Indian marketers slower in employing brand safety: John Montgomery, EVP-Global Brand Safety, GroupM

Updated: October 4, 2019 12:40:09 PM

GroupM’s John Montgomery tells Sonam Saini that while marketers are more cognizant of ad frauds, much more needs to be done to ensure brand safety.

Indian marketers, John Montgomery, Global Brand Safety, GroupM, Cambridge Analytica data breach, facebook, digital safetyWe are good at detecting frauds, hate speech, and inappropriate and unsafe content; hence, we are able to keep brands away from them.

By Sonam Saini

Earlier this year, some of the biggest agencies, media owners and advertisers came together to launch the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, to improve digital safety. GroupM’s John Montgomery tells Sonam Saini that while marketers are more cognizant of ad frauds, much more needs to be done to ensure brand safety. Edited excerpts:

How has the relationship between brands and tech companies changed post the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal last year?

Platforms like Google, Twitter and Facebook are very important to marketers. The relationship has been good, but brands have been concerned about areas of brand safety, brand suitability and public safety. Marketers are challenging them on the type of content that appears, and also challenging third party measurement to ensure transparency, visibility and more control over brand safety.

How can brands steer clear of fake news and keep their credibility intact?

We are good at detecting frauds, hate speech, and inappropriate and unsafe content; hence, we are able to keep brands away from them. But fake news and disinformation are difficult to detect, because they do not necessarily carry bad words. To keep a brand safe, the first thing is to know what safe content is and what is not. A well-written piece of content can be fake news and can be extremely harmful to the brand. It is complex.

We work with organisations like Global Disinformation Index to get a list of known organisations that peddle fake news and stay away from them. Using AI to detect fake news is more complicated but everybody is trying.

Facebook launched brand safety controls recently, while Google had supported some advertisers pulling out from YouTube due to brand safety issues. Do you think the tech giants are doing enough?

I must say that we are in a much better place than we were two years ago. Google and Facebook have responded well to brand safety controls but there is quite a lot to be done. In June, we launched the Global Alliance for Responsible Media to work towards identifying the challenges and then reducing the risks.

Two years back you had said that India was at a nascent stage in its readiness to tackle brand safety concerns. Has anything changed since?

India is a sophisticated market, and we have all the tools at our disposal. What I am hearing from my teams is that Indian clients are slower to employ brand safety because there is a cost attached to it; and India is quite a price-sensitive market. Our challenge is to be able to convince clients that by employing brand safety technology, we can not only make their brand safer, but also make the advertising work harder. It is not enough for us just to talk to clients about limiting risks; we need to talk to them about the effectiveness as well.

GroupM estimates the risk of total digital fraud to be worth $22.4 billion globally. What are the best measures to deal with ad frauds?

Ad fraud is a crime and it is the easiest discussion to have with a client. The ad fraud numbers are high particularly in China because digital marketing there is huge, and we still don’t have brand fraud under control. In many European countries, the ad fraud incidence is under 1%. In India, our teams are estimating ad frauds to be around 10-15%, which is too high. We can bring it down to a single digit by measuring and blocking bot traffic and other fraudulent tactics. There are three basic elements to brand safety — measure, benchmark and optimise.

Is it right to measure only engagement on digital media?

Engagement should be measured, but it isn’t a brand safety measurement tool. I believe that a quality impression is one which is seen and is viewable by a human in a fraud-free, brand-safe environment. We can’t make engagement the responsibility of the medium; it is the responsibility of marketers.

Do you think Facebook and Google have outlived their reign, considering the proliferation of smaller platforms?

Facebook, including Instagram and WhatsApp, and Google with YouTube, in particular, are platforms with a massive momentum. In spite of that, there is plenty of room for new players. But I doubt if the new players will suddenly topple Google and Facebook, at least not in the short term. Google and Facebook have some of the smartest marketers and technologists.

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