Happy Birthday, SafeScreen!

For any of you who may have missed our press release yesterday, SafeScreen, the industry’s first preventative page-level brand safety solution, turned 2 years old earlier this month.  As we proudly celebrate this milestone, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on market developments since Brand.net introduced the digital media market to the notion of page-level, preventative quality filtering for brand safety (or “ad verification” as it has come to be known).

Last year certain of the multiple ad verification technologies that followed SafeScreen to market in 2009 added preventative “blocking” capability to their original retrospective “reporting” offerings.   We congratulate them on their progress, but while 2011 promises to be another action-packed year for digital media, we believe it will also bring some new challenges for third party verification providers.  These new challenges will stem from false positives and billing discrepancies, which add another layer of cost in terms of both cash and cycle time to 3rd party verification (above and beyond the well-documented problems with page-level visibility due to iframes).

False positives cause friction in the context of retrospective reporting, but that friction goes to an entirely new level when ads are preemptively blocked.  Look for this friction to generate increasing heat as blocking implementations become more common.  Ditto for discrepancies, an issue primarily associated with blocking as the verification provider must actually hold up the ad call while deciding whether or not the page content is safe.  This additional hop in the serving chain introduces latency which is a source of material ad serving discrepancies.

So add 5% of spend to the $.10 verification fee to account for discrepancies, 1% for extra manual overhead, another 0.5% for false positives and it’s not too much of a stretch to see 15% of spend going just to verification.

Stepping back for a moment, would we tolerate this in any other market?  For example, would we accept it if the GIA report for a diamond added 15% to the purchase price (whether we paid this fee to GIA or the jeweler did and passed it along)?  Would we accept a 15% SEC fee on each and every stock trade (whether or not our broker “paid it for us”)?  Apparently not, because current SEC fees on equity transactions are 1/800th of 1%.  At up to 15% of spend, verification fees are currently some 10,000 times higher than SEC fees.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

For example, SafeScreen is free, and because Brand.net controls both the filtering and the serving the operational issues of false positives and latency aren’t left to the advertiser and publisher to resolve.  This may appear shamelessly partisan, but I re-introduce the alternative architecture here primarily to make a broader point;  I have been quite surprised that preventative brand safety technology hasn’t yet been incorporated on the server side by one or more of the major exchange platforms.  In doing so they could not only help market principals avoid latency and billing disputes, but would be in a position to minimize refURL-related visibility issues as well.

It will be interesting to watch things shake out in 2011 and in particular whether the need for quality and efficiency drives towards consolidation (happy investors) or aggressive disruption of the emerging verification market (unhappy investors).

What do you think?

Brand.net’s breakthrough

Interesting article by Joe Mandese on MediaPost this AM.  “Unsavory adjacencies” (which would be a great band name by the way) are indeed a huge concern for the largest brand advertisers as they ramp up their online investments.  That’s why Brand.net pioneered preventative page-level content filtering with the launch of SafeScreen almost a year ago.  Abbey Klaassen at Ad Age and Laurie Sullivan at MediaPost both covered the launch back in February.

Since then, while others have been in development, we’ve been busy protecting our customers.  In the past year, SafeScreen has provided 8 of the top 10 CPGs, dozens of other Ad Age 100 spenders and each of the top agency holding companies with the cleanest inventory available on the web, preventing millions of “unsavory adjacencies” each week.

While we’re on the topic, I will reiterate the point I made in my iMedia article a couple months back – that quality is a page-level issue, not a site-level issue.   The reason I bring this up is that in order to do any sort of page-level quality filtering, it’s necessary to know exactly which pages are requesting ads – i.e., which pages need filtering.  This is a very difficult challenge due to common usage of iframes by publishers.  This recent blog post provides a great background on iframes for the uninitiated.

SafeScreen works because Brand.net does the buying and the filtering.  So if we want to buy from a publisher that uses iframes we can take steps in advance to make sure we have accurate page-level visibility so SafeScreen can work.  The recently announced quality assurance products seem to suggest in their marketing claims that they can be dropped in front of a random, arbitrary ad buy and ensure safety.  This simply isn’t technically possible due to the prevalence of iframes.

Buyers considering these “stand-alone” solutions should ask hard questions.  If they do they will find they aren’t going to be nearly as safe as the marketing suggests.

Your brand depends on page-level media quality

For anyone who may not have checked imedia today,  I wanted to steer you towards my featured editorial piece on page-level quality.  Online media quality is obviously a critical issue for brands, and one that Brand.net has focused on since day one.

Brand.net doesn’t just buy from a carefully screened and curated set of top comScore sites.  That’s just where we start. Brand.net doesn’t just report on the pages where your ad was placed adjacent to brand-damaging objectionable content. We keep it from happening in the first place.  Our industry-leading SafeScreen™ platform is the gold standard for active, page-level quality management and is included free of charge with every Brand.net buy.

Starting with the best sites and applying active page-level filtering technology to each impression.  That’s a real quality solution.

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