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Online brand safety: how to protect your investment in digital

By / / In Best practice /
Marketers want to know that their investments in digital advertising are protected against fraud and ads appearing on illegal or inappropriate websites. JICWEBS’ chairman Richard Foan explains what steps towards ensuring online brand safety have been taken by the industry.
online brand safety

For those of you who don’t know, and I trust it’s not many, JICWEBS (Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards) was established by the four key digital ad industry trade bodies (AOP, IPA, IAB and ISBA) to drive and oversee the independent development of good practice and standards for digital ad trading. The idea being to increase transparency and build trust and accountability in online advertising’s supply chain around three main areas – ad fraud, brand safety and viewability.

Conversations on these issues have escalated considerably this year, especially with the seminal speech by P&G’s Marc Pritchard on cleaning up the advertising supply chain (see video below) and The Times’ investigation into brand safety (and the inadvertent funding of terror).



Online brand safety – an online MOT

One of the main and most visual manifestations of this cross-industry initiative is the certification system. Once the various working groups have come up with a set of standards to tackle each of the various issues, JICWEBS independently reviews (through third party audits) media vendors and agencies against these standards, awarding certification for those who have delivered this transparency.

This seal (see image below) acts like a BSI Kitemark, meaning brands can buy with greater confidence that their investment is being protected. Just as you wouldn’t buy a fire extinguisher without a safety Kitemark, it’s wise to buy online advertising through partners who are independently tested to make sure they meet a robust, industry-agreed standard.


online brand safety


Another analogy is your car’s MOT. JICWEBS is the equivalent of the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA, previously known as VOSA) which sets the standards and guidelines for MOTs. Your local garage, that actually carries out the test to check your car meets MOT guidelines and awards the certificate, is akin to JICWEBS-approved media auditing bodies, such as ABC, ePrivacy or BPA. which award the JICWEBS certificate.

Would you buy a car without an MOT? The answer is obvious and you can apply this thinking to your investment in digital advertising.

How is the certification system progressing?

There’s little doubt that the Times exposé in February on the YouTube issue was a major wake-up call for a large part of our industry. Around 20 companies signed up to undergo an audit (or MOT) on their approach to brand safety following the news. The last four weeks have been the most prolific ever in terms of the actual number of certificates, with 11 granted in this period.

This brings the total number of companies with brand safety certifications to 46 – you can see the full list here. The number of companies certified against fraud now stands at six with a further eight undergoing the audit process – the list is here.

So what can you do?

The system is in place and it’s a great first step, but now we need to build critical mass and drive progress across the industry to continue to minimise the risks of misplacement of advertising.

Although advertisers are starting to take more responsibility and ownership to protect their investment in digital advertising, they can still do more. After all, the behaviour of those who control the purse strings is what’s most likely to improve things. It’s not in your best interests to sit idly by and hope others catch on. Advertisers are the key drivers in effecting change: would YouTube’s considerable efforts to address the brand safety fears have been as concerted if brands hadn’t pulled or cut their ad spend from the platform? Another obvious answer.

With your money at stake, I strongly urge brands to do the following five things:

  1. Insist your trading partners (eg. agencies, adtech companies and publishers) show you how they apply JICWEBS’ good practice principles
  2. Ask if your trading partners are JICWEBS certified: “Do you have the JICWEBS seal?”
  3. If they aren’t, ask why and encourage them to undergo certification
  4. Make sure you engage with your representative body ISBA to ensure you get what you need from JICWEBS
  5. If commenting on these issues in meetings, at events and in the media, mention that JICWEBS exists to tackle them and urge trading partners to become JICWEBS-certified and call on fellow advertisers to encourage this, too.

Our industry has the mechanism in place for transparency on best practice for trusted ad trading. Your support and application of this will make more of and protect your investment in it.

Have an opinion on this article? Please join in the discussion: the GMA is a community of data driven marketers and YOUR opinion counts.

Read also:

Europe: who’s watching the ads? Lifting the veil on ads viewability

Thwarting the fraudsters: 5 tips to protect your brand from ad fraud

Richard Foan
Author: Richard Foan
Chairman at JICWEBS |

JICWEBS’ chairman, Richard Foan, is also chairman of the global IFABC Web Standards Group and was recently group executive director of Communication & Innovation at ABC. A well-known personality in the digital media industry, he is respected for his experience and informed opinion. He regularly presents to the global media industry on issues associated with the accountability of digital media.

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