dirty cheap inventory.”

To have successful advertising online, both Lodhia and Kumar emphasized the importance of the creative or content that the brand produces. Particularly if brands are to invest more in premium and brand safe inventory, the creative needs to be up to par.

“Creativity is going to be the key differentiator, context is crucial but unless you’re making a content that engages then you’re wasting your time,” said Lodhia.

While Kumar, said: “You go on social media and all the content you see in a certain sector looks and sounds the same. One thing I really hope we can achieve this year is working closely with our partners to make content which stands out and is different.”

Inskin Media’s Doyle summarised with learnings for agencies, brands and advertisers:

For agencies, he said premium environments matter because it is having a noticeable impact on brand perception For publishers, he said it was key for them to know that reader engagement has a catalytic effect on publisher haloes. Finally, for advertisers, he said there was a need to understand that brand safety is complex and requires more research to inform meaningful policies.