The Science of Brand Safety: Q&A With AdSafe’s Kent Wakeford


wakefield.jpgADOTAS – With the mission of making online advertising “brand safe,” AdSafe Media is bringing a new approach and technology to digital advertising. We sat down with AdSafe Cofounder and Executive Vice President Kent Wakeford to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the online ad industry.

You speak a lot about the need for increased brand safety online. Can you talk a little bit about what that means?

Advances in online advertising increasingly allow advertisers to reach the right consumer with the right message anywhere on the web. Simultaneously, online content consumption has undergone a seismic shift with consumers spending, by some estimates, almost 70% of all time online consuming user generated content.

To date it has been impossible to properly police online content’s suitability for brand marketers. The current reality is that today’s ad technologies allow major brand advertisers to target the right potential customer, but often at the expense of brand safety.

Our research indicates that between 5% and 20% of online agencies fail to conform to even the most basic guidelines included in a typical insertion order. The result of these inappropriate content adjacencies can be toxic to a brand’s health.

As any marketer knows, brands are creations largely built around associations to lifestyle attributes, beliefs and values. The impact of associating a brand with the wrong content can have devastating effects on a brand’s value. AdSafe allows brands to prevent their ads from appearing on web pages with inappropriate content and ensures only “brand safe” content associations.

Who do you provide your brand safety products and services for?

AdSafe has developed products for each constituency of the online ecosystem –- brands, agencies, ad networks, exchanges, and publishers. We believe increasing brand safety needs to be the goal of the entire industry and we’re developing products with that in mind.

How does AdSafe’s approach to brand safety differ from other brand protection platforms?

AdSafe is a preventative solution. Recently AdSafe launched the world’s first Brand Protection Firewall, a technology which allows us to prevent — in real-time– brand messages from appearing on content that brand stewards feel is inappropriate for their ad campaigns.

The foundation of our technology is our Content Rating Standard which provides an industry-wide metric which measures the relative brand safety of content on web pages. Using this Content Rating Standard, marketers can choose the type of content their brands are associated with.

Other players in the industry offer post-campaign reporting which can be a helpful auditing tool for media “makegoods,” but does not solve the problem of online adjacency. Once an ad has appeared next to inappropriate content, real damage has been inflicted upon the brand. This damage can take many forms.

For an aspirational lifestyle brand the damage can be erosion of valuable brand equity. For other industry verticals like pharmaceutical, inappropriate content targeting can result in unwanted regulatory scrutiny and even enforcement actions.

Explain the science behind your rating scale. What exactly are you rating?

AdSafe rates the “brand safety” of web content across multiple content categories on a zero to 1000 scale. AdSafe does not evaluate content with a simple semantic algorithm, but rather comprehensively rates each page by analyzing inbound and outbound links, images, videos, meta tags, text, URLs, site history and many other factors.

Our rating categories vary by product offering but relate to any content a marketer may find concerning, such as sexual content, hate speech, violence/weapons, etc. Our more targeted industry solutions offer industry specific categories such as a solution to prevent “off label” advertising for pharmaceutical marketers.

There is a lot of discussion of the need for more “transparency” in the advertising ecosystem. What is your position on transparency? Does AdSafe provide transparency?

With the current structure of the industry, full transparency is not possible. Many publishers require opacity in secondary channels to avoid sales channel conflict with their in-house sales teams. Ad networks and other intermediaries are therefore obligated to sell certain inventory on a blind basis.

Instead of transparency, the industry should focus on providing marketers with confidence in the quality of content. Publishers using secondary channels can leverage AdSafe to rate content and thereby give brand advertisers comfort with regard to the quality of the content — even content being sold on a blind basis.

AdSafe allows the industry to maintain the levels of opacity necessary to operate, gives marketers confidence in the quality of the content, and enables quality content publishers the ability to optimize CPMs even in blind secondary channels.

Your current products seem to have been developed for the agency/network model. As the business moves towards the exchange model, how will your products evolve?

We see exchanges as increasingly important as the industry evolves and AdSafe is already developing products for both real-time-bidding and exchange platforms. We also see a standard like AdSafe as an essential element to increase spending on exchanges by major brand advertisers and demand side platforms.

What is your view of real-time-bidding platforms? How does the issue of brand safety relate to this model?

RTB platforms are another opportunity for growth in the industry. With the efficiency and liquidity of RTB platforms, this model offers some significant advantages. In order to buy and sell inventory through this model however, there must be a common metric of inventory “quality.” If agencies and marketers are unable to understand the contextual appropriateness of the inventory they are buying, this model will not grow as quickly.

Where do you see the biggest opportunities and challenges for marketers online in the future?

A clear opportunity for marketers online is increased efficiency. Online advertising offers unparalleled targeting, broad reach and granular campaign metrics. As consumers continue to move online, marketers will need to follow them in order to stay relevant.

The challenge then becomes how to adapt the marketing best practices that have been developed in an offline world, for the online world. If marketers have the confidence that the online can support their best practices, it will be a win-win for all constituents.

Can you explain more about how this solution is a “win-win”?

Currently major brand marketers only spend around 5% of their marketing budgets online while consumers are spending exponentially larger amounts of their time online. Issues of online content adjacency have been cited in recent surveys as a leading reason why brand advertisers are hesitant to increase spending online. AdSafe eliminates this concern.

By taking this concern out of the equation, AdSafe’s goal is to help increase overall investment in online advertising. This investment will not only benefit all the current ecosystem players –- agencies, networks, exchanges and publishers –- but it will also benefit the consumer.

Investment drives innovation. For the consumer this innovation will manifest itself in the form of higher relevance and engagement.


  1. Interesting. seems like the ad safety space is getting very crowded, with firms like Peer39 , doubleverify and others providing solutions to these types of problem.


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