Amid Fake News And Data Leaks, Ad Industry Makes Brand Safety Official

IPG Mediabrands’ UM appoints its first chief brand safety officer and teams with others in the industry to launch the Advertiser Protection Bureau.

Amid Fake News And Data Leaks, Ad Industry Makes Brand Safety Official
[Photo: Victorfliscorno/Pixabay]

Last January, P&G chief marketing officer Marc Pritchard gave Google, Facebook, and his ad agency partners an ultimatum: Do more to address transparency, fraud, and brand safety, or risk losing access to his company’s $2.4 billion annual U.S. advertising budget.


In his speech at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual meeting he said, “Frankly, there’s, we believe, at least 20% to 30% of waste in the media supply chain because of lack of viewability, nontransparent contracts, nontransparent measurement of inputs, fraud, and now even your ads showing up in unsafe places.”

Not long after, YouTube was getting lambasted over brands’ ads appearing alongside racist content and terrorist group videos, causing major advertisers like Verizon and Johnson & Johnson to temporarily pull their advertising. And while it hasn’t resulted in a widespread exodus, brands were put on high alert during Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica fiasco, for fear of being tainted by guilt by association, and seeding widespread customer mistrust.

Joshua Lowcock [Photo: courtesy of UM]
Now, IPG Mediabrands’ media agency giant UM has appointed its EVP, chief digital officer Joshua Lowcock as its first chief brand safety officer, and is partnering with fellow industry players to launch the Advertiser Protection Bureau within the 4As trade organization. Lowcock’s mandate is to make sure client ads aren’t being placed alongside inappropriate content or context, establish and implement brand safety protocols for the agency and its clients (including global brands like Coke, Sony, Johnson & Johnson, H&M, and more), and hold media platforms and partners accountable.

Lowcock says that discussions about creating this position had been ongoing for over a year, but it became clear in the last few months that it needed to be a formal executive responsibility. “Brand safety has always been a question clients ask about, seeking clarity on what we’re doing to keep them safe online,” says Lowcock. “The actual driver behind this came internally, because we have so many clients around the world, the brand safety challenges are unique in every market, clients’ definitions of brand safety vary, and what we’re talking about is doing more to help the industry drive consistency in approach, and better hold partners accountable.”

It also means that UM employees will have brand safety written more formally in job descriptions and performance reviews. Going forward, everyone will be transparently responsible for tracking and reporting on brand safety, and sharing that information with Lowcock and his team.

The aim for the Advertiser Protection Bureau is to foster broader communication between agencies and brands, and provide stronger leverage to demand that platforms work harder on these issues. Before, if there was a brand safety incident at any agency with any client, it tends to be managed within that agency and specific client. Now if something happens at Agency X, even though it’s not UM’s client, they’ll be notified about what media and tech platform partners were involved and what the ad format is, and then they can jointly audit and see if it’s at risk of affecting other clients, figure out how it happened, and how they can hold the platform accountable.

“It’s not that these things are swept under the carpet, but a lot of it is lost in the complexity of multiple holding agencies and multiple clients,” says Lowcock. “Now it’ll be addressed transparently by all of us.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.